The Yanomami are a group of around 20,000 indigenous people who live in some 200-250 villages in the Amazon rainforest on the border between Venezuela and Brazil.
The discovery comes two decades after one of the group’s earliest campaigns created the biggest protected indigenous peoples territory in the world.
These new pictures emphasize how important the territory is in protecting the Yanomami from goldminers who devastated the tribe in the 1980s, the group says, and how “the time when entire peoples could be wiped out without anyone noticing is drawing to a close”.
Illegal goldmining camps operate just 15 kilometers from uncontacted Yanomami. Illegal mining transmits deadly diseases like malaria and pollutes the rivers and forest with mercury.
At least 800 people from Brazil’s army and police force are now involved in a mission to remove the goldminers. It has been reported that so far 30 have been evicted.
Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said:
“Survival’s supporters can be immensely proud of the success that this sighting represents. Of course many tribal peoples, including the uncontacted Yanomami, are still threatened by the illegal occupation of their land, so we can’t afford to give up the fight. The very existence of uncontacted Yanomami, however, proves that persistent campaigning pays off. Here’s to many more such victories.”
The Yanomami have suffered years of oppression at the hands of illegal gold-miners. Violence and disease saw their population fall by 20 percent in just seven years.
Many tribal people who are today ‘uncontacted’ are in fact the survivors (or survivors’ descendants) of past atrocities. These acts – massacres, disease epidemics, terrifying violence – are seared into their collective memory, and contact with the outside world is now to be avoided at all costs.
Many of the isolated Indians of western Amazonia, for example, are the descendants of the few survivors of the rubber boom which swept through the region at the end of the 19th Century, wiping out 90% of the Indian population in a horrific wave of enslavement and appalling brutality.
Others are survivors of more recent killings. The Amazonian people known as the ‘Cinta Larga’ [‘wide belts’] suffered many vicious and gruesome attacks at the hands of Brazilian rubber tappers between the 1920s and the 1960s. One famous incident, the 1963 ‘massacre of the 11th parallel’, took place in the headwaters of the Aripuanã river where the firm of Arruda, Junqueira & Co was collecting rubber.
The head of the company, Antonio Mascarenhas Junqueira, planned the massacre, deeming the Cinta Larga Indians to be in the way of his commercial activities.
“These Indians are parasites, they are shameful. It’s time to finish them off, it’s time to eliminate these pests. Let’s liquidate these vagabonds,” he said.
He hired a small plane, from which sticks of dynamite were hurled into a Cinta Larga village below. Later, some of the killers returned on foot to finish off the survivors – finding a woman breastfeeding her child, they shot the baby’s head off, and then hung her upside down and sliced her in half.
Last week the Guarani leader Nísio Gomes was assassinated in southern Brazil.
His last words to his son Valmir were:
“Don’t leave this place. Take care of this land with courage. This is our land. Nobody will drag you from it. Look after my granddaughters and all the children well. I leave this land in your hands.”
Ways you can help.
- Writing a letter to the Brazilian government can make a real difference.
- Donate to the Yanomami campaign (and other Survival campaigns).
- Write to your MP or MEP (UK) or Senators and members of Congress (US).
Read more about uncontacted tribes and what you can do.
Picture shows crossed spears found on a path in northern Peru, in the region where oil company Perenco is working. Crossed spears are a common sign used by uncontacted Indians to warn outsiders to stay away. Picture by Marek Wolodzko for Survival reproduced with permission.