"If you destroy the forest, you destroy us too"
-Blade Awa

Campaign group Survival International says that the Awa of northern Brazil is the world's most endangered tribe. About 360 of the largely nomadic tribe have had some contact with the outside world, and it is believed that 60-100 more uncontacted members are taking refuge in the Amazon.

‘If my children are hungry, I just go into the forest and I can find them food,’ says Peccary Awá. Women encourage their husbands to return with plentiful game meat, and the men oblige. Those Awá still living uncontacted in the forest hunt with 2 metre (6 foot) long bows. Arrows fly high and silent into the forest canopy, allowing several shots before game is alerted to the hunters’ presence.

Some settled Awá have confiscated shotguns from poachers and have become skilled marksmen. But each hunter maintains a highly crafted bow and set of arrows for when the ammunition runs out.

Forbidden food

The forest provides its bounty, but not everything is taken. Some animals, such as the capybara and the harpy eagle, are taboo and no Awá will eat them. Eating a bat is said to cause a headache. The large opossum? Bad-smelling. Hummingbirds? Just too small. Other animals are hunted only at certain times of the year. In this way the Awá ensure the survival of the entire forest, themselves included.

The Awá know their forests intimately. Every valley, stream and trail is inscribed on their mental map. They know where to find the best honey, which of the great trees of the forest are coming into fruit, and when the game is ready to be hunted. To them, the forest is perfection: they cannot dream of it being developed or improved upon.

As nomadic hunter-gatherers, the Awá are always on the move. But not aimlessly wandering, for it is precisely their nomadic way of life which nurtures a fundamental bond with their lands. They cannot conceive of moving on, of leaving the place of their ancestors.

‘The outsiders are coming, and it’s like our forest is being eaten up,’ says Takia Awá. For the outsiders—for us—staying still is falling behind.

The frontier is always moving, driven by restless Westernized societies who must keep pushing into new lands simply to maintain their way of living.

Another kind of nomadism, perhaps.

Survival says the Awa are being encroached upon from all sides by loggers, who are clear-cutting and burning the forest that both the Awa and the animals they eat call home. Here, one of the Awa territories is outlined in white, with logging operations throughout the region clearly visible.

The Awa are hunter-gatherers, and travel in extended family groups of about 30. Families go on gathering expeditions, and extended hunts can last for weeks on end. However, the comparatively small groups are vulnerable to attacks by gunmen hired by loggers and ranchers.

Takwarentxia and his wife and son were contacted in 1992, on the run from ranchers' hired gunmen, who murdered most of their group.

Amerintxia is believed to be the oldest Awa, but she still gathers her own food and lives alone in a palm shelter.

Here, Amerintxia sits with her pet monkey. The Awa maintain an intimate connection with the wildlife of the rainforest, taking in orphaned monkeys and keeping many animals as pets. The animals are regarded as part of the family, and Awa women even suckle them.

Awa women decorate the men with parrot and king vulture feathers for a ritual called the karawara. The ritual involves clapping and singing, during which the men enter a trance state in an attempt to meet with ancestral spirits.

But by day, logging operations continue; estimates suggest that nearly a third of Awa land has now been taken over. The Brazilian constitution recognises the right of indigenous peoples to their ancestral lands - so all the operations on Awa lands are illegal.


Responses to "In Pictures: 'World's most endangered tribe'"

  1. these people need to be just left as they were found. they have lived this way for years. no one has a right to go to their home lands and hack all the trees down. it's the same as if someone showed up at your house with a bull dozed and proceeded to knock it down.

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