'Surrounded, afraid': The indigenous guardians of Brazil's Amazon

Katica and Andre Karipuna sit in their village in the Amazon region. Photo: Mia Alberti

Rondonia, Brazil – Katica Karipuna has high hopes for the future of her tribe, the Karipuna, who live on the Jacy-Parane riverbank, in the northwestern Brazilian state of Rondonia.

As one of the tribe’s oldest members, she tries to teach the younger generations their native language, Tupi-Guarani. Her dream, she says, is to see her grandchildren have children.

But to talk about the past is almost too painful. She vividly remembers when the Karipuna were first contacted by non-indigenous people in 1978. Dozens of her relatives died from diseases brought by the non-indigenous. Their territory was also opened to the eyes of lumber and rubber producers, who have been trying to claim the Karipuna land ever since.

“Before we were many people, we had a lot of land and we were five villages,” says Katica, who has long dark hair with a hint of silver. She doesn’t know her exact age, but believes she’s about 60 years old. She is one of the few members of her tribe that uses traditional face paint, now a faint tone of green, the lines get entangled with her wrinkles. Her son, Andre, the tribe’s leader, translates from Tupi-Guarani to Portuguese, as the pair sit on a wooden bench in the middle of their remote village, surrounded by children and a group of puppies.

“Now, I feel afraid. The farmers are getting too close, they are invading a lot of our land. We are surrounded,” she says.

Read the full story on Al Jazeera here.

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