Logging companies keen to exploit Brazil's rainforest have been accused by human rights organisations of using gunmen to wipe out the Awá, a tribe of just 355.

Survival International, with backing from Colin Firth, is campaigning to stop what a judge referred to as 'genocide'

Trundling along the dirt roads of the Amazon, the giant logging lorry dwarfed the vehicle of the investigators following it. The trunks of nine huge trees were piled high on the back – incontrovertible proof of the continuing destruction of the world's greatest rainforest and its most endangered tribe, the Awá.

Yet as they travelled through the jungle early this year, the small team from Funai – Brazil's National Indian Foundation – did not dare try to stop the loggers; the vehicle was too large and the loggers were almost certainly armed. All they could do was video the lorry and add the film to the growing mountain of evidence showing how the Awá – with only 355 surviving members, more than 100 of whom have had no contact with the outside world – are teetering on the edge of extinction.

It is a scene played out throughout the Amazon as the authorities struggle to tackle the powerful illegal logging industry. But it is not just the loss of the trees that has created a situation so serious that it led a Brazilian judge, José Carlos do Vale Madeira, to describe it as "a real genocide". People are pouring on to the Awá's land, building illegal settlements, running cattle ranches. Hired gunmen – known as pistoleros – are reported to be hunting Awá who have stood in the way of land-grabbers. Members of the tribe describe seeing their families wiped out. Human rights campaigners say the tribe has reached a tipping point and only immediate action by the Brazilian government to prevent logging can save the tribe.

The Awá are one of only two nomadic hunter-gathering tribes left in the Amazon. According to Survival, they are now the world's most threatened tribe, assailed by gunmen, loggers and hostile settler farmers.

Their troubles began in earnest in 1982 with the inauguration of a European Economic Community (EEC) and World Bank-funded programme to extract massive iron ore deposits found in the Carajás mountains. The EEC gave Brazil $600m to build a railway from the mines to the coast, on condition that Europe received a third of the output, a minimum of 13.6m tons a year for 15 years. The railway cut directly through the Awá's land and with the railway came settlers. A road-building programme quickly followed, opening up the Awá's jungle home to loggers, who moved in from the east.

It was, according to Survival's research director, Fiona Watson, a recipe for disaster. A third of the rainforest in the Awá territory in Maranhão state in north-east Brazil has since been destroyed and outsiders have exposed the Awá to diseases against which they have no natural immunity.

"The Awá and the uncontacted Awá are really on the brink," she said. "It is an extremely small population and the forces against them are massive. They are being invaded by loggers, settlers and cattle ranchers. They rely entirely on the forest. They have said to me: 'If we have no forest, we can't feed our children and we will die'."

But it appears that the Awá also face a more direct threat. Earlier this year an investigation into reports that an Awá child had been killed by loggers found that their tractors had destroyed the Awá camp.

"They are chopping down wood and they are going to destroy everything," said Pire'i Ma'a, a member of the tribe. "Monkeys, peccaries, tapir, they are all running away. I don't know how we are going to eat – everything is being destroyed, the whole area.

"This land is mine, it is ours. They can go away to the city, but we Indians live in the forest. They are going to kill everything. Everything is dying. We are all going to go hungry, the children will be hungry, my daughter will be hungry, and I'll be hungry too."

Responses to "'They're killing us': world's most endangered tribe cries for help"

  1. Uncle Tom says:

    What's wrong with some people?

  2. Heartbreaking

  3. Anonymous says:

    they must be protected and left alone in their homeland

  4. Anonymous says:

    Greed is killing our planet and it's people. It has to stop we only have one planet.

  5. Vee says:

    It is heartbreaking to feel so helpless. This is where troops should be sent to protect, not to Middle Eastern countries with lots of oil. and while they are about it they should lock up Bolsonaro and throw away the key

  6. Anonymous says:

    What's the U.N. saying about this? Or in someway, shape or form, are they being funded by it?

  7. Anonymous says:

    I thought the Amazon rainforest was our main source of oxygen. I guess money comes first these day's.

  8. Unknown says:

    stop killing in the name of the system

  9. muthafuckas, eat your money, choke on it

  10. Wordman says:

    Humans are a virus...

  11. Tanya Browne says:

    STOP this Murder!!! where are your HEARTS ????

  12. Unknown says:

    So tired of this world's leaders being obsessed with power and wealth, and so hostile toward those of different beliefs and lifestyles. As if this attitude of superiority gives them the right to exploit the vulnerable in any way they choose. It's so wrong.

  13. Andy G says:

    This is disgusting, all for money and greed, it needs to be stopped

  14. THEY only understand when THEY experience hardship, pain, grief, lose. THEY need to have all their wealth, luxury, comfort destroyed and when THEY are laying in the streets bleeding, only then THEY may change how THEY act towards YOUR community and people. THEY must be eradicate like any infestation. Yet They have Government Support and resources. Therefore those who are Oppressed will need to store up wealth and resources and when THEY at lease expect anything that is the moment to eradicate humans infestation

  15. Lisaraja says:

    This is reprehensible!!! Theres only a couple hundred of these people left and they're killing their children!!! Wtf is wrong with this world???!!! Leave these poor people in Peace. Leave the Rainforest alone!!! These poor people need it to survive!!!💔😭

  16. Unknown says:

    Please, please, please, back away from these people. All they want to do is live with their famalies the way they always have. What right do we have to take this all away from them? This is what happened in North America when the Europeans came in and took over Indian land. Their culture and heritage will be gone in a short while and we will be left with nothing but grazing land for cows and a steel road.

  17. Yes world leaders are to blame but so are we. Always wanting more, cheaper,and everything brought to us. Now we want their wood for their lives, palm oil for their home. Our lust for more is what is doing this and the leaders more $ in their pockets.

  18. DelightC says:

    Greed found in the supposed 'civilized world' is what drives all the assaults against nature and mankind. Governments are as ruled by greed as are the companies and rich people who want more and more regardless of the cost to others. What these unconsciousness 'pieces' of humanity do not take into account is they they are undermining their own survival. Not enough leaders have the integrity and intestinal fortitude to stop these abuses. All too many leaders are compliant. Indigenous peoples everywhere suffer from those who encroach upon their autonomy, NOT the other way around. Indigenous peoples have retained the knowledge necessary for survival and to thrive. Indigenous people teach this knowledge to each generation, and understand the essential need to protect and respect their environment. They know this is all that sustains them. All too many "civilized" people have become so disconnected with the basic facts of the interdependence of living things that they are dooming themselves to utter destruction...and endangering all others.

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