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In the Amazon, indigenous women rescue a small tribe from the brink of extinction

In the Amazon, indigenous women rescue a small tribe from the brink of extinction

At night, in this small village near the Assua River in Brazilthe jungle tropical reverberation. The sound of the generators at times competes with that of the forest, a sign that there are people here. Until recently, the Juma people seemed destined to disappear like countless other amazon tribes decimated by the European invasion.

In the late 1990s, the last remaining family consisted of three sisters, Boreá, Mandeí and Maytá and their father, Aruká, who was in his 50s. In 2021, Aruká died of COVID-19 and provoked obituaries such as the one in The New York Times that said that the “last man of his tribe” had died, putting the Juma, a patriarchal society, on the brink of extinction. Or so it seemed.

The sisters and their father had another plan

“I became interested in trying to gather more strength,” said Mandeí Juma. “So I began to take on the role of leader, the first woman to do so. “My sisters and my father encouraged me to take up the position.”

In fact, she was the first woman to become a chief in this part of the Amazon. On her left arm she has her father’s bow and arrow tattoo. The royal bow and arrows are in her house and are proudly displayed to visitors.

During a forced relocation earlier in their lives, Mandeí and her sisters made the decision to marry men from other tribes and maintain the lineage of their people despite a patrilineal tradition.

Today, against all odds, the Juma are recovering. In their territory, a two-hour boat ride from the nearest road, their village is full of life.

Children of different ages play in the river. People fish with nets and rods and return small fish to the water. The women grind cassava into flour manually, saving scarce fuel for generators at night. Others go hunting.

Throughout the day, people gather in an elevated maloca, or common building, designed in the traditional Juma style, to eat, tend to their macaws and parrots, rest in hammocks during the hottest hours, grind yuca, and check email messages. WhatsApp on your cell phones connected to the internet through a satellite dish.

Aruká, the woman’s father, is buried under the maloca. Mandeí has ​​been head of the Juma for more than a decade and recently left the position to her older sister, Boreá. She long ago left behind her initial adaptation to travel and leadership.

“Since we were few, people did not recognize us, they did not respect us,” said. “There had never been a female leader. And then people came to me and told me: ‘You shouldn’t have assumed it because you’re a woman.’”.

At first it hurt. Then she stopped caring. ““I adapted to find solutions for our people”he expressed.

The Juma Indigenous Territory, about the size of Las Vegas, is covered by ancient Amazonian tropical rainforest. A top priority is protecting their territory, located in the south of the state of Amazonas, a hotspot for land grabs and illegal deforestation.

Mandeí fears that they could be invaded in the same way as the uru-eu-wao-wao village where she grew up. Once immersed in the forest, she is now surrounded by grazing lands with grasses illegally planted by non-indigenous invaders.

“I went back there to visit and the forest…” he stopped, crying. “It is very painful; “That’s what we don’t want to happen here.”

The planned paving of a road next to the territory increases the likelihood that it will be invaded by land grabbers. The expansion of livestock farming and soy cultivation throughout the region palpably changes the environment and has a negative impact on their traditional way of life.

“The river no longer fills with water like before… The water should not dry out as much as this. It’s much hotter; It was not like this in the past. Our concern is this: Why is this happening? “Because of deforestation,” said.

To protect against that, the young people, including Puré, Mandeí’s nephew, patrol the territory in boats. They use drones donated by Kaninde, a local indigenous non-profit organization, to monitor the most remote areas against loggers, poachers and fishermen.

“In a way I broke the rules of anthropology and followed my mother’s lineage,” Puré, 22, proudly told the AP in an interview in the maloca. “If I don’t identify as Juma, who else will?”

His mother, Boreá, married a man from the Uru-eu-wau-wau ethnic group. By tradition among indigenous Brazilians, he was recorded with the name of his father’s tribe as his surname. But when he was 15 years old he went to Funai, the National Indian Foundation, and demanded to add that of his mother’s tribe. Now his full name is Puré Juma Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau.

Two of her cousins ​​also adopted Juma as their last name: Ana Índia and Shakira, the latter named after the Colombian singer.

The Juma most likely numbered a few thousand before contact, but they resisted the non-indigenous invaders and suffered several massacres in retaliation. The last one occurred in 1964, by order of a local merchant, as described in a book by German missionary Günter Kroemer.

An estimated 60 people were killed, including children. Aruká, one of the few survivors, lost his father. His mother died years later of malaria, a disease introduced to the Amazon by non-indigenous people.

In 1998, when the last six juma were struggling to survive, Funai transferred them to an uru-eu-wau-wau village located a few hundred kilometers away.

Despite sharing the same language —Kawahíva_, the elders had difficulties adapting. A few months after their arrival, Aruká’s sister and her husband died of sadness, according to the Amazonia Real news website.

Aruká, unhappy and restless, pressured the indigenous foundation to return to his native village with his first three daughters, the place that would eventually be officially recognized as juma and would come back to life.

For Mandei, the language of his people has also been key to their survival. He invited a linguist, Wesley dos Santos, to visit them in 2019. As part of this collaboration, a multimedia dictionary for smartphones was created, along with an online collection of digital files with narratives, monologues and traditional songs in the Juma language.

Kawahiva is a critically endangered Amazonian language, spoken by approximately 560 people with 8 variations, including Juma, explains Santos, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley.

Despite all of these recent achievements, Mandeí remains concerned—a word she repeated 10 times during the interview—about the future of the Juma. The 24 inhabitants of her village are still very few and she thinks there are not enough Juma men to increase her population. More than ever, the three women struggle with how to pass on Juma traditions to subsequent generations.

“The greatest responsibility that I share with my sisters is not to lose the Juma culture as our father taught it to us”Mandei said.

Source: Gestion

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