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Arara Indians fight bullets and bulldozers

© Survival International
http://www.survival-international.org/material/22 (accessed November 13, 2007)

'Our land is now an island and we are surrounded. I am very worried that the whites will invade more.'  
-- Tojtxi, Arara man

Arara Indians in Brazilian Amazonia are fighting for their survival against waves of armed loggers, ranchers and colonists who are destroying their forest homeland. The situation is so volatile that the Arara dare not hunt further than 10 kilometres from their village. Traditional hunting trips, where men go off for days in search of game, are impossible as the Indians will not risk sleeping in the forest at night. Imprisoned within their own land, one Arara described leading ëa life of terror' as the forest echoes to the constant roar of chainsaws felling mahogany and other valuable hardwoods.

Government officials have reportedly surveyed the Arara territory (called Cachoeira Seca) with the aim of reducing its size and handing out tracts of the land to loggers and settlers. It has not yet been demarcated (physically mapped out with markers) by the government. The Bannach logging company bulldozed a road through the territory in the 1980s and now land grabbers and loggers are opening up feeder roads and penetrating deeper into Arara land.

The Arara (ëmacaw people'), call themselves Ukarangma. They are avid hunters and fishers and grow cassava, sweet potato, corn, bananas and pineapple in communal gardens. When hunters return from a successful hunt, meat is exchanged for fermented drinks and the whole community celebrates together for several days. For feasts and rituals, the Arara paint themselves in stunning, bold designs using a black dye called genipapo.

The Arara once inhabited a large area, but due to disease and violent conflict with outsiders they now number about 200 people and live in two reserves along the Iriri river. The sixty Arara of Cachoeira Seca were the last group to be contacted, in 1987. The adjacent Arara indigenous area has been fully recognised by the Brazilian government in 1991 and is home to the larger Arara group.

The Arara's recent history has been one of persecution and violent contact with jaguar skin hunters, rubber tappers, settlers and, latterly, loggers. For years they eluded contact and fought to defend their land. FUNAI, the government's Indian affairs department, tried desperately to make contact with the tribe throughout the 1970s before the Transamazonia highway cut through the heart of their territory. Contact was finally made between 1981 and 1987. Tojtxi, an elderly leader, remembers that time, 'We saw traces of the whites and fled into the forest. The whites saw our footsteps and followed us. We wanted to know why they kept following us. We went further and further away but the whites came to our village and we left our plantations, our caxiri (manioc drink), and everything, to flee.'

The Arara are now fighting a battle for their survival. Legal recognition of their large, continuous territory is crucial as the Indians rely entirely on the land for their livelihood. As Tojtxi told Survival 'We were born in the forest - it's our home. We only hunt. That's what we do. If our land is swallowed up, where will we go to hunt? Our land is now an island and we are surrounded. I am very worried that the whites will invade more.'

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