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>> Em português: SpiritAmVsCapitalist_pt.pdf
Chief Raoni talked about the greed which is the basis of our culture
Why do we talk about the Spirit of the Amazon?
Because, today, the Spirit of the Amazon is at war with the Spirit of Capitalism.
This is not primarily a war of weapons and armies, though too many of the Amazon’s defenders have suffered, and continue to suffer, violence and death, and the Amazon is under attack from the ground forces of invasion on all of the fronts that have been discussed at length; agriculture, mineral extraction, logging, infrastructure projects – all at their core examples of predatory extractivism and the pillaging of natural resources.
This is a cultural war, a philosophical war, a war between two contradictory and irreconcilable systems, each with its own social structures, intellectual structures and – for want of a better term – economic structures.
These two systems are so fundamentally different that it is hard for us, rooted and formed in our moneyed capitalist system, to imagine how it could be to grow up and function in the other, alien system, built on community and sharing rather than on individualism and ownership.
The basic building blocks of our ‘western’ culture are so ingrained in us that to appreciate what the world we inhabit looks like from an indigenous perspective is a huge intellectual challenge. And to even begin to consider changing our lives to be more like theirs is, unfortunately, unimaginable.
The day we are born we start absorbing our cultural environment. We are individuals; our selfish needs are our immediate priority. Very early, in our baby cribs, we begin to accumulate wealth; a toy, a blanket, a feeding bottle – the crib itself. We soon enter the world of money; our grandparents give us a few coins to spend in the sweet shop, and soon our mothers or fathers send us on errands to the shops, as their agents in the world of commerce.
And so our accumulation of social and cultural values continues, imperceptibly building the foundations on which our understanding of the world is constructed, until we can no longer even perceive those foundations, our cultural underpinning. We are captives of our own experiences of life. We cannot even recognise, let alone remove, the prejudices behind the things we take so much for granted: education is good, everyone should be able to read and write, all human beings deserve and require a basic level of income, our health is reliant on outside agents, in the form of doctors and the makers of pharmaceutical medicines, everything and every piece of land is owned by somebody.
To succeed in our world we must compete with others, because our success is predicated on our ability to gain advantage over other members of society, in financial terms, in status, in authority or in power, and our success is measured by what we accumulate and by how much power we have, both in terms of financial and material resources and in terms of social and employment structures. We value material things far more than we value social goods; we would rather have a nice comfortable house than be part of a mutually supportive community. We distrust our neighbours, we fall out with our families over inheritance and disparity in wealth. Increasingly we live in isolation, connected only tenuously to our friends and family, whose physical distance from us often facilitates, perhaps even drives, our social divergence from them. We share little and we hoard much. The rich accumulate more than they could ever make any use of yet they are driven by some perverse lack of reason to accumulate yet more in a vicious spiral that leads to waste and destruction, and brings precious little happiness or satisfaction.
The Indigenous Tradition
How different the indigenous baby? Cocooned in love, cared for by all the members of her community, she grows in understanding without the need for a blanket, getting all the warmth and comfort she needs from the proximity of her mother. Toys – at least, things she can play with to develop her understanding of the world – are all around her, in such diversity and richness that she has no need to ‘own’ them. He quickly learns how he should interact with the spirits, because the spirits are present everywhere and at all times, in the earth, in the sky, in the rocks, in the plants and animals and in the water and air. A successful day is one where the spirits have been in balance, because then there will be no hunger, no disquiet, no disagreement with other humans, nor with the animals or any other components of the world. The day will finish with contentment and without need, as it began.
And that is enough. To be is enough. To be part of the community, to contribute and to receive, to participate and to be valued in equal measure, is enough.
Built on a lie
Your reaction to my words is probably ‘how nice that must be, but it is not the real world, we could never achieve that, because we need things; we need houses, and cars, and buses and trains; we need learning, universities, hospitals and theatres’.
We don’t need those things. We are accustomed to them, to the point where we will never willingly give them up, because they represent our cultural values, they are our world.
But our world is built on a lie.
It is built on the false assumption that it can continue.
It is built on the basis of a pyramid scheme. Inevitably it will eventually collapse, because our consumption cannot, by any reason of logic, continue to grow indefinitely, our economies cannot continue to grow indefinitely, though they have perversely been created as a mechanism which depends on continual growth for its proper functioning.
In January, in the Kayapó village of Piaraçu on the Xingu River, my teacher and friend Chief Raoni talked about the greed which is the basis of our culture. Greed is anathema to indigenous values, the antithesis of the communitarian foundation of indigenous culture. But it is beginning to infect the indigenous peoples of the Xingu, who have for five hundred years managed to avoid subjugation and who have developed their contact with the mainstream of Brazilian society to a large extent on their own terms, retaining traditional values and social structures. Only now, in the 21st century, is increasing reliance on money in danger of undermining cultural norms which have stood the test of time from long before the arrival of Orellana and Cabral. And that threatens the integrity of indigenous communities.
Chief Raoni is only too aware of that danger of infection, and he is clear that it must be resisted. Although it may be impossible for us to shuck off our cultural baggage, we must at least ensure that indigenous communities are able to maintain the integrity of theirs, which demonstrably weighs much more gently on the resources of this world than ours, and which may, in due course, be immensely valuable in re-directing our flawed model towards greater sustainability in the way we live, and which may even prove crucial in allowing mankind to survive in the long term.
Re-engineering to Eliminate Waste
If industrial man continues with business as usual – wasteful over-consumption, gross financial and resource inequality, rampant greed, continuing profligate use of the Earth’s natural resources – including, of course, fossil fuels – and the careless disposal of waste, we are headed for disaster. But if we can recognise in time that the path we are on leads inevitably to a cliff edge of resource depletion, then we can at least delay the time we will reach that cliff edge, and perhaps even arrive at the point of sustainability, which could ensure a fair and comfortable future for six, ten and twenty generations into the future.
That would require what today is an unimaginable re-engineering of the social, financial and commercial structures of the mainstream world. The global population would have to level off and fall, ostentatious wealth must become offensive and unacceptable rather than aspirational, inequality must reduce and we would have to begin to take better care of the Earth’s resources, recognising that they are finite. We have to recycle and re-use everything we make, and completely eliminate waste, transforming our consumption patterns into a closed cycle of use, re-use, and recycling, where recyclability is designed and built into every product and every structure, and where each item is designed to use the minimum amount of resources and to last as long as possible, by being durable and repairable – the exact antithesis of corporate priorities of today.
The first and most pressing step must be to pursue rapid decarbonisation of our energy production, and it seems increasingly that we have at least reached the point of realisation about that.
The final objective – the closed loop – is today still unthinkable, an impossible dream.
Minimising the Pain
But one day, inevitably, it will become the norm. And the sooner we reach that point the less will be the pain. Future generations will look back on our time as the Age of Waste and question why we took so long to change our wasteful ways.
Indigenous people like Chief Raoni can, and must be our teachers in this process. We must recognise and value the wisdom of the indigenous way of life, and find ways to adapt ours, to adopt many of the values inherent in theirs. We must hope that we can do so in a way which retains the many irrefutable benefits mankind has developed in the last few millennia, but set them in a framework which recognises the damage we have done to our world and the finite nature of natural resources. We must become guardians of this world instead of parasites. We must learn to share its bountiful resources with others, and especially with future generations, instead of being so selfish, greedy and avaricious.
People will not change overnight, but we need to begin moving in the right direction. Greed is not an inherent human trait, it is a learned behaviour. We need to begin to un-learn it in order to make this world a better place. And indigenous people, like those who are leaving their homes to try to enlighten us, can be our guides and mentors in that process.
© Patrick Cunningham
We are pleased to announce that our book ‘Spirit of the Amazon’ is at the printers and will be published on the 3rd October 2019. All authors’ royalties will go to support the work of Tribes Alive.
Illustrated with over 200 beautiful images, this book shows the vitality and resilience of the indigenous peoples of the Xingu River basin in the Brazilian Amazon. It explores their cultures and their histories, putting them and the land they occupy in the context of the 21st Century, detailing the threats they face from the greed for their resources which comes from over-consuption by the global mainstream culture and highlighting the part they play in combatting climate change.
More information can be found on the publisher’s website: http://papadakis.net/books/the-spirit-of-the-amazon/
‘Spirit of the Amazon’ is now available to pre-order for delivery in October:
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Sue Cunningham’s exhibition ‘In The Heart of Brazil’ runs from the 4th to the 24th March at the Brazilian Embassy, just off Trafalgar Square. Full address 14-16 Cockspur Street, London SW1Y 5BL, open Monday to Friday 11am to 6pm. Admission is free.
The exhibition centres on the first ever International Indigenous Games, which took place in Brazil during October last year – more information here. There will also be workshops for school students, ‘A Journey Through the Brazilian Amazon’, but these must be arranged in advace through the Brazilian Embassy.
The photographs are of Indigenous People from Brazil and over twenty other countries. They came from all over the world to participate; not just compete, but to celebrate their traditions and to exchange information about their common experiences and the threats that they all share.
Komomoyea Kovoero Indigenous Secondary School
We have a target: just £3,500 will provide a comfortable and secure place to stay for students.
Here’s the Just Giving Link:
As we walked down the path three pairs of squawking macaws flew over us. Bright blue giant morpho butterflies took to the air, disturbed by our approach. To the side the forest sighed with a gentle breeze.
Our counterpart organisation Instituto Raoni, which represents the Kayapó of Mato Grosso and southern Pará, have approached us for funding for the school.
Until recently, any Kayapó teenagers who wanted to progress beyond the basic level of education had to leave their village and move to a town to attend a mainstream secondary school.
This put them under immense stress. Torn away from their traditional villages, they were cast adrift in an unfamiliar environment where they faced vicious discrimination. They became victims of bullying and targets for drug dealers and people encouraging them to drink alcohol. They suffered badly, and many of them dropped out.
Now there is an alternative. Cirenio and Cisera Terena are teachers. They have established the Komomoyea Kovoero Secondary School in the indigenous territory, where Kayapo students can go for more advanced education, away from the pressures and distractions of the school in town.
There are now over twenty Kayapó pupils at the school. They come from villages spread out across the Kayapó territory, which is the size of England. But they live in a dilapidated and very basic building, which desperately needs to be replaced. It is overcrowded and does not provide adequate facilities for the students to study.
And that is where we come in. The money we raise will provide showers, lavatories, bedrooms and study areas. The students will have kitchen and dining facilities to help them to learn additional life skills.
Beside the school is a vegetable garden, where the students help to grow most of the food for the school. They also tend banana plantations which help to raise the money to pay for daily expenses.
The school strives to be financially independent, but the new accommodation block will enhance the opportunities for study and help the students to acquire the training and skills so vital if they are to help their people to maintain their traditions and cultures in future years.
These are the future tribal leaders. They work hard at their studies. They merit our help.
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We have just returned from Brazil, where we went to the first-ever International Indigenous Games.
Over twenty countries sent delegations. There were archers from Mongolia and the Phillippines, runners from the USA and Kenya and canoeists from Finland and Canada. There was a good representation of Maoris from Aotearoa/New Zealanad.
From within Brazil 24 ethnic groups were represented, including several from the Xingu region. They were there to celebrate the rich variety of indigenous cultures and to show their physical strength to the world.
The event was poorly organised, and did not even pay lip service to any environmental concerns. It took place amid rows of enormous oil-powered generators whose principal function was to power ranks of air conditioners which battled to cool rooms and spaces that were open to the outside for the benefit of visitors to the games, while facilities for the contestants were woefully inadequate.
Yet it was an amazing opportunity for the diverse groups of indigenous peoples from around the globe to exchange experiences, ideas and information. The Maori and North American groups told me that they have learned a great deal about the challenges facing their South American counterparts, and left with a resolve to help disseminate the information they had gained amongst their own people. They were shocked to hear about recent moves in the Brazilian Congress to water down the rights of indigenous Brazilians, which would put at grave risk their rights to occupy their traditional lands. When demonstrations about these proposals interrupted the games, nobody complained.
For the Brazilian delegations the games offered valuable opportunities to build communications and contacts with people from other parts of the country, especially important just at this time when their rights are under such a potent and potentially devastating threat.
Here’s a gallery of photos:
The summer has passed and we are now in the bracing clutches of autumn. Yet it seems only a few weeks ago that we had the immense pleasure of hosting Raoni Metuktire and Megaron Txucarramae, leaders of the Kayapo and spokesmen for all of Brazil’s indigenous peoples, in our home.
Their visit was a whirlwind. They would have liked a little time to see our country, and we wanted very much to show them some of the sights that date back to tribal times in England, like Stonehenge and the Uffington White Horse.
But that was not to be; despite having very short notice of their visit we managed to put together a full programme, including open meetings at Oxford University and University College London, a meeting with senior-level MPs at the House of Commons and media interviews. They met with Survival International and the Gaia Foundation, and the Rainforest Foundation helped us to put on a press conference, chaired by Bianca Jagger. They even had a private meeting with Prince Charles.
We have produced a short video report of the visit:
British politicians active in the areas of international environment and human rights are now better informed about the situation on the ground in the Amazon. The impact of this is difficult to evaluate because the results are not always obvious.
The visit has elevated the public profile of Brazil’s indigenous peoples and highlighted the Brazilian government’s lack of commitment to supporting and prioritising environmental sustainability and indigenous peoples’ rights.
Raoni spoke passionately about the demarcation of indigenous territories. In particular he talked about Capot Nhinore, traditionally inhabited by the Kayapo, where his ancestors lie buried.
Although the government acknowledged the Indians’ claims over thirty years ago the area is still occupied illegally by settlers and farmers. Successive governments have unjustifiably sidelined the demarcation of this area.
The Kayapo are left with no alternative but to take matters into their own hands. If the government will not act to fulfil its obligations, then the indigenous people feel they must do it for themselves. They need our support to do this, and today, following a plea from the Chiefs during their visit, we launch a fundraising initiative to help them.
Please make a donation to our demarcation appeal:
After thirty years of procrastination, in 2012 Brazil’s courts directed Funai, the Indian agency, to demarcate the land. The technical work has now been completed, but the demarcation still requires the signature of the Minister of Justice, José Eduardo Cardozo. It joins a growing number of other indigenous territories which have been fully researched and signed off by Funai, but which the Minister has refused, so far, to sign into law.
To put this into perspective, the 1988 constitution mandated the government to complete the demarcation of all indigenous territories within five years. Yet more than a quarter of a century later many remain undemarcated. The rate of demarcation declined under the presidency of Lula and has ground to a halt under Dilma Rousseff – not a single territory has been demarcated since April 2013, despite the pile of cases on Cardozo’s desk being now over thirty. The following table shows demarcations signed into law during the last six presidencies:
|President [period]||Number||Extension (Ha)|
|Dilma Rousseff [Jan 2011 to Nov 2014]||11||2,025,406|
|Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva [Jan 2007 to Dec 2010]||21||7,726,053|
|Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva [Jan 2003 to Dec 2006]||66||11,059,713|
|Fernando Henrique Cardoso [Jan 1999 to Dec 2002]||31||9,699,936|
|Fernando Henrique Cardoso [Jan 1995 to Dec 1998]||114||31,526,966|
|Itamar Franco [Oct 92 to Dec 94]||16||5,432,437|
|Fernando Collor [Mar 90 to Sep 92]||112||26,405,219|
|José Sarney [Apr 85 to Mar 90]||67||14,370,486|
(Source: Instituto Socioambiental – ISA)
The complete halt since April 2013 clearly demonstrates this government’s reluctance to fulfil its statutory obligations.
Changes to Brazilian Law
Proposals to change Brazilian law in ways which will badly affect Brazil’s indigenous peoples are deeply troubling for Megaron. He told his audiences about several measures, any one of which will spell disaster for many indigenous communities. These range from moves to modify the 1988 constitution itself, to changes in ministerial regulations which could open up indigenous territories for mining and agriculture, oil exploration and dam building.
These represent a major attack on the rights and interests of indigenous peoples. They go against the letter and the spirit of Brazil’s international commitments, including United Nations declarations and conventions which it has signed up to. They also conflict with rights granted under Brazil’s own laws, but the justice system is heavily loaded in favour of the government and against the intersts of indigenous communities.
Dams present polemical problems in the Amazon. The Brazilian government claims they are a source of green energy, yet they produce so much methane that they can contribute more to climate change than producing the same amount of energy from fossil fuels. The social and environmental impacts are horrendous, and they bring hundreds of thousands of migrants into sensitive environments with no infrastructure, where they wreak unrestrained havoc.
But the Brazilian government is adamant: Brazil will build ever more dams. Belo Monte, the world’s third largest, is presently under construction, despite Brazil’s courts having found it illegal time and time again. There are over twenty legal cases against it, mostly initiated by the Public Prosecutors’ Office in Belém. Each case takes years to come to court, yet when the courts impose injunctions to stop the construction they are suspended in days by a judge in chambers, pending a hearing in a higher court. That hearing is always years away, and in the intervening time the construction project steams ahead despite being judged illegal.
One case which was initiated nine years ago, brought on the grounds that the project is unconstitutional, finally reached the Court of Appeal in August of 2012. Three High Court judges unanimously upheld the findings of the lower court and reimposed the injunction, paralysing the scheme. Within days, a carefully chosen Supreme Court judge had suspended the injunction yet again, allowing construction to recommence. By the time the case gets to a full hearing in the Supreme Court, the dam will be complete, so any finding will be too little, too late.
These inequalities in Brazil’s legal process are at odds with its claim to be a modern democracy. They hark back to the dark days of military dictatorship.
Brazil has plans for up to sixty huge dams in the Amazon, and hundreds of smaller ones.
The sensitive rainforest environment is already changing, becoming drier and less stable. Rapid development in the States of Mato Grosso and Pará in recent years are already causing a reduction in rainfall which threatens to leave the dams with insufficient water to work efficiently, yet the viability and environmental studies for them failed even to consider these factors at all.
With Belo Monte fast becoming a fait accommpli, attention is now moving to the next river, the Tapajos, where three dams are already in the advanced planning stage. These will have a massive impact on the Mundurucu indigenous people.
Belo Monte Hydroelectric Dam: http://www.internationalrivers.org/campaigns/belo-monte-dam
Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Amazon Dams: http://amazonwatch.org/news
Scientific Paper about GHG emissions from Dams: http://www.academia.edu
Tapajos River – Hydroelectric dams: http://www.internationalrivers.org/resources/tapaj%C3%B3s-basin-dams-3352
Kayapo Chiefs Raoni Metuktire and Megaron Txucarramãe arrived in England last Monday. They found themselves very quickly ushered into the high tech surroundings of the Channel 4 studio!
It has been twenty-five years since Chief Raoni was accompanied by rock star Sting on a world tour. Sadly, the threats and problems that existed then are still causing problems, and a giant dam – Belo Monte, which will be the world’s third largest – is being built on the Xingu River where he lives.
The Chiefs were here to ask for our help. The interview is moving. Paul Mason said on his blog “It’s one of the most amazing encounters I’ve ever had – and one that nobody in the world will be able to have again if we let development and resource speculation destroy what’s left of the world’s indigenous peoples.” – See more on Paul’s blog
Here is the interview with Paul Mason on Channel 4 News:
It was a great experience. It was very touching how, with the interview completed, all of Paul’s highly professional team just couldn’t wait to get selfies of themselves with the chiefs – and that included Paul Mason himself, who was clearly deeply moved by the meeting!