Amazonia: the last indigenous frontier of the Javari Valley

Native American advocates often point out that the last uncontacted natives of the Amazon are not relics or remnants of an ancient world

Amazonia: the last indigenous frontier of the Javari Valley

Native American advocates often point out that the last uncontacted natives of the Amazon are not relics or remnants of an ancient world. They are our contemporaries, and an essential part of the diversity of the human species.

The fascinating Javari Valley, a vast expanse of impenetrable jungles in northwestern Brazil, is said to be one of the last refuges on the planet for these uncontacted.

We should rather speak of communities in voluntary isolation, according to the NGO Survival International.

Because these natives have already had interactions with modern civilization, but they now refuse any prolonged contact and have chosen to remain isolated deep in the forest.

"We don't know much about them. Except that they have refused all contact, often following horrible violence (of which they have been victims), diseases introduced by foreigners" or since the rubber boom in during which thousands of them were enslaved and killed, says Survival.

The aerial images of some of these half-naked men, stunned and surprised, arms in hand in their camp drowned in the immense forest, have gone around the world.

"The few times they were seen or encountered, they made it clear they wanted to be left alone," according to Survival. "Sometimes they react aggressively...or leave signs in the forest to warn strangers not to approach."

The second largest Amerindian reservation (Indigenous Land) in Brazil, the Javari Valley, in the state of Amazonas, covers 8.5 million hectares, in a region the size of Portugal.

It was created in 2001, and resulted in the eviction of populations of pioneers and settlers, often of mixed race, settled on the banks of its rivers for years and who have since held a strong resentment against the natives.

Refugees in Atalaia do Norte and Benjamin Constant, at the entrance to the Javari, these "people of the river" ("ribeirinhos") consider themselves the legitimate owners of the Javari and its wealth. They provide the bulk of the fishermen, loggers and other poachers illegally entering the reserve, in theory forbidden to foreigners.

Nearly 6,300 indigenous people live in the Javari Valley, seven "peoples" belonging to two distinct linguistic groups (Pano and Katukina), as well as 19 isolated groups identified by the Brazilian National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples (Funai), in charge of the protection of these populations.

The oldest contacted are the Marubo, Matsés, Matis, Kanamari, and the Kulina Pano. The Korubo (famous for their club as a puzzle) and the Tsohom-dyapa have been in contact with the outside world more recently.

The last isolated people remain nomadic, and are extended families moving their camps in the forest with the seasons and hunting. They sometimes voluntarily leave signs of their presence and steal regularly, because they too want clothes, dishes...

All sorts of threats hang over them, starting with invasions and greed for the immense wealth that these territories of forests and quasi-virgin rivers conceal. Fishermen, hunters, miners, lumberjacks, narcos... not to mention the evangelical missionaries, often Americans, Koreans and Brazilians who, in the name of "the divine crusade", are literally obsessed with the idea of ​​Christianizing the last "pure souls" of the planet.

Several indigenous communities were scattered at first contact with disease, such as the Matis, who came close to extinction with pneumonia.

Relations between different groups can be violent, even deadly. The Matsés thus almost exterminated the Kulinas.

The tradition of kidnapping girls and adolescents (to regenerate the blood of the group) also persists among the isolated, including the contacted communities. A Kanamari told AFP the recent abduction by Korubos of a child, who was finally able to escape her captors.

Funai and the army are the only two government authorities in Javari. President Jair Bolsonaro has de facto encouraged the invasion and exploitation of Javari's wealth, as Funai has found itself significantly weakened under his tenure.

Since Lula's election at the end of 2022, the government has promised to better protect the valley, but the Funai, like the army, remain insufficiently present, according to Univaja, a key indigenous organization.

The June 2022 double murder by fishermen of indigenist Bruno Pereira and British journalist Dom Phillips has drawn attention to a long-forgotten corner of the world. But the invasions and violence continue, in particular the death threats against the natives and their defenders.

At the beginning of March, a Brazilian government delegation went to Javari, accompanied by the widows of Dom and Bruno, promising to "restore a government presence" there, and judging that it "was no longer possible for the natives to continue to be intimidated and frightened within their very territory".

09/06/2023 07:35:48 -         Javari (Brésil) (AFP) -         © 2023 AFP