Jungle Journey: Living With an Isolated Amazon Tribe

The diet here is extremely limited, consisting mostly of fish and also bread made out of yucca. (It's a starch -- kind of like potato.)

The food is placed in a big metal bowl on the floor. Everyone grabs with their hands. The husband, whose name is Marikerosone, is encouraging me to eat. In order to distract from the fact that I am having trouble stomaching the food (which tastes like cardboard to my dainty tongue), I decide to ask an impertinent question.

"This is a sensitive question," I say, "but if you want to be alone with your wife, if you want to be intimate with your wife, you're living in this room full of people. How do you have privacy?"

After a lengthy process of translation, Marikerosone breaks into a high-pitched laugh (one of the most charming Enawene Nawe cultural traits) and throws his food at me.

Then he explains that they get plenty of privacy at night once people fall asleep.

Apparently so. He has seven children and his wife is pregnant with number eight.

Spending time here in this village really gets me thinking about our modern notions of "progress" and "sophistication." The Enawene Nawe don't have high technology or high finance (or last names or currency, for that matter), but they also don't have crime, poverty, hierarchy or drugs. Living here, you don't have to worry about losing your job, getting ahead or having as much stuff as your neighbor.

In fact, not only do the tribe members take only what they need, but they also seem to need less to make them happy.

The simplicity of their lives frees them up to do some of the things that we in the outside world have sometimes lost in our lives: spend time with the kids, enjoy nature, laugh.

But while this is a happy place, there is also, we learn, a constant, nagging fear.

The Enawene Nawe believe they are on the edge of oblivion.

'They Will Destroy Everything'

According to their faith, when the world began, two groups of people emerged from giant stone: the Indians and everyone else (who they call "the whites"). The Indians took only a stone ax, and let the white have technology and disease.

Now, the two civilizations are colliding.

The Indians' take-only-what-you-need world is in a clash with our modern, take-all-you-want juggernaut, and the Indians are losing.

Marikerosone brings us to see huge swaths of the tribe's ancestral land that have been deforested and destroyed by ranchers. He also brings us to the spot in the river where the Brazilian government is hoping to build a hydroelectric dam, which the tribe believes will ruin their traditional fishing grounds.

When Marikersone talks about the threats to his people, the happy glint in his eye disappears.

"They will kill the fish," he says of the government. "They will kill the environment. They will destroy everything. And it will mean that they want to kill us, too, as a people because we won't have anything left."

Surviving Six

This is not an abstract threat. We're told of tribes throughout the Amazon (there are more than 200 in Brazil alone) are being slaughtered and driven off their land by ranchers, loggers and miners engaged in what's been called the "rape of the Amazon." An area twice the size of Colorado has been cut down in the Brazilian Amazon in the last 40 years.

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