Clash of cultures as Amazon cowboys close in on indigenous lands


As evening falls over their Amazon home, the hunter gatherers of the Uru-eu-wau-wau people extract bamboo arrows from the flank of a wild pig and begin roasting it.

A few miles — and a world — away on the opposite side of the rainforest’s delicate existential divide, cowboys on horseback round up cattle at the outer reaches of a vast ranch.

“We have no problem with them,” said Awapy Uru-eu-wau-wau, the young chief of the 19-person forest community in central Rondonia state.

It’s an uncommon expression of goodwill in an area where the worlds of rich landowners and indigenous tribes collide and jostle over the future of the planet’s largest rainforest.

The tribe’s resource-rich 1.8 million hectare native reserve — an area nearly twice the size of Lebanon — is under constant siege from landlords, timber traders, landowners and miners who rely on deforestation to exploit its bounty.

“I’ve been facing this invasion since I was 19 or 20, and these guys are threatenings because we’re standing up to them,” says Awapy, 38. “I’m not afraid of risking my life. It’s the only way.”

The few hundred inhabitants of the reserve, divided into seven hamlets, have a long history of resistance. To help surveil the forest and protect themselves, the self-styled guardians of nature mostly live along the boundaries of their territory, demarcated in the early 1990s.

Awapy’s village comprises half a dozen small dwellings, some of wood with a straw roof, others of cement with roofs of tile. The five families here live almost entirely off the jungle, where they venture daily to hunt and when necessary, to see off invaders — often organized groups — in confrontations that often turn violent, he says.

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