Isolated Brazilian tribe vows to ‘take up bows and arrows’ against government

An isolated Brazilian tribe hidden deep in the Amazon rainforest has vowed to “take up bows and arrows” against government forces threatening their territory with deforestation.

The Arara clan in the Para area of the forest warned “there could be deaths” if Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro refuses to stop hacking down trees for trade.

Bolsonaro, a far-right champion of tree felling and a climate change skeptic, has said he wouldn’t give up “one centimeter more” of land to indigenous communities.

Since he came to power in January, illegal logging on Arara lands — which cover an area the size of 264,000 football pitches — has intensified, according to outraged natives.

Tribe chief Tatji Arara, 41, told reporters: “Every day, we find new trees cut down. I’ve never seen anything like this.

“Bolsonaro is poisoning the spirit of the people. Lots of people think he will take our land, but we won’t let him.

“If the illegal extraction of wood continues, our warriors will take up their bows and arrows. There could be deaths.”

He added that indigenous people set fire to a truck used to illegally carry timber in February.

Tribal tensions

According to Para-based conservation group Imazon, deforestation in the Amazon increased by 54 percent in January compared with a year earlier.

The Arara territory, home to around 300 indigenous people, has been under government protection since 1991.

In February, Arara leaders wrote to the authorities warning that tribal elders were considering evoking an ancestral ritual of making a traditional flute “with the skulls of the invaders”.

Hundreds of representatives of indigenous groups left the forest to travel to the nation’s capital Brasilia yesterday for a three-day lobbying mission to bolster their land rights.

Some 110,000 people live in the municipality of Altamira, which is larger than all of Portugal and includes Arara lands.

Simple way of life

The Arara live in single-story wooden houses, many of them painted blue, that form an arc around a well-used grass football pitch.

Roosters and hens roam freely around the homes.

Residents are fiercely attached to their traditional culture, with some decorating their faces and bodies with motifs inspired by local plants or animals using pigments from jenipapo fruit.

Everyone can speak their ancestral language, and many elders refuse to use Portuguese, the mother tongue of Brazil’s colonizers.

For food Arara men hunt wild animals, including pigs and monkeys with bows and arrows and catch fish in the river for their wives to cook.

Local prosecutors fear a bloodbath is looming.

Mr Paulo Henrique Cardoso, a prosecutor in Altamira, told reporters: “We are witnessing an escalation of tensions, and indigenous people are often forced to fulfill the role of federal law enforcement, who are far and few between.

“It’s very disturbing to see the Indians playing the role of the police because they are often crushed in this kind of conflict.”

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