Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Brazilian Indians take hostages at Amazon dam site

Three hundred Indians have gathered in the town of Sapezal in the Amazon state of Mato Grosso, armed with bows and arrows to protest against the current ongoing dam project, which will be above a sacred burial ground.

Local media reported that the Brazilian native Indians on Sunday took 100 workers hostage at the construction site of a hydroelectric plant in the southern Amazon

HOSTAGE: A group of about
100 workers are being held
hostage by up to 400 Brazil
native Indians at the
building site of a
hydroelectric plant.
region. So far there have been no injuries reported. The Indians, from at least six ethnic groups, invaded Dardanelos Hydroelectric in Mato Grosso, Brazil, at dawn on Sunday.

"They didn't take into account the situation of the Indians. The company used dynamite to blow up part of an archaeological site," Antonio Carlos Ferreira de Aquino, a local administrator with the government's agency of indigenous affairs, Funai, told

The Enawene Nawe are a small Amazonian tribe who live in the forests of Mato Grosso state, Brazil. They are a relatively isolated people who were first contacted in 1974, when they numbered only 97 individuals. Today their population is around 500.

The entire tribe lives in one village, in enormous communal houses, which each house to up to 50 people. The houses are set around a circle in the center of the village where ritual and communal activities are performed.

The state government of Mato Grosso plans to build 77 hydroelectric dams along the Juruena river which runs through their land.

The Enawene Nawe were not consulted about the project, and they
say that since work started the Juruena and its tributaries have become polluted. The Enawene Nawe fear the dams will pollute the water and destroy the fish on which they rely almost exclusively, as they do not eat any red meat.

During the protests the Enawene Nawe have met with the Brazilian authorities to reiterate their opposition to the dams. They are also demanding a full, independent environmental impact study.

In addition to their dietary concerns, their native spiritual life revolves around the fishing rituals that take place throughout the year, according to the cycle of wet and dry seasons.

Although most of their land was officially recognized by Brazil’s federal government in 1996, an important area they call Adowina, or Rio Preto, was not included.

This area is tremendously important to the Enawene Nawe both economically and spiritually – this is where they build their fishing camps and wooden dams to trap and smoke fish, and where many important spirits live. The hills and scarps forming this region are believed to be the abodes of the yakairiti, subterranean spirits to whom most of the annual cycle of rites is devoted, including a dense mixture of musical performances and ecological practices.

Every year the Enawene Nawe perform yĆ£kwa, an important ritual in which they build intricate dams across the smaller rivers and trap fish in large baskets. The fish are smoked and transported back to the village, where some are offered to the yakairiti spirits of the underworld in elaborate ceremonies.

This year and last year the Indians caught almost no fish, a disaster for the tribe, who rely on fish as their main source of protein.

The Indians are demanding that government officials help negotiate a settlement with the construction company.
"We want to be compensated for the construction of the plant. The site is 30 kilometers (19 miles) from our reserve and has caused great cultural and social impact in our community, not to mention environmental damage," Aldeci Arara, a tribal leader, told the G1 news portal.

The Dardanelos dam on the Aripuana river, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of the Mato Grosso state capital Cuiaba, was due to come online in January 2011, the media reports said.

The construction company told that it has been in touch with Funai to define a community development program for the local native Indians. The company was not immediately available for comment.

According to late reports the hostages were released throughout the day and evening and negotiations between the Indians, representatives of FUNAI, the government of Mato Grosso, and the company are continuing.

The hydro plant is expected to be in operation by January 2011, but all works at the site have stopped while negotiations take place.

Reuters,"Brazilian Indians take hostages at Amazon dam site", accessed July 27, 2010
Survival International, "The Enawene Nawe", accessed July 27, 2010

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