Motivated by the love for their native lands and armed with bows, arrows, GPS trackers and camera traps, an indigenous community in northern Brazil is fighting to achieve what officials couldn’t – stop illegal logging in their part of the Amazon.

Honor and survival

Ka’apor Indians hike during a jungle expedition to search for and expel loggers from the Amazon basin in Brazil in August. Lunae Parracho/Reuters

The Ka’apor are a distinct ethnic group of indigenous Brazilians living on a protected reserve in the state of Maranhão. They live in a heavily deforested area of Pre-Amazonian forest, but have managed to protect the forest within their designated reserve up until now. The 2,200 people all contribute to the struggle and receive little to no help from authorities.

Logging tractors constantly surround their settlement. Drivers and chainsaw operators are warned never to return, but always do. In 2014, the tribe attacked a group of loggers, tying them up, humiliating them and destroying the cut logs, but ultimately set them free.

It’s a dangerous game they play. Since 2011, when they started their defense operation, the cutting of trees has slowed down, but four tribe members have been murdered, and many more have been threatened by the loggers. The Ka’apor asked the government to protect their borders, which were recognised in 1982 and a federal court ordered the authorities to set up security posts, but nothing happened. Tidiun Ka’apor (who, like all of the leaders of the group, asked to have his name changed to avoid being targeted by loggers) spoke to the Guardian:

“Sometimes, it’s like a film. They fight us with machetes, but we always drive them off,” he says. “We tell them, ‘We’re not like you. We don’t steal your cows so don’t steal our trees.”

Image via Red Power Media.

The weapons they use are bows and arrows and borduna – a heavy sword-shaped baton. There is only one old, rusty rifle, but more often than not, it all comes down to sheer numbers: the Ka’apor have the numbers, and the motivation. For the loggers, it’s all about the profits. Many sought after trees grow in the area, including ipê (Brazilian walnut), which can fetch almost £1,000 ($1,500) per cubic metre after processing. But for the Ka’apur, it’s about their home, their territory, and something perhaps even more important: their dignity, constantly eroded of two decades of logging. But ultimately, it’s about survival; the forest is their survival, and without the forest, they just can’t survive.

A losing battle?

A logging truck burns after it was set on fire by Ka’apor warriors in the Amazon. Lunae Parracho/Reuters

Another of the group’s leaders, Miraté Ka’apor says the use of violence is justified, but this feels like an arms race they cannot ultimately win.

“The loggers come here to steal from us. So, they deserve what they get. We have to make them feel our loss – the loss of our timber, the destruction of our forest.” Compared with the past, he said the missions were effective. “Our struggle is having results because the loggers respect us now.”

The loggers have threatened to strike back with vengeance and lethal force, and they already have. They’ve threatened tribe members, destroyed their homes, and even killed them. It’s a story that shouldn’t have gotten to here… and that likely won’t end here.

The Guardian has a really lengthy and detailed article, which I really suggest reading. The Ka’apor are looking for seeking support through NGOs and the media. Perhaps media pressure will force local authorities to intervene, and perhaps we could make a difference. It’s a long shot, but who knows.

Enjoyed this article? Join 40,000+ subscribers to the ZME Science newsletter. Subscribe now!

Like us on Facebook