In the heart of the Amazon rainforest is the Tapajos River basin, home to the Munduruku people. This indigenous tribe has around 11,000 members, and is a source of inspiration for their fortitude in standing up to hydroelectric dam construction and illegal mining.
Because there’s gold under the surface of the Amazon soil, unscrupulous operators violate tribal sovereignty with relative impunity. For example, take Alexandre Martins, who’s known locally as “Tubaína,” and “owns” several mines and associated equipment in the area. He and his operation haven’t done much for the people whose land they’ve appropriated. Tailings pollute the river and disrupt regional ecosystems, the mine workers are outsiders who do not respect the Munduruku’s traditions, and Martins himself has a reputation for unscrupulous dealings and threats of violence. So…
Night had hardly arrived when indigenous Munduruku people landed on the bank of a mine on Tropas River, a tributary of Tapajós river, in a region west of Pará. From the five speedboats, all of them full, came warriors and children, all with one objective: to drive out illegal miners from Munduruku land.
Right at the entrance of the shed, the indigenous encountered two of the twelve miners present. Painted for war, the Munduruku held strong.
“You have ten minutes to get out. Get your things, go away, and don’t come back. This is the land of the Munduruku,” ordered Paigomuyatpu, chief of the warriors, while the miners were packing their bags and preparing to abandon the area.
It’s pretty inspiring; the Munduruku have been very proactive when it comes to protecting their lands and their ways of life. Meanwhile, Tubaína has been threatening their leaders with violence in his drive to regain control over the mines and seized mining equipment. In response, the Munduruku issued this letter:
Carta VI—Letter of the Munduruku Ipereg Ayu Movement
We, chiefs, leaders, and warriors, came across to greet you, ladies and gentlemen—those who support our movement Munduruku Ipereg Ayu.
We, warriors, did our surveillance of our territory. We took out and expelled the invading miners from our territory and we seized their machines. Now they are threatening us with death, but we are not intimidated.
This is the first step. We are going to defend our territory, our river, our forest, our riches, and our people until the end. This is our word.
We finish this letter with much peace and friendship. Sawe! Sawe! Sawe!
Munduruku Apereg Ayu Movement
Carocal Village, Tropas River,
In the Municipality of Jacareacanga, West of Para.
Munduruku Indians at a 2013 demonstration protesting construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Amazon’s Xingu River. (Lunae Parracho/Reuters)
A Munduruku ritual filmed in 2012 at Bragança village
Amazon Watch describes a recent visit to the Munduruku
The Munduruku are extremely organized and democratic. Everyone, from the children to the chiefs, had their opportunity to talk and share their views. In order to do that, they would stay inside the meeting all day long (sometimes from 6 am to 3 am), patiently listening and awaiting consensus. There was an order for everything and everyone. As for the meals: fish and yucca flour. Intense meetings were balanced with time for music, dance, jokes and laughter.
Akay Biorébu, second captain of the warriors, said he was made emotional by the gathering because they were able to join with so many voices – from captains and warriors; to students and children.
“The message we want the world to know this is that our people are united and we will be even more united to fight for our rights,” he declared. Antônia Melo from the Xingu Vivo Movement agreed, “this meeting was extremely important because these people know what they want: they are fighting for dignity and life. The decisions they make here will change the course of Brazil’s history.”
Goodbyes were filled with tears of joy and hope. One by one, 412 Munduruku people greeted each one of us. In my heart I couldn’t stop wondering how these people so isolated had such a great notion of territory and rights, and how they could be so strong and ready to face and fight for these rights. As they said: “We are not Brazilian, we are Munduruku. Brazil is an invention created by Europeans but we were here way before and this is our territory. As you are, we are sons and daughters of the same God, and so we deserve to be respected…We know our rights and will fight to protect it, and well as to protect the Amazon.”
A ritual at Grey Sai Village in Pará, “…on the occasion of the Dance Education Event Adai Adai. With the presence of Therese Pinho.”
More information on the Munduruku people can be found here.