Uncontacted Amazon Indians face annihilation

An Awá man stands amidst the burnt remains of his tribe's forest
An Awá man stands amidst the burnt remains of his tribe's forest
© Fiona Watson/Survival

A shocking report obtained by Survival International reveals that the home of the nomadic Awá tribe suffered more deforestation than any other indigenous territory in the Amazon in 2009.

Around 60 to 100 Awá have managed to remain uncontacted, but their last refuge is now being destroyed.

A huge influx of loggers and settlers has invaded the territory, but virtually nothing has been done to remove them, despite the authorities being aware of their identities.

The report, by Brazil’s Indian Affairs Department FUNAI, shows that 31% of the forest in the Awá territory has been illegally cut down.

The tribe lives in three of the five indigenous areas which suffered most deforestation in 2009 – the latest year for which statistics are available. There are about 360 contacted Awá, living in several communities.

Satellite images show that deforestation in the area has hugely increased over the past two decades and is now occurring close to where uncontacted Indians have been sighted.

Pire’i Ma’a, an Awá man, told Survival International, ‘The loggers are destroying all the land… This is Indian land… I am angry, very angry with the loggers, extremely angry. There is no game for me to hunt, and my children are hungry’.

Some Awá have stopped hunting altogether as they feel threatened by the illegal loggers working nearby.

Two weeks ago, the BBC’s ‘Human Planet’ featured Awá women caring for orphaned baby monkeys by suckling them.

A Brazilian anthropologist has stated the tribe faces genocide, and a FUNAI official declared on Globo TV that it will become extinct if the authorities do not take urgent action.

(The devastating impacts of deforestation on the Awá will be highlighted in the BBC programme ‘The Chinese are Coming’, to be shown tomorrow on BBC 2 at 9.00 pm.)

As a nomadic hunter-gatherer tribe, one of only two such tribes remaining in Brazil, the Awá rely totally on their forest to survive. Many Awá have died in brutal massacres at the hands of ranchers and loggers.

On the Edge

Brazil’s Awá tribe rely on their forest home for survival but intensive logging poses a serious threat to their future.

Contact between these Indians and the outsiders could have devastating effects as the Indians have very little resistance to outside diseases.

Brazilian law requires that the Awá land be protected for the Indians, but the authorities have failed to act.

Survival’s Director, Stephen Corry, said today, ‘We are watching a tragedy unfold before our eyes – and the cause of it is quite simply a total failure of Brazil’s authorities to uphold the law and protect the Awá territory.’

Note to editors: The FUNAI report shows that the indigenous territories in the Amazon which suffered most deforestation in 2009 were Awá, Alto Rio Guamá, Arariboia, Apyterewa and Cachoeira Seca. Awá Indians, including most of the uncontacted groups, live in three of these territories: Awá, Alto Rio Guamá and Arariboia.