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Exotic Tribes
Be a responsible traveller. Show tribal people respect and meet them on their premises. Visiting people with a different lifestyle and culture could sometimes be a very rewarding adventure, but be aware of that many tribal communities are extremely vulnerable to outside influences. All tribal people need to be protected from tourists in order to preserve their unique lifestyle and cultures. Travellers should understand that some tribes would like to live undisturbed, and that visit would be an intrusion.

Native languages near extinction in Brazil

More than 180 languages and dialects are spoken by the 360,000 indigenous peoples in Brazil today. They are part of the near 6,000 tongues spoken today in the world. How long will the indigenous people keep their own language, spoken for hundred, maybe thousand of years ago?

Photo. An Indian resting - living in the Amazon - Brazilian side (Per Henriksen, Reiseliv - www.Reiseliv.no - one of our freelance journalists and an great adventurer from Norway).


It is estimated that the original Indian population of Brazil ranged from 2 to 5 million at the time of first contact with Europeans in the early sixteenth century. It is also estimated that 1200 languages were spoken in Brazil at that time. Because of violence and diseases, the original Indian population become reduced to about 150,000 by the early twentieth century. Despite the difficulties it faced, the Indian population began to recover its numbers and increased to 330,000 by the mid-1990s.


The risk for extinction still threatens some groups in Brazil. According to the Norwegian national newspaper Aftenposten (4 March 2004), the authorities in Brazil expect that 42 native languages will be endangered if not the teaching in native languages continues. FUNAI (National Foundation of the Indian) in Brazil is in charge of the teaching Indians so they can learn their own language properly. It lives three Indians who speak different languages. When they die, their languages also vanish.


Vanishing of native language could be explained by many factors. The best known and largest of the Indigenous areas is the 9.6-million-hectare Yanomami Indigenous Park, located in the northern states of Amazonas and Roraima, along Brazil's border with Venezuela. Gold miners and their diseases have had an adverse impact on the Yanomami. 


The Caiapó in southeastern Pará became widely known both for their traditional environmental management and their controversial concessions to gold miners and lumber companies. Other indigenous areas include the Xingu Indigenous Park and other parts of Amazônia, including the western section of the Amazon along the Rio Solimões, Roraima, northern Amazonas, Rondônia, Acre, Amapá, and northern and southeastern Pará. The Northeast (Maranhão) and Center-West (western Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, and Goiás) regions also have large indigenous areas.


Rights and conflicts

Diverse ethnic and racial groups have been given right participating politically. Even thought they are not represented in government and politics in proportion to their numbers in the general population. Indigenous leaders and activists complain that indigenous peoples have only limited participation in decisions taken by the Government affecting their land, cultures, traditions, and allocation of national resources.


Photo. Colourful Indians in the Amazon - Brazilian side (Per Henriksen, Reiseliv - www.Reiseliv.no - one of our freelance journalists and an great adventurer from Norway).


They also criticized the Government for devoting insufficient resources for health care, other basic services, and protection of indigenous reserves from non-Indians. Illegal mining, logging, and ranching are serious problems on Indian land. Due partly to the Government's failure to provide adequate medical care as required by law, indigenous people have suffered epidemics of malaria, measles, and tuberculosis.


According to the chief of FUNAI (National Foundation of the Indian), FUNAI's medical department, 60 percent of the indigenous population suffers from a chronic disease such as tuberculosis, malaria, or hepatitis. In certain areas of the Amazon region, up to 80 percent of the population are affected. Illegal mining in the Amazon has led to the doubling of the incidence of malaria in the period 1994-98. FUNAI estimates that 75 percent of the affected population is indigenous.


The infant mortality rate among the Yanomami in 1997 was 13 percent, while infant mortality among non-Indian residents was only 1.5 percent. According to health workers' unions, poor working conditions and lack of resources from the Government make it very difficult for health workers to travel into indigenous areas to provide sufficient medical care. Although racial discrimination has been illegal since 1951, darker skinned citizens say that they frequently encounter discrimination.



The Amazon's Indian wars, was recently the headlines in the newspaper Economist (www.economist.com). The newspaper reports about a battle over an Indian reservation encapsulate the arguments over whether and how to develop the Amazon. The Amazonian state of Roraima has a whiff of impending civil strife.


Early in January (2004) Indians from an reservation blocked roads leading to Boa Vista, the state's capital, and occupied the offices of the agencies for federal agrarian reform and Indian affairs. The dispute has not only polarised Roraima. It also sheds light on wider struggles between environmentalists and enthusiasts for traditional culture on one side, and advocates of economic growth on the other.


Brazil is widely covered by Indian reservations. These are often vast tracts containing few people but abundant resources, from wood to gold to water. The land and what lies beneath it belong to the federal government, but the Indians control access and economic activity. Most outsiders who care about such things consider this fair. According to the Economist, reservations look like bulwarks against forces that might imperil both the Amazon, where the biggest ones are, and the rights of a weak minority. This view has powerful supporters, such as international NGOs and Brazil's Catholic Church.


The key for the indigenous Indianans to get influence in the modern society is to learn to read and write. In addition they need to keep their own language, social and cultural identity.


Stein Morten Lund, 8 March 2004


Additional information

Read more about uncontacted Indians in the Amazon jungle on the Socio-Environmental Institute website:



Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) is a private institution, qualified as Organização da Sociedade Civil de Interesse Público (Oscip), since 21 September 2001, established to propose integrated solutions to social and environmental issues. ISA's main objective is to defend the social good and rights, both collective and diffuse, relating to the environment, cultural heritage, human rights and the peoples.


To keep update with the Indians fight for their rights, read The Economist newspaper: www.economist.com


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