An Amazon Indian speaks to us about manhood, home and what we men could be doing to protect our tribes.
In the first part of this interview we heard what Nixiwaka, an Amazon Indian, had to say about his home, ecology, the soccer World Cup and London. Now we move on to politics, the campaigns of Survival International and we conclude with Nikwixa talking to GMP about his life and manhood as seen from his perspective.
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Nixiwaka Yawanawá, is a Yawanawá Indian from the Brazilian Amazon. He came to London to learn English and in 2013 joined Survival International to speak out for indigenous rights. Nixiwaka plans to raise awareness of the threats to Amazon Indians ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2014, as Brazil continues its onslaught against indigenous peoples’ rights to their land.
There are several tribes living in Nixiwaka’s home state, including at least 6 that are uncontacted. Most Amazon Indians rely on their lands to sustain themselves physically and culturally. However, all are threatened by a set of controversial draft bills which would open up indigenous territories for mining, dams, army bases and other industrial projects.
In an exclusive interview for Survival International and the Good Men Project, Nixiwaka provides fascinating insights into the Yawanawá ways of life in the rainforest, the devastating impact that the introduction of alcohol had on his community, and his tribe’s strong sense of ecological responsibility.
“Our land is our home, our house. It is our friend, our comrade. We have a lot of respect for our land, and we have a responsibility to look after it.
My favorite time of day in the rainforest is at the end of the afternoon, at sunset, when I take our sacred medicine. Everyone gathers on a large area of open land. At dusk, birds come back to roost in the tacana trees, and there is the song of the brown Makukau birds all around us. It is a very peaceful time of day. I miss it!
The destruction of our rainforest land is terrible, because the forest is alive. It is our life, and the animals’ life. We don’t separate our existence from it, we are all one body and one being: the plants, water, trees and Yawanawá.
When we see harm come to the rainforest, it is as if a part of our own body has been hurt. It feels like an illness that rises up in us and needs to be cured.
It has now been 29 years since our lands were demarcated, but that doesn’t stop the deforestation that takes place on the border with Peru and Brazil. There is a fear that one day this might spread into our lands, which will threaten our hunting, our security and the safety of the animals that live amongst us.
Deforestation is the cause of so many issues within indigenous communities. And the animals need the forest as much as we do.
We have been struggling to protect our Mother Earth. The medicine shows to us, we need to spread our vision to those who can’t see how beautiful this place is.”
The Good Men Project also put the following questions to Nixiwaka around his understanding of the male role within his culture.
GMP: Who are you and tell me a bit about where you live.
Nixiwaka: I am an Indian that came from the Amazon rainforest. My tribe is called Yawanawá, “people of the wild boar”. At the moment I’m living in London, in the UK, but I’m from a state called Acre in Brazil where the Yawanawá people live. I first was invited to come to UK to learn English and to paint. I always loved to paint in my tribe. I used to paint the forest and animals. And the idea of learning English came together and now I’m living in the UK for a while, but my intention is go back to my tribe in the future.
GMP: What are the main roles of men within your community?
Nixiwaka: The men are responsible to look after their family, build houses, hunt, fish and grow crops. We also are responsible to make decisions but everyone in the community contributes their opinion.
GMP: What advice could you give us men living in cities?
Nixiwaka: My advice is to come and visit us. The men from the city should learn more about how tribal people live, and learn that life can be so simple without much noise. Nature offers us peace.
GMP: How can we encourage modern man to reconnect to the real environment when the fake environment has been made so comfortable?
Nixiwaka: I think the men from the city should learn more about the real environment – the forest and tribal people have lots to teach them about their culture and traditions. This is how the men from the city can reconnect. I believe that people can find comfort in both kinds of environment. The fake environment is comfortable but not for everyone, there are many people suffering in the cities.
GMP: If we tell our 6 million readers to do one thing to help your community what would it be?
Nixiwaka: It would be to help us to keep our forest alive. We indigenous people are asking all people to understand how nature is important for our life and for the existence of everyone. Survival International, where I’m working at the moment, offers many more ways to support threatened tribal peoples around the world: http://www.survivalinternational.org/actnow/
Stephen Corry, Director of Survival, said, ‘Nixiwaka’s worldviews are representative of many tribes not only in Brazil but the world over who have been brutally oppressed – and even driven to extinction – by material greed, racist policies and the march of so-called ‘progress’.
‘With all eyes on Brazil in 2014 it is essential to remember that Brazil’s economic advancement comes at a price; one that has involved the lands and lives of Indians for centuries. Real ‘progress’ actually starts with recognising the diversity of tribal peoples and respecting their human rights’.
From my own point of view here at the Good Men Project, I find it incredible that we should still be writing about the loss of tribal lands and the people that represent humanities first child! It really isn’t 1492 anymore and I would like to think that we have evolved since then.
Not only that but we have so many modern examples to draw upon – the genocide of the Americas in the 19th Century for one. There can’t be many of us who don’t look back on the great tribes of North America with sadness. Sadness at the passing of so much wisdom and beauty – brutally swept away in the name of progress. Yes here we are on the threshold of 2014 and we are still doing the same thing. The difference is that this time we can really do something about it before it’s too late.
Survival International has been at the forefront of campaigning for indigenous cultures for many years – I would urge you this Christmas to have a look at what they are doing and support them and all our First Nations brothers and sisters in their fight for their homeland.
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-Photo: Helen Saunders /Survival International