It's Amazon View! Google shows off new map of Brazilian rainforests (put together by an indigenous tribe)

Google has announced the launch of a first-of-its-kind project on Google Earth, having produced a cultural map together with an indigenous tribe. Working with Google, the Surui, an indigenous tribe from Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, have produced a cultural map of their ancestral home. But this is much more than a set of funky views, photos and maps. The Surui’s cultural map is a means to record, share and, perhaps most importantly, protect their cultural heritage and the rainforest that is their home.

Chief Almir Surui first approached Google five years ago. At the heart of the project is his simple, but vital, desire to protect their ancestral home from deforestation, so they can live and continue their way of life. Beyond this, Chief Almir and his people have built a unique resource that maps the jungle, records the tribe’s history and gives a wealth of information on the areas fauna and flora.

As well as inviting dialogue with the rest of the world, the project provides a way to monitor the Surui territories, which are under constant threat from logging. Views of the area’s borders are striking, it is in effect an island of forest surrounded by barren deforested areas.

“We are protecting our territory,” said Chief Almir, but adds that they have traded bows and arrows for laptops. It’s still a dangerous business, there are documented cases of illegal loggers murdering indigenous people. The Surui monitor logging activities in the area and the cultural map allows them to report what’s going on. “We are risking risking our lives to protect the environment. Anyone involved in illegal activities must face punishment,” said Almir.

Embracing digital technology was not an easy step for the Surui, indeed, it was something almost completely alien to their culture, but, says the Chief, it was difficult, not impossible. Over the past five years, Rebecca Moore, Google Earth Outreach leader and her team have worked with the tribe, teaching them how to use the technology to essentially share their own world and their story with the rest of the world. Rebecca Moore said Almir Surui asked her to help him “put his people on the map and use this to strengthen his people and tell the world what’s happening.”

After getting to grips with the basics, the Surui started using a mobile app to record data from the forest and constantly update the cultural map. Google has also produced an amazing 3D visualization of the Surui territory, showing the native species and “virtually planted” with around 90 million trees.

Researcher Herberton Barros from IDESAM (the Amazonian Conservation and Sustainable Development Institute ) believes that what the Surui have done could be used as a model for other indigenous tribes. Find out more on Google Earth and the Surui website.

VIDEO Trading Bows and Arrows for Laptops

VIDEO Creating a cultural map:

Exploring: The resulting interactive map allows users to visually walk through to Brazilian forest, with all of their native plants and animals available for encounter

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