Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Most Endangered Tribe On Earth

 The Last of Eden

On one of the last islands of intact rain forest in Brazil’s eastern Amazon, the Awá Indians face the seemingly inexorable eradication of their home. Even the legal victory that deeded them the land hasn’t stopped the ruthless felling of trees by forces they can’t even comprehend. Photographer Sebastião Salgado captures the Awá’s world, while Alex Shoumatoff hits the forest trails with the most endangered tribe on earth.

The Awá Indians in Brazil’s Eastern Amazon


STANDING TALL Awá men and boys, in the Território Indígena Awá, in the Brazilian Amazon.

The welcoming committee comes down from the village. Three of the men have yellow crowns of toucan feathers, red toucan-feather bracelets on their upper arms, and red toucan down dabbed on the tip of their foreskins, which are tied up with string. They are carrying beautifully made longbows and arrows that come to their shoulders. The tallest man is called Piraí. He sits on one of the benches behind the Brazilian National Indian Foundation’s post of Juriti, where I am staying, and his wife, Pakoyaí, in a skirt of finely woven tucum palm, sits next to him. Their son Iuwí is to his right, and in the background is his father, Pirahá, who is also married to Iuwí’s sister, so Pirahá is both Iuwí’s grandfather and his brother-in-law. Pirahá has a big smile, which I recognize is the smirk of someone with a sense of the absurd, who appreciates the delicious ironies, the constant outrageous surprises of existence, as people tend to do at the end of their lives. He is listening to a bird in the nearby forest that is singing in triplets. Emaciated dogs, little brown bags of bones, are snoozing and rolling in the dust. A rooster is prancing on the path for the benefit of a dozen hens and lesser males. Our gathering, on one of the last islands of intact rain forest in the eastern Amazon, is taking place in the context of an entire eco-system. All these communications and interactions are going on that our contingent from the modern world is dead to.

Piraí starts to speak in Portuguese, his voice full of gravitas and emotion. “We are Awá,” he says. “We don’t succeed in living with chickens and cows. We don’t want to live in cities. We want to live here. We have much courage, but we need you close to us. The Ka’apor and Guajajara”—neighboring tribes the Awá have testy relationships with—“are selling their wood to the whites. We don’t want their money and their motorcycles. We don’t want anything from the whites but to live as we live and be who we are. We just want to be Awá.”

For the rest of the story: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2013/12/awa-indians-endangered-amazon-tribe

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