The Awá or Guajá are an endangered group of people living in the eastern Amazon forests of Brazil. There are approximately 350 members, and 100 of them have no contact with the outside world. Their language is in the Tupi–Guaraní family. Originally living in settlements, they adopted a nomadic lifestyle about 1800 to escape incursions by Europeans. During the 19th century, they came under increasing attack by settlers in the region, who cleared most of the forests from their land. From the mid-1980s onward, some Awá moved to government-established settlements, but for the most part they were able to maintain their traditional way of life, living entirely off their forests, in nomadic groups of a few dozen people, with little or no contact with the outside world.
In 1982, the Brazilian government received a loan of 900 million USD from the World Bank and the European Union. One condition of this loan was that the lands of certain indigenous peoples (including the Awá) would be demarcated and protected. This was particularly important for the Awá because their forests were increasingly being invaded by outsiders. There were many cases of tribespeople being killed by settlers, and the forest on which they depend was being destroyed by logging and land clearance for farming. Without government intervention it seemed very likely that the Awá and their ancient culture would become extinct.
However, the Brazilian government was extraordinarily slow to act on its commitment. It took twenty years of sustained pressure from campaigning organisations such as Survival International and the Forest Peoples Programme before, in March 2003, the Awá's land was finally demarcated.
During this time, encroachment on their land and a series of massacres had reduced Awá numbers to about 300, of whom only about 60 were still living their traditional, isolated, hunter-gatherer way of life.
In late 2011, illegal loggers burned an eight-year-old Awa girl alive, after she wandered out of her village. The murder happened inside a protected area in the state of Maranhão. Luis Carlos Guajajaras, a leader from another people, said that the girl had been killed as a warning to other native peoples living in the protected area. According to the Indigenous Missionary Council about 450 indigenous people were murdered between 2003 and 2010. An investigation discovered the Awa camp in question had been destroyed by loggers.
According to Survival International, a human rights organization which campaigns for the rights of indigenous tribal peoples and considers the Awa-Guajá to be the "earth's most threatened tribe", Awa forests are now disappearing faster than in any other Indian area in the Brazilian Amazon. In April 2012, Survival International launched a world-wide campaign, backed by the actor Colin Firth, to protect the Awa-Guajá people.
In September 2012, Brazil’s Indian affairs department FUNAI claimed that loggers were only six kilometers away from the Awa.1
References and further reading
- Chamberlain, Gethin (21 April 2012). "'They're killing us': world's most endangered tribe cries for help". The Observer. The Guardian. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
- "Land victory for Amazon Indians". BBC News. 11 March 2003. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
- Sanchez, Raf (10 January 2012). "Loggers 'burned Amazon tribe girl alive'". The Daily Telegraph.
- Flock, Elizabeth (12 January 2012). "Amazon girl burned alive by loggers: one story among hundreds of unreported deaths". The Washington Post.
- Eede, Joanna (29 April 2012). "The world's most threatened tribe - Survival International's campaign, backed by the actor Colin Firth, seeks to protect the life and lands of Brazil's Awa people". The Independent. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
In Survival's campaign film, Colin Firth says: 'One man can stop this: Brazil's Minister of Justice. He can send in the federal police to catch the loggers, and keep them out for good. But we need enough people to message him. This is our chance, right now, to actually do something. And if enough people show they care, it will work.'
- "Brazil's Indian affairs department FUNAI has uncovered shocking evidence". netnewsledger.com. September 2012. Retrieved 4 October 2012.