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Huni Kuin at Common Ground (1)

By: Edoardo Segato-Figueroa
Us and Them - the isolated tribes in the Amazon

They say some things happen only once in a blue moon. To respect this tradition, on the 2021 August Blue Moon we were visited by two representatives of the Amazon indigenous tribe Huni Kuin from Brazil. The shamans Nilson Saboia Tuwe and his uncle Masha, have come a long way - a five day boat ride through the jungle, many hours in cars and several airplanes - to share their sustainable practices and to tell us about their mission: locating, protecting and raising awareness about isolated indigenous people living in the Amazon forest, in collaboration with the FUNAI organization (National Indian Foundation).

Tuwe and Masha sit on their couch on the grass, smiling and looking at us from behind their red-painted faces, multicolored vests and huge feathered headdresses. Tuwe is also a filmmaker and he’s about to show us an extract from his documentary ‘Us and Them’. Before pressing play, he asks each person to introduce themself and say why they're here. Only after everyone has been acknowledged, can they really start! That creates a strong and unexpected bond between us and them, changing the course of the entire event and offering another interpretation of the title of Tuwe’s documentary.

Contact is the pivotal term of the evening, a word that should inspire connection, peace and inclusion, but that unfortunately is synonymous with disease, degradation and death for the Huni Kuin and the other uncontacted tribes. Yet, in spite of that, Tuwe and Masha are here, making contact with us and inviting us to visit them in the Amazon and see for ourselves. They say, “there’s no Wi-fi in the forest, but there’s much better connection”.

The documentary is powerful, raw and short, packed with meaningful footage and insights. Tuwe is filming and narrating, taking us on a boat trip up the Hamaità river in the Amazon, following anthropologists José Carlos Meirelles, Txai Terri Aquino and colleagues through different Huni Kuin villages. There, we learn that the locals are aware of the hidden people thanks to the small traces and subtle signs of their passage: banana trees cut to the ground, fruit peels, footprints on the sandy riverside, missing objects, remnants of fire pits, arrows.

Sometimes someone spots them from afar, running in the jungle, or circling the villages silently at night. Overall, we witness the complexity of acceptance, integration and forced migration due to narco-trafficking, war or land and resource exploitation. 

After the movie, we have time for a few questions, but the answer isn’t in what Tuwe and Masha say, but rather in their very presence here. Being with them means to us, what seeing the uncontacted people means to the Huni Kuin. Two different worlds colliding, trying to sense the boundaries, searching for common ground, to build a peaceful future. In the last fifteen years the United Nations declared the right to self-isolate and provided several guidelines and recommendations to follow when dealing with uncontacted people.

As we speak, the Brazilian government is voting to erase laws that protect the local tribes and pass new regulations that would deprive them the right to live on their land, like the PL-2633/2020 Legislation for Brazilian Beef Supply Chain.

If you want to help them protect the Amazon forest, one of the most important natural places in the entire world, as well as their ancestral home, you can visit the following links to take action in various ways and learn about the fascinating people Huni Kuin!

https://lastwarning.org/emergency-in-brazil 

https://hunikuin.org/en/home/

https://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/uncontacted-brazil 

https://news.mongabay.com/2017/08/brazils-temer-revokes-constitutional-indigenous-land-rights/

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