A video that appears to show a member of the Awá people, an uncontacted tribe living deep in the Amazon, reveals just how far deforestation permeates the rainforest, and the people under threat from it.
Released by indigenous media group Midia India, it’s hoped the confirmation of the existence of this tribe in the dense rainforests of the state of Maranhão will highlight the threat of illegal loggers, miners, and drug traffickers in the Amazon, 60 percent of which is in Brazil.
The brief footage, showing people that appear to be from the Awá tribe, was filmed by a member of the Guajajara people, a neighboring tribe who are trying to protect the forest’s last strongholds where the Awá live.
In the film, unaware of being watched, a man picks up and sniffs a machete that has been left on the ground before realizing he is being watched and disappearing into the jungle with another person holding a bow and arrows.
The Guajajara people were hunting near their village when they saw the Awá members and filmed them, hoping the proof of their existence will help the Guajajara group known as the Guardians to protect this land. The Guardians regularly patrol the forest to monitor illegal activity, putting their lives on the line to do so.
“We hope this film will bring a positive outcome and make an international repercussion with a focus on protecting a people, a forest, a nation, a land, and a story," said Flay Guajajara of Midia India, an association of indigenous filmmakers, who filmed the video.
“We were not allowed to record, but we know the importance of using this Awá image because if we don't disclose it to the world they will end up being murdered by the loggers,” Erisvan Guajajara added. “There is a need to be showing that they exist and that they are life-threatening. So we are using this image to call for help so that the authorities can protect the lives of our relatives who don't want contact.”
Although some Awá people are in contact with society, there are some who remain isolated in areas deep in the forest, but the encroachment of not just illegal, but government-endorsed activity, is threatening their future.
Described by Survival International as the world's most threatened tribe, the Awá's territory is rapidly decreasing. Under Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, many environmental laws have been loosened, and the Amazon rainforest – one of the largest carbon sinks in the world, helping to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions – is disappearing at a rate of a soccer field a minute.
Since coming into power in 2018, Bolsonaro has removed the demarcation of protected lands from the National Indian Foundation and handed control of the boundaries to the Ministry of Agriculture, threatened to dismantle the Environment Ministry in charge of protecting those lands, and dispel international NGOs like WWF, Greenpeace, and Survival International from the country. He is also considering withdrawing Brazil from the Paris Climate Agreement.
“This video is further proof that the isolated Awá really exist. And a quick look at satellite images shows the size of the danger they are in," Survival International director Stephen Corry said. "The loggers have already killed many of their relatives and forced others out of the forest. President Bolsonaro and his friends in the logging industry would like to see those still surviving eliminated. Only the worldwide outcry can prevent its genocide.”