Over five hundred years of exposure to disease, violence and dispossession wiped out the vast majority of this indigenous population. Today, there are around 896,000 Indians in Brazil in over 238 tribes, who live scattered across the country.
|Yanomami boy, Brazil.
© Victor Englebert/Survival
Between them they speak a huge number of languages; 110 of the tribal languages of Brazil have fewer than 400 speakers. Brazil’s tribes range in size from the Guarani and Yanomami, who number tens of thousands, to tribes such as the Akuntsu and Kanoê, who number only a few dozen.
How do they live?
Brazil’s tribal peoples live in a wide range of environments – tropical forests, grassland, scrub forest and semi-desert – and have a wide range of ways of life.
Their experience of contact with European invaders and their descendants also varies widely: some, such as the Guarani in the south, have been in contact with white people for 500 years; others encountered them far more recently; and some tribes are effectively uncontacted – the majority of the world’s uncontacted tribes, probably more than 50, live in Brazil.
|Kayapó dance at an anti-dam protest, 2006 |
© Terence Turner
Most tribes live by a mixture of hunting, gathering, and growing plants for food, medicine and to make everyday objects. Probably only the uncontacted Awá and Maku are completely nomadic, living entirely by hunting and gathering in the Amazon.
What problems do they face?
In the 512 years since Europeans arrived in Brazil, the tribal peoples there have experienced genocide on a huge scale, and the loss of much of their land.
Today, their land is still taken over for ranches or industrial projects, or invaded by miners and settlers – and they are still being killed, whether by diseases encountered when their lands are invaded, by starvation as they are driven from their hunting grounds, or by the hitmen who are employed by ranchers and ‘landowners’ to keep Indians away.
|Kayapó Indians dance at an anti-dam protest, 2006 |
© Terence Turner
There remains an endemic racism towards Indians in Brazil that makes all this possible – in law they are still considered minors. The most important thing for tribal peoples in Brazil is control over their lands – Brazil is one of only two South American countries that does not recognise tribal land ownership.
If Brazil’s tribes were recognised as the owners of their land, it would give them some real protection against the individuals and businesses that take over their land, destroying their livelihood and often destroying them.
How can I help?
How does Survival help?
Survival was first founded in 1969 in response to reports of the genocide of Brazilian Indians, and has continued to work in Brazil ever since. At any one time, we have a number of cases in Brazil – our most active work there at the moment is with the largely uncontacted Awá, the Guarani, the Yanomami and the Makuxi.
On a more general level, we are highlighting Indian objections to illegal invasions of their lands and large scale projects in their territories such as dams, roads and military barracks and calling on Brazil to recognise tribal land ownership, as enshrined in two United Nations (ILO) conventions which it ratified in 1965 and 2002.