Arara Indians fight bullets and bulldozers

ëOur land is now an island and we are surrounded. I am very worried that the whites will invade more.'  

Tojtxi, Arara man



Arara Indians in Brazilian Amazonia are fighting for their survival
against waves of armed loggers, ranchers and colonists who are
destroying their forest homeland. The situation is so volatile that the
Arara dare not hunt further than 10 kilometres from their village.
Traditional hunting trips, where men go off for days in search of game,
are impossible as the Indians will not risk sleeping in the forest at
night. Imprisoned within their own land, one Arara described leading ëa
life of terror' as the forest echoes to the constant roar of chainsaws
felling mahogany and other valuable hardwoods.



Government officials have reportedly surveyed the Arara territory
(called Cachoeira Seca) with the aim of reducing its size and handing
out tracts of the land to loggers and settlers. It has not yet been
demarcated (physically mapped out with markers) by the government. The
Bannach logging company bulldozed a road through the territory in the
1980s and now land grabbers and loggers are opening up feeder roads and
penetrating deeper into Arara land.



The Arara (ëmacaw people'), call themselves Ukarangma. They are avid
hunters and fishers and grow cassava, sweet potato, corn, bananas and
pineapple in communal gardens. When hunters return from a successful
hunt, meat is exchanged for fermented drinks and the whole community
celebrates together for several days. For feasts and rituals, the Arara
paint themselves in stunning, bold designs using a black dye called
genipapo.



The Arara once inhabited a large area, but due to disease and violent
conflict with outsiders they now number about 200 people and live in
two reserves along the Iriri river. The sixty Arara of Cachoeira Seca
were the last group to be contacted, in 1987. The adjacent Arara
indigenous area has been fully recognised by the Brazilian government
in 1991 and is home to the larger Arara group.



The Arara's recent history has been one of persecution and violent
contact with jaguar skin hunters, rubber tappers, settlers and,
latterly, loggers. For years they eluded contact and fought to defend
their land. FUNAI, the government's Indian affairs department, tried
desperately to make contact with the tribe throughout the 1970s before
the Transamazonia highway cut through the heart of their territory.
Contact was finally made between 1981 and 1987. Tojtxi, an elderly
leader, remembers that time, ëWe saw traces of the whites and fled
into the forest. The whites saw our footsteps and followed us. We
wanted to know why they kept following us. We went further and further
away but the whites came to our village and we left our plantations,
our caxiri (manioc drink), and everything, to flee.'




The Arara are now fighting a battle for their survival. Legal
recognition of their large, continuous territory is crucial as the
Indians rely entirely on the land for their livelihood. As Tojtxi told
Survival ëWe were born in the forest – it's our home. We only hunt.
That's what we do. If our land is swallowed up, where will we go to
hunt? Our land is now an island and we are surrounded. I am very
worried that the whites will invade more.'



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