Changing Planet

Amazon tribe down to last five individuals as oldest member dies

The Akuntsu tribe in the Brazilian Amazon has lost its oldest member, Ururú, leaving the tribe with only five surviving members, Survival, a UK-based charity that supports tribal people worldwide, said this week.

“Ururú was the oldest member of this close-knit, tiny group and an integral part of it,” Survival said in a statement.

In addition, the oldest-surviving Akuntsu, Ururú’s brother Konibu, is seriously ill, Survival added.


Ururú, the oldest member of the Akuntsu tribe, has died.

© Marcelo dos Santos/courtesy of Survival

Altair Algayer, head of the FUNAI (Brazilian government Indian affairs department) team which protects the Akuntsu’s land, said, “She was a fighter, strong, and resisted until the last moment.”

“Ururú witnessed the genocide of her people and the destruction of their rainforest home, as cattle ranchers and their gunmen moved on to indigenous lands in Rondônia state,” Survival’s statement said. “Rondônia was opened up by government colonisation projects and the infamous BR 364 highway in the 1960s and 70s.”


The last of a tribe: Ururú, who died on October 1, 2009, and the other surviving Akuntsu, from left to right, Nãnoi, Ururú, Pugapía. Pupák, Enotéi and Konibú.

© Fiona Watson/courtesy of Survival 

“With Ururú dies a large part of the historical memory of this people.”

“With Ururú dies a large part of the historical memory of this people,” Survival said. While we shall perhaps never know the full horrors inflicted on the Akuntsu in the last half century, today’s survivors say their family members were killed when ranchers bulldozed their houses and opened fire on them. The two surviving men, Konibú and Pupak, have marks on their bodies where bullets entered as they fled.

“FUNAI found the remains of houses which had been destroyed by ranchers who were clearing the forest for cattle pasture. The ranchers attempted to hide evidence of the crime, but wooden poles, arrows, axes and broken pottery were discovered.”


© Fiona Watson/courtesy of Survival

When the Akuntsu were contacted by FUNAI in 1995 they numbered seven. The youngest, Konibú’s daughter, died in January 2000.

Today they live in a territory officially recognized by the Brazilian government, where FUNAI protects their land from invasion by surrounding ranchers, Survival said.


© Fiona Watson/courtesy of Survival

21st Century genocide

Survival’s director, Stephen Corry, said yesterday, ‘With Ururú’s death we are seeing the final stages of a 21st century genocide.

“Unlike mass killings in Nazi Germany or Rwanda, the genocides of indigenous people are played out in hidden corners of the world, and escape public scrutiny and condemnation. Although their numbers are small, the result is just as final.

“Only when this persecution is seen as akin to slavery or apartheid will tribal peoples begin to be safe.”‘


© Fiona Watson/courtesy of Survival

The story of the Akuntsu, their neighbours the Kanoê, and the elusive “Man of the Hole” is told in a new Brazilian film, Corumbiara. The Akuntsu also feature in Survival’s short film, Uncontacted Tribes.

Visit Survival’s Web site to find out more about the Akuntsu and how you can help them and the world’s other other threatened tribes.


© Fiona Watson/courtesy of Survival

Most of the photos of the last of the Akuntsu on this page were made by Fiona Watson, a campaigner in Brazil for Survival. “Nothing prepared me for meeting the Akuntsu,” she writes for the The Independent Web site. “It was at that first moment, when six solitary figures sitting in a forest clearing grasped our hands, that I fully understood the enormity of this encounter: I was witnessing the extinction of an entire people in my lifetime.” Read more >> 

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Five “Uncontacted Tribes” Most Threatened With Extinction

Uncontacted tribes around the world are facing extinction, according to a Survival report. “Governments, companies and others ignore their rights, and invade and destroy their land with impunity.”

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn

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