Over the last few days we´ve been on an amazing trip to visit some of the indigeonus peoples of Roraima state in the Amazon.
Having flown all night from San Paulo in the South to Boa Vista in northern Brazil, we embarked on a ten-hour trip by road towards the border of Venezuela.
We loaded two big trucks with three large barrels of fuel in the back, for we would not see a petrol station for many days. We then set off on a day-long bumpy journey through farmland, forest and mountains and over a few bridges that reminded me of an Indiana Jones film!
Indigenous communities such as the Materuca have lived in these areas for many many centuries but, since the arrival of the Portuguese 500 years ago, they have suffered many years of persecution and murder.
Tribes wiped out
In fact, the number of Indians in Brazil has fallen by 93% since the arrival of the Europeans. Unfortunately this has continued into the present day with, on average, one tribe being wiped out every two years.
CAFOD works through a partner organisation called Conselho Indigena de Roraima (CIR), which supports indigenous people in the state of Roraima (approximately 36,000 Indian people) with issues such as land rights, education, health, environmental protection, and self-sufficiency projects.
The first community we visit is in a place called Surumu, which is a school and training centre for the Macuxi people of the area.
We are welcomed by community leaders and young people who finally celebrated legal ownership of this land under Brazilian law in 2005. This was as a result of many years struggle for justice by the community, supported by the church.
We then learned with horror of the constant intimidation the community has experienced at he hand of thugs employed by powerful farming firms, who would like to use the land.
We looked in shock at the remains of the school and church mission which had been burned down during a violent attack by 200 thugs last year. The gang also violently attacked Indians and clergy.
We were told the farming companies are very powerful and have friends in high places in both the media and the government, so can get away with such awful activities.
The Macuxi people are a peace-loving people, who legally have a right to their land and work hard to develop it in an environmentally-friendly way. They are training their young people in the Surumu school to do the same.
The community make us very welcome, showing us around their enviromentally-friendly farm, and then giving us dinner which includes beans, rice and fruit juice. They then help me put up my hammock and mosquito net ready for my night under the stars.
Before bed we are treated to a cultural night of singing and dancing by the students of Surumu. There are approximately 40 teenagers taking part, from many indigeonus communities in the state.
They all thank CAFOD supporters for their solidarity and support in their many years of persececution and experience of injustice.
As I go to bed in my hammock under the stars, a Macuxi chief called Ivaldo invites me to come for a swim and wash in the river tomorrow morning.
I am not worried about the mosquitos – instead my mind contemplates how and why the rich and powerful can get away with attacking such a beautiful people, and burning down their church and school.
Posted by TonyS