Stop Brazil’s Genocide! Olympic Games 2016

Brazil: it conjures Carnival, Copacabana and the 2016 Olympic Games.

But scratch the surface and you'll find a darker side, because what's missing from the popular image of Brazil is the shocking treatment of its first peoples.

Its stadiums and arenas are built on Indian land, and much of its wealth comes from the dispossession of the Indians and the theft of their lands.

Now Brazil is planning a new assault on its first peoples: targeting the lands they have managed to keep.

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Ghosts of the Olympics

When the first Europeans arrived in Brazil in 1500 it was home to over 10 million Indians. Five centuries of murder, torture, disease and exploitation ravaged this population, and by the 1950s their population had plummeted to an all time low of about 100,000.

Eminent senator and anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro estimated that last century one tribe became extinct every year. He also predicted there would not be a single Indian left by 1980. Almost 1,500 tribes are believed to have become extinct since 1500.

Others are so reduced in size that they number fewer than the 11 people in a football team:

Five Akuntsu Indians (Rondônia state)

Four Juma (Amazonas state)

Three Piripkura (Rondônia state)

Two Indians of the Tapirapé River (Maranhão state). (One may now be dead)

and… ‘The Last of his Tribe’/ ‘The Man in the Hole’ (Rondônia state)

There are now just five surviving Akuntsu. When they die, the tribe will become extinct.
The last survivors of the Akuntsu people. All the other members of the tribe have been wiped out.

The Stadiums

The largest capacity stadium is the Maracanã in Rio (capacity: 78,838). The audience will be significantly greater than Brazil’s largest tribe, the Guarani (population: 51,000) some of whom live just 50 km from Rio.

Southern stadiums and arenas

Tribes living in the south of Brazil – the Guarani Mbyá, Guarani Ñandeva, Kaingang, Xokleng and Xetá – live on tiny parcels of land, as colonists have stolen most of their territory.

Threatened tribe: The Xetá were almost entirely wiped out in the 1950s, as their lands were taken from them. By 1999 there were just 8 survivors, three men and five women, all of them related.

A Guarani-Kaiowa couple sit outside their makeshift roadside settlement of the Apy Ka'y community, near Dourados, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil.
The Guarani have had their ancestral lands stolen from them by ranchers and sugar-cane farmers, who have razed their forests. The Indians have nowhere to live but the roadside.
© Paul Borhaug/Survival International

Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro

Maracanã, the name of Rio’s most renowned stadium, is an indigenous Tupi word meaning parrot. (It can also refer to maraca-na – a rattle with seeds used by the Guarani in religious ceremonies). Its real name is Estádio Mário Filho.

When rebuilding work started for the 2014 World Cup, a group of 70 Indians from 17 different tribes who were occupying an abandoned 19th-century mansion by the stadium were evicted, and their home destroyed, to make way for a giant car park and the construction of a football museum. The Indians wanted the building to be preserved as an Indigenous Cultural Centre.

This colonial mansion was home to the first institute of indigenous cultural research in Brazil in 1910. Soon after, it became the main office for the Indian Protection Service, today FUNAI. Until 1978, it was the headquarters of the Museum of the Indian People in Brazil.

Extinct tribe: the Goitacá tribe who lived along the Rio coast were exterminated in armed conflict with the European colonists.

Belo Horizonte stadium, Minas Gerais state

About 100 km north-east of the city of Belo Horizonte is an indigenous territory called ‘Fazenda Guarani’, inhabited by Krenak and Pataxó Indians. Both suffered huge losses as they tried to resist the expanding colonial frontier.

In the 1960s the Brazilian state established two secret prisons run by military police to punish and reform indigenous peoples who resisted the invasion of their lands. One former inmate called them concentration camps where Indians were forced to work, and beaten and put in solitary confinement if they refused. ‘I was a prisoner here for twelve years. The police beat us Krenak so much that we had to bathe with water and salt afterwards.’ Manelão Pankararu.

Threatened tribe: The Krenak today number 350.



Manaus stadium

Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state, is the only Amazon city to host the Olympics. The stadium is built in the style of an indigenous basket.

Extinct tribe: Manaus is named after the extinct Manáos tribe. They fought Portuguese domination in the area, led by their great leader Ajuricaba who united several tribes in resistance but was eventually defeated.

Manaus grew massively in the late nineteenth century on the riches of the rubber boom. Tens of thousands of indigenous people were enslaved and forced to tap rubber. Appalling atrocities were committed against the Indians – thousands died from torture, disease and malnutrition. Some Indians avoided enslavement by retreating to the remote upper headwaters of Amazon tributaries where today they avoid all contact with national society.

One hundred kilometers from Manaus is the land of the Waimiri Atroari Indians. From the eighteenth century this tribe valiantly resisted invading hunters and rubber tappers, and many died in violent conflicts, but contact was made in the 1970s when the government bulldozed a highway through their land. Hundreds died from diseases and in violent confrontations with army units sent in to quell their resistance to the road. General Gentil Noguera Paes said, ‘The road must be finished, even if we have to open fire on these murderous Indians to do so. They have already greatly defied us and they are getting in the way of construction.’ Brazil’s National Truth Commission investigated the atrocities against the Waimiri Atroari during this period and found that 2,650 Waimiri Atroari were killed between 1960 and 1980, under the watch of the military dictatorship.

Threatened tribe: By 1988 the Waimiri Atroari population had plummeted from 6,000 to just 374. Today they number over 1,500. At least one group of uncontacted Indians is believed to live in their territory.

Threatened tribe: Just 370 km from Manaus there are two uncontacted tribes. Brazil is home to more uncontacted tribes than any other country: FUNAI estimates there are over 100 uncontacted groups. Many, such as the Kawahiva and the Awá, are on the run as heavily armed loggers and ranchers destroy their rainforest.

Waimiri Atroari man shows children how to make an arrow, Brazil.
Waimiri Atroari man shows children how to make an arrow, Brazil.
© Fiona Watson/Survival
Most of the Avá Canoeiro's territory was flooded by the Serra da Mesa dam in 1998, fifteen years after they were first contacted.
Most of the Avá Canoeiro's territory was flooded by the Serra da Mesa dam in 1998, fifteen years after they were first contacted.
© Walter Sanches/FUNAI


Brazil has racked up a bill of over US$10 billion to pay for the Olympics. A similar sum would pay the annual budget of Brazil’s cash-strapped Indian Affairs Department (FUNAI) at least 73 times over.

FUNAI, part of Brazil’s Ministry of Justice, is being starved of funds and power and its very existence is at risk as anti-indigenous politicians are attempting to exert their influence. In an open letter, FUNAI employees recently declared: “The dismantling of FUNAI has contributed to an increase in the number of assassinations of indigenous leaders, to an increase in illegal extraction of natural resources… and to an increase in infant mortality and suicide rates, which are well above the national average.”

Brazil’s indigenous history ignored

The Olympics website makes no mention of Indians.

Its timeline of Rio’s history begins in 1500 when the Europeans invaded the land now known as “Brazil”. It ignores thousands of years of indigenous inhabitation of the region, and the slavery, violence, disease and genocide to which the Indians were subjected in the centuries following the Europeans’ arrival.

Indian leader Davi Kopenawa Yanomami says: “The whites shout out today ‘We discovered the land of Brazil’. This is nothing less than a lie. It existed from the time that Omame, the creator, created us and it. Our ancestors have known this land for ever. She was not discovered by the whites. But the whites continue lying among themselves thinking that they discovered this land! As if it was empty! ‘We discovered this land. We have books and therefore we are important!’ say the whites. But these are lies. The only thing the whites did was to steal the lands from the peoples of the forest and destroy them. I am the son of ancient Yanomami and I live in the forest where my people lived when I was born and I don’t go around telling the whites I discovered it! I don’t say I discovered this land because my eyes fell on it, so therefore I own it. It was always there, before my time. I don’t say ‘I discovered the sky’. Nor do I shout, ‘I discovered the fish and I discovered the animals!’ They have always been there since the beginning of time.”

For hundreds of years the Guarani have been searching for what they call ‘the land without evil’. Today, this manifests itself in a more tragic way: profoundly affected by the loss of almost all their land in the last century, the Guarani suffer a wave of suicide unequalled in South America.
For hundreds of years the Guarani have been searching for what they call ‘the land without evil’. Today, this manifests itself in a more tragic way: profoundly affected by the loss of almost all their land in the last century, the Guarani suffer a wave of suicide unequalled in South America.
© Sarah Shenker/Survival

Brazil’s Indians have their own versions of Olympic sports…

Brazilian Indians have been playing sports since long before the Europeans invaded. Some favourites today are archery, tug of war, spear throwing, canoeing, wrestling and the “corrida de tora” where athletes run with 120-kilo logs on their backs.

And some indigenous peoples in Brazil have their own football-type sports.

The Pareci, for example, play xikunahity. The game is played by two teams of 10 men in a rectangle, similar in size to a football pitch, who butt a ball made of mangaba fruit with the head. Usually one Pareci village challenges another to a game. Each player brings objects like fishing hooks and line to the game, and bets are laid.

The Enawene Nawe Indians also play head football.

Enawene Nawe man playing head-football.
Enawene Nawe man playing head-football.
© Survival

Take action!

Brazil’s Indians need your help. Without outside support, they stand little chance of survival.

Give the Kawahiva a future

© FUNAI 2011

In the Brazilian Amazon, the uncontacted Kawahiva Indians teeter on the brink of extinction. For years Survival has been pressing for their land to be recognized, but now loggers are invading.

The tribe is forced to live on the run, fleeing violence from outsiders. Attacks and disease have killed their relatives.

The loggers are getting closer.

These are the Last of the Kawahiva. And their genocide will be complete unless their land is protected.

Please email the President of FUNAI now.

Send an email now!

Say NO to “PEC 215”!

The future of tribes across the country hangs in the balance, as Congress debates a plan to change the constitution.

The scheme, “PEC 215”, would give anti-Indian landowners the chance to block the recognition of new indigenous territories – and it might even enable them to break up existing ones.

This would be disastrous for Brazilian tribes, because land is the key to their survival.

Tribes such as the Guarani fear this would mean they’d never recover the land that was stolen from them.

Please email those in charge of Congress to urge them to use their influence to ensure PEC 215 isn’t approved.

Send an email now!

Learn More…

To learn more about the history of Brazil’s Indians, read Survival’s report ‘Disinherited’, which tells their story from the European invasion until 2000.