In north-east Brazil, between the equatorial forests of Amazonia and the dry cerrado savanna, lies Maranhão state, home to the Awá tribe.
One of only two nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes left in Brazil, the tribe has a profoundly intimate relationship with their forest, which provides food, shelter and spiritual solace. They survive by hunting for game such as peccary, tapir and monkey with 6-foot long bows made from the irapá tree and gather forest produce such as babaçu nuts and açaí berries.
The Awá also have an extraordinary relationship with monkeys; orphaned infant monkeys are adopted and nurtured, and Awá women breast-feed several different species, including howler and capuchin. The Awá people are also excellent monkey mimics.
But the lives of the 360 contacted Awá – and those who are uncontacted – are now in severe danger. Their territory has been invaded by a vast army of illegal loggers, ranchers and settlers who are shooting them on sight. Today, oscar-winning film star Colin Firth helped to launch a major Survival International campaign to save the tribe, who Survival refers to as ‘Earth’s most threatened tribe’.Survival has also recently discovered that the Awá’s forests are now disappearing faster than in any other Indian area in the Brazilian Amazon. Without their forests, the Awá will not survive. ‘The loggers are destroying all the land,’ Pire’i Ma’a, an Awá man told Survival recently. ‘Monkeys, peccaries and tapir are all running away. Everything is dying. We are all going to go hungry. This land is mine. It is ours.’
‘Their bows and arrows are no match for guns,’ said Colin Firth. ‘At any other time in history, that’s where it would end. Another people wiped off the face of the earth, forever. But we’re going to make sure the world doesn’t let that happen.’
Their disappearance is far from inevitable: the campaign aims to persuade Brazil’s Justice Minister to send in federal police to clear out the invaders.
‘The Awá are threatened by the armed loggers, but also by our own apathy,’ said Stephen Corry, Director of Survival. ‘Yet these campaigns have been repeatedly shown to be successful. If enough people around the world show they care, Awá children will be able to grow up in peace on their own land, and we will not have lost another part of our planet’s rich and vibrant human diversity.‘