The main memory that Moises Kampe keeps from September 9 is a sound.
A brief noise that he heard seconds before he realized something terrible had happened.
A friend of Kampe, the renowned Brazilian expert on indigenous affairs Rieli Franciscato lay motionless on the ground, wounded in the chest by an arrow.
Shortly after he would be pronounced dead in a hospital.
The arrow was launched by a group of natives sighted near a farm in Seringueiras, a town of less than 13,000 inhabitants in Rondonia (west), one of the nine Brazilian states that the Amazon rainforest extends through.
Seringueiras is one of several settlements that surround an indigenous reserve known as Uru-eu-wau-wau. It is a place known to be inhabited by nine different tribes, including five groups classified as isolated.
Franciscato followed the group seen near the farm as part of his work for the government agency Fundación Nacional del Indio de Brasil (Funai).
“These indigenous people may never know that Rieli was one of the greatest defenders of indigenous rights in Brazil,” Kampe told the BBC.
Unlike countries such as the United States, Brazil and some other South American nations have a large number of indigenous groups classified as uncontacted: tribal peoples who did not reach peaceful communication with the predominant populations of the areas in which they live.
They live without sustained contact with their neighbors and the world.
Little is known about them, the size of their population and the languages they speak.
Brazil has more than 305 known indigenous groups and 274 different dialects identified so far.
So little is known about the group that is believed to have killed Franciscato that Funai simply describes them as “those isolated from the Cautário River,” a settlement near the Bolivian border.
Unfortunately, it is more than likely that the natives the Seringueiras expert encountered had bad memories of previous encounters with the outside world.
“These people are always harassed by hunters, loggers and farmers. There is no way they can know who is threatening them or not,” explains Moises Kampe.
We can’t blame them for what happened ‘”.” data-reactid = “97”> Add that they may have seen them and thought they were bullies. “We can’t blame them for what happened. ‘”
Kampe is not exaggerating.
Experts from indigenous rights groups such as the Survival International movement point out that deforestation in the Amazon has put many isolated tribes at risk of extinction.
Conflicts with invaders are one of the main threats faced by these groups.
An emblematic example is the case of the “man in the hole”.
This is one of the nicknames used by officials and the media in Brazil to describe a man who, since 1996, is believed to be the sole survivor of an isolated tribe.
He earned the nickname for his technique of digging holes to catch animals. You don’t even know what language he speaks.
Since 2014, a tribe formerly known for its isolated way of life called Mashco-Piro has been on a series of excursions outside their territory.
On one of those occasions they asked about the disappearance of the wild boars, which are one of their main sources of food.
most vulnerable on the planet, “says Sarah Shenker, Principal Investigator for Survival International.” data-reactid = “135”> “The uncontacted tribes are the peoples most vulnerable on the planet, “says Sarah Shenker, Principal Investigator for Survival International.
“In the Amazon, entire populations of indigenous people are being pushed to the edge of the precipice,” he says, referring to the danger they run from the exploitation of resources in the area.
Moises Kampe is a Brazilian with indigenous roots.
they still lived in the forest“many years after other tribes came into contact with white men.” data-reactid = “140”> He grew up hearing stories from his grandparents about the “towns that they still lived in the forest“many years after other tribes came into contact with white men.
On the other hand, indigenous Brazilians are disproportionately affected by socioeconomic problems.
According to the last census in that country (2010), there are 900,000 of the total population of 209 million. Almost 20% of them live in extreme poverty.
Isolated tribes remain a mystery to Kampe, as he has never seen “an uncontacted” live; even the day his friend was killed, he never saw the one who shot the arrow from the forest.
A no contact policy
The main reason the mystery persists is that, since the late 1980s, Funai adopted a no-contact policy that ended decades of guided encounters with isolated indigenous tribes.
“In the first place, we can be very dangerous for indigenous people simply by being too close to them,” Sydney Possuelo, former president of Funai, tells the BBC via video call.
Sydney Possuelo designed the new Brazilian government policies with uncontacted indigenous peoples.
“But the main problem here is that we have no right to interfere with the way these people live,” he says.
Possuelo, 80, is Brazil’s most famous so-called “sertanista,” a type of indigenous expert who is a mix of anthropologist, adventurer, and rights activist.
The main guideline is that isolated tribes should be monitored so that teams get as much information as possible about their territory and habits, which includes following their tracks and investigating sightings.
Contacts with isolated peoples have been controlled in Brazil since the 1980s.
But contact is mostly prohibited, unless it is initiated by the indigenous people themselves.
The threat of a simple cold
“We end with a sense of personal glory by making contact with groups of people who sometimes live in the same way as their ancestors before the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century,” Possuelo explains.
“Contact is rarely something that benefits indigenous people. Every time it happens, they lose a bit of their culture,” he says.
Since they do not have regular contact with many diseases, they do not have developed immunity to them.
Isolated villages are vulnerable to illnesses like a simple cold.
“That episode of 1979 made me totally change the way we did things with regard to the uncontacted Indians. We had taken all the precautions but the indigenous people who knew us were infected and some of them died in little more than 24 hours,” he recalls .
In the midst of the covid-19 pandemic, that precedent becomes even more important.
“They are the true guardians of nature,” says Sarah Shencker of Survival International.
The researcher points out that they are the “great experts in preservation.”
“It is their life and they are contributing to the well-being of the planet as a whole,” he adds.
A hostile administration
Despite the warnings, President Jair Bolsonaro, who came to power in January 2019, publicly expressed his support for further commercial exploitation of the Amazon.
And this policy includes indigenous lands.
Since taking office, indigenous rights groups report an increase in conflict episodes involving indigenous people in rural areas.
Bolsonaro is in favor of greater exploitation in the Amazon area.
The president also announced that no new protected reserves will be declared “while he is in office.”
The Bolsonaro government even attempted to transfer decision-making on indigenous land approvals from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Agriculture, a change that was later reversed by the Brazilian Supreme Court.
Ricardo Lopes Dias, the elected authority, worked in the Amazon as part of a program funded by a US organization for the conversion of indigenous peoples to Christianity that was widely criticized.
“Isolated tribes deserve protection, not a new colonization process,” Joenia Wapixana, Brazil’s only indigenous deputy in Congress, told the BBC.
Rieli Franciscato was someone recognized in Seringueiras, the small town near the place where he died.
There is evidence of an increase in tensions in areas where there are uncontacted Indians.
He befriended the locals in his attempt to maintain peace between farmers and indigenous people.
Among his acquaintances were the parents of Dhuliana Pereira, 18, who owns a small farm near the edge of the reserve.
It was Dhuliana who saw the group of indigenous people on September 9, as they wandered through a neighbor’s backyard.
never they came to see uncontacted Indians, “he told the BBC.” data-reactid = “280”> “My parents lived here for over 25 years and never they came to see uncontacted Indians, “he told the BBC.
And he says that when he saw them, he yelled at them to try to get them to leave.
“At that time we did not know if other people would confront them,” he added.
The news of Rieli Franciscato’s death surprised Dhuliana, especially since it was she and her father who alerted the authorities. But it seems more concerned about the effect that new incursions will have in Seringueiras.
Local authorities asked the residents to refrain from interacting with the indigenous people if they return and also warned that, according to Brazilian law, the person who killed the expert cannot be prosecuted if the police conclude that he belongs to an isolated indigenous group.
really bad it must have happened in the forest for those indigenous people to come here, but some of my neighbors simply see this as a simple invasion of their properties, “he says.” data-reactid = “286”> “Something really bad it must have happened in the forest for those indigenous people to come here, but some of my neighbors simply see this as a simple invasion of their properties, “he says.
And he is concerned about how people will react if they see the members of these towns again.
Rieli Franciscato, an indigenous rights activist, died while trying to ensure that an escalation like the one that Dhuliana now fears did not occur.
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