Category Archives: Indigenous

5,800-year-old tree (the Amazon’s oldest) cut down by illegal loggers trespassing on protected tribal land

A 5,800-year-old tree has been cut down by loggers illegally encroaching into the Matsés Indigenous Reserve, an area where logging is illegal but potentially holds huge reserves of oil and gas below ground.

Amazon's oldest tree chopped down by loggers

The logging firms claim it was an accident and they didn’t realise either where they were or how old the tree was. The giant Samauma tree is over 5,800 years old and 40 meters high.

The Matsés tribe called it “The Mother Tree”, so long has it been a fixture in the lives of them and their ancestors. No punishment has been given to the logging company involved, suggesting the local authorities may not be on nature’s side or that of the native people.

Within 20 years the speed at which the rainforest is being cut down in the Amazon has more than tripled, at 100 acres destroyed every minute, with most of the lost forest becoming pasture for cattle or to grow soy.

Protecting nature’s always pretty down the list in terms of priorities when war and famine are rife around the world, but this is still probably one of the ugliest man-made issues we’re committing on earth right now, and it’s one that could be solved fairly easily with the right controls and guidance.

Remember, the Amazon is the most dangerous place in the world for environmental activists, which shows how vicious, lawless and powerful the logging firms are around there.


“We are fighting for our land, and we are being killed, one by one.” Eliseu Lopes, tribe leader in Brazil

Guarani are an indigenous people that live across Argentina, Bolivia and southwestern Brazil. When Europeans first arrived in South America in 1500 the Guarani numbered around 400,000. At that time, they were living in small communities and grew manioc, maize, wild game, and honey.

Cue a few hundred years and their leaders are being murdered by ranchers in a land dispute that should have ended in 1993.

Earlier this month, 27-year-old Guarani leader Marinalva Manoel was raped and stabbed to death after traveling 1,000km to Brasília to lobby the government to recognize Guarani land rights.

NGO Survival International has evidence Guarani-tribe leaders are being murdered by gunmen hired by ranchers eager to quash a land dispute in the rancher’s favour. Ranchers use Guarani land to grow sugar cane, soya and cattle. Profits are huge and ranchers are actively protected by local police and politicians, leaving the Guarani at their mercy.

Guarani leaders are singled out, attacked and killed by ranchers’ gunmen as a result of their campaign for their ancestral land to be mapped out and returned to them. Many leaders have received death threats. According to Brazil’s constitution, all the tribe’s land should have been returned to them by 1993.

Forced to live in overcrowded reserves and roadside camps while ranchers earn huge profits on their land, the Guarani suffer alarming rates of malnutrition, suicide and violence. A recent wave of eviction orders threatens to further worsen their horrific plight.

Despite many promises, successive governments have failed to resolve Brazil’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Survival International is asking anyone interested in protecting the rights of indigenous people to write to the Brazilian government and force them to sort the issue out in the Guarani’s favour.

Or send an email to President Dilma Rousseff at

Something like:

Dear Dilma,

I am deeply concerned successive governments have failed to map out the lands of the Guarani tribe of Mato Grosso do Sul.

Without their ancestral land, the Guarani cannot survive. Their leaders are being killed one by one, their children are dying of malnutrition and they suffer one of the highest suicide rates in the world. The worldwide community is sickened by your failure to protect your people.

Please uphold the constitution and demarcate the Guarani’s lands immediately, before more lives are lost.


12,000-year-old human graffiti on the walls of a cave in Montalvânia, northern Minas Gerais

Lagoa Santa in Central Brazil is the only site in the entire American continent where bodies of the earliest modern humans have been found.Luzia, found in Lagoa Santa, Brazil in 1830

The bodies date back to the earliest days of the Holocene period,
which began about 12,000 years ago with a global rise in sea-levels of about 60m.

The most famous body is that of Luiza, a young woman perfectly-preserved from the day she passed away in a cave and looking very much like a modern human.

Graffiti by early humans of the Holocene period in Minas Gerais, Brazil

The Holocene period encapsulates the period of the “modern human”, and continues with us up to this day. It’s incredible these early humans, who will have crossed into the continent from Russia, have been found only once across the entire continent, and all the way south in the cave systems of central Brazil.

In a tiny town in northern Minas Gerais called Montalvânia their early cave-paintings have also been found.

Graffiti by early humans of the Holocene period in Minas Gerais, Brazil

A lot of it is stick-men, including the man in the image above who has five sets of arms. A few of the drawings look like rocket-ships and planes, which sets the imagination alight about what was going through these early human’s minds.

Graffiti by early humans of the Holocene period in Minas Gerais, BrazilThe cave-drawings can be seen in Belo Horizonte’s Espaco do Conhecimento and the caves of the American continent’s earliest humans can be explored in Lagoa Santa.

Beware, though: the cave is full of spiders. Two of them are the “deadliest spiders in Brazil”, according to the tour guide. As he was describing the spiders he pointed to my foot and said: “There’s one.” Brazil’s deadliest spider was on my flip-flop!

I kicked it off and we moved along.

Well worth a visit!

Interview with Brazil’s “Chainsaw Queen” politician, who wants to loosen laws to chop down more trees in Brazil

Brazilian politician Kátia Abreu leads agricultural lobbying in loosening controls on Amazon deforestation. She wants to make Brazil a powerhouse in the exportation of soy products, a plan which will require deforestation to take place, unless it can be carefully controlled in areas like Minas Gerais’ Triângulo Mineiro.

Here are the highlights from her interview with The Guardian about a country in which more environmental activists are murdered than anywhere else in the world.

Running for president is not a plan – it is fate. Criticism from radical environmentalists is the best form of endorsement. It gives me satisfaction. It shows I am on the right track and playing the right role.”

“We have all the essential elements: abundant water, advanced technology and plenty of land for production. Based on this, we can become number one without cutting down trees.”

She alleges environmentalists, indigenous groups and landless peasants are working for foreign interests. “I don’t have concrete proof of this but I get a very strong impression that this is the case.”

“Forty years ago, the average Brazilian spent 50% of his or her income on food. Now the proportion is about 18%.”

“For many years, environmentalism reached an extreme pitch and we in the agribusiness sector were treated like criminals. Now, our agribusiness sector can influence the choice of kings and queens in Brazil. In the past, we only exercised economic influence. Now we also have political power.”

Most chillingly, Abreu said:

“We cannot rest on our laurels. There are many things holding back progress – the environmental issue, the Indian issue and more. But even with these problems we keep producing high levels of productivity. Imagine how high it might be without those obstacles.”

Five different types of bananas in a Brazilian supermarket, and not one Cavendish

Five different types of bananas in a Brazilian supermarket, none of them the yellow Cavendish banana or green Plantain types they sell in the USA and the UK.

Banana Ouro, Banana Maçã, Banana Caturra, Banana da Terra and Banana Prata, but no Cavendish...
Banana Ouro, Banana Maçã, Banana Caturra, Banana da Terra and Banana Prata, but no Cavendish…

This is a banana-tree, in the middle-left corner you can just about see a bunch of unripened, lime-green bananas waiting to be chopped down.
A banana-tree in Carmo da Paranaiba, Brazil

And none of them the amazing pink bananas – edible, sweet, but with seeds that can chip a tooth!

Musa velutina bananas are pink. They taste sweet but the seeds can chip a tooth
Musa velutina bananas are pink. They taste sweet but the seeds can chip a tooth

Amazon Rainforest in Brazil the most dangerous place in the world for environmental activists

According to Global Witness, the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil remains the most dangerous place in the world for environmental activists. Of 908 environmental activists killed in 35 countries since 2002, 448 were murdered in one country alone: Brazil.

And the murder rate is increasing; from 51 in 2002 to 147 in 2012. In most cases the killers are out free, with only 10 convictions out of 908 dead.

In Brazil, most activists are protesting issues related to natural resources and land-rights, and most victims are indigenous people and minorities.

Barbara Ruiz of the United Nations Environment Programme believes intimidation, violence and criminality are also common against activists. In one example, villagers protesting a mega-project that would cut through their land and destroy their livelihoods were “accused of terrorism for speaking against state security forces who had tried to  expel them from the area.”

Last year Spanish biologist Gonzalo Alonso Hernández, who clashed regularly with illegal loggers and ranchers, was executed in Rio de Janeiro. 

José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife were murdered by masked gunmen after denouncing illegal logging in the Brazilian state of Para. José had one of his ears ripped off as proof of his execution. Two men were imprisoned, but the farm-owner accused of paying for the killings was acquitted. The farm-owner had purchased land on which three indigenous families lived and da Silva was campaigning to keep them there. 

Deforestation of the Amazon has become a battleground for activists and paramilitary groups. Deforestation increased in 2013 by 28 per cent after a consecutive four-year decline, and environmentalists blame a relaxation of laws that once protected the jungle. According to Global Witness, the regions most affected by deforestation in the Amazon now have the highest recorded violence against activists.