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Guajajara community against illegal loggers in Terra Indígena Araribóia, Maranhão, Brazil

Systematically lacking help from the government, communities of the TI Araribóia have started to protect themselves against illegal logging and the advancing of the deforestation frontier but now face ongoing violence and impunity.


The Araribóia Indigenous Territory, located in the southeast of Maranhão, comprises an area of about 413,000 hectares that is home to about 12,000 indigenous people of the Guajajara-Tenetehara and the (related) Awá-Guajá, and an estimated 80 of the latter living in isolation. The Guajajara are one of Brazil’s most numerous indigenous groups and live in several protected territories in Maranhão, the largest one being Araribóia. The Awá are in turn one of the most threatened indigenous groups in the world and also known as one of the last hunter-gatherers and for building close relationships with wild animals. Their territory (close to Araribóia) has seen regular invasions and illegal occupations from cattle ranchers, settlers and loggers and got partly destroyed, putting the group, whose livelihood strongly depends on an intact forest, increasingly under pressure. The Araribóia territory is part of a unique biome in the transition zone between the eastern Amazon rainforest and the savanna of the Cerrado in Brazil’s northeast, making the woodlands prone to seasonal droughts. As the Awá territory, it is one of the areas within the “Moisaico Gurupi”, a group of six indigenous territories and one conservation unit that has been described in a recent study as the Amazon’s currently most threatened and vulnerable zone with regard to the dynamics of deforestation, illegal land occupation and timber extraction, and associated violence – which would therefore require special protection and conservation effort to preserve the important ecological functions and socio-cultural heritage of the areas in danger. [1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8]

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Guajajara community against illegal loggers in Terra Indígena Araribóia, Maranhão, Brazil
State or province:Maranhão
Location of conflict:Terra Indígena Araribóia (Amarante do Maranhão)
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Logging and non timber extraction
Specific commodities:Land
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Brazil’s Prevfogo and IBAMA estimated that the 2015 fire in the Araribóia territory affected about 225,000 hectares (55 percent) of a widely forested area. [1]

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Project area:413,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:~12,080 (just within the territory)
Start of the conflict:01/07/2008
Relevant government actors:National Center for Prevention and Control of Forest Fires (Prevfogo)
Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama)
National Indian Foundation (Funai)
Brazilian Army
Brazilian government and regional government
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Guajarara community and their “Guardians”
Survival International
Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (APIB)
Instituto Socioambiental
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Property damage/arson
Threats to use arms
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Self-organized forest monitoring and patrol group
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Fires, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Soil erosion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Potential: Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Violent targeting of activists
Development of alternatives:Law enforcement, stop of impunity and fight against illegal logging business. In the 2017 protests, the community particularly demanded more guard posts in the territory, protection for their leaders and other villagers facing death threats as well as for the isolated Awá.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Illegal logging, deforestation and severe threats and violence against the communities continue.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

11. Richard, L. (2013): “Índios da Amazônia: o último combate (français legendado em português)” (Youtube/ French documentary about illegal logging threat to Awá)
[click to view]

5. Celentano, D., Miranda, M.; Mendoça, E.; et al. (2018): Desmatamento, degradação e violência no "Mosaico Gurupi" - A região mais ameaçada da Amazônia. Estudos Avançados, 32 (92), 315- 339.
[click to view]

12. Greenpeace Brasil (2018): Imaginary trees, real deforestation. (report March 2018)
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

22. Survival International (2018): Indigenous Environmental Defender killed as logging mafia targets tribe. 15.08.2018. (Online, last accessed 30.09.2018)
[click to view]

4. Milhorance, F. (2018): Brazil: murder of indigenous leader highlights threat to way of life. The Guardian Online, 16.08.2018. (Online, last accessed 30.09.2018)
[click to view]

1. Nakamura, R. (2016): State of alert: how huge fires in Brazil threaten indigenous and isolates. Portal Trabalho Indigenista, 30.03.2016. (Online, last accessed 30.09.2018)
[click to view]

7. Wallace, S. (2016): Illegal Loggers Wage War on Indigenous People in Brazil. National Geographic News, 21.01.2016. (Online, last accessed 30.09.2018)
[click to view]

3. Aldag, J. (2015): Defending the Amazon. The Washington Post Online, 06.10.2015. (Online, last accessed 30.09.2018)
[click to view]

20. Santana, R. (2017): Pelo 3º ano seguido, incêndio na TI Arariboia pode provocar remoção de Awá isolados e destruição de aldeias Guajajara. CIMI, 29.09.2017. (Online, last accessed 30.09.2018)
[click to view]

16. Barcelos, I.; Barros, C. (2016): Sem presença da Funai, índios assumem proteção das terras. A Publica Online, 17.06.2016. (Online, last accessed 30.09.2018)
[click to view]

9. Borlina, V. (2016): Número de incêndios florestais cresce 27,5% no país. Folha de S. Paulo, 05.01.2016. (Online, last accessed 30.09.2018)
[click to view]

23. Survival International (2016): Brazil: Six Indians murdered as land conflict deepens. 02.12.2016. (Online, last accessed 30.09.2018)
[click to view]

15. Instituto Socioambiental (2016): Funai perde 23% do orçamento e opera só com 36% dos servidores. 16.06.2016. (Online, last accessed 30.09.2018)
[click to view]

19. Portal Amazônia (2017): Fogo volta a destruir parte da Terra Indígena Arariboia, no Maranhão. 26.10.2017. (Online, last accessed 30.09.2018)
[click to view]

14. CIMI (2016): Em um mês, quatro indígenas Guajajara foram assassinados no Maranhão. 27.04.2016. (Online, last accessed 30.09.2018)
[click to view]

21. Santana, R. (2017): Guardiões da Floresta da TI Arariboia ocupam sede da Funai reivindicando proteção e fiscalização do território, CIMI, 30.08.2017. (Online, last accessed 30.09.2018)
[click to view]

18. Portal Amazônia (2016): Fogo já consumiu mais de 20% da Terra Indígena Araribóia no MA. 13.09.2016. (Online, last accessed 30.09.2018)
[click to view]

25. MercoPress (2018): Tribal chief of the “Guardians of the Amazon” murdered by illegal loggers in Brazil. 17.08.2018 (Online, last accessed 30.09.2018)
[click to view]

2. Survival International (2018): “Guardians of the Amazon” seize illegal loggers to protect uncontacted tribe. 22.05.2018. (Online, last accessed 30.09.2018)
[click to view]

17. Lila, L. (2015): Indigenous lands are going up in smoke in the Amazon - because of illegal logging. Greenpeace Online, 24.10.2015. (Online, last accessed 30.09.2018)
[click to view]

24. Prestes, M. (2018): Morte de líder indígena foi por afogamento, diz perícia; caso é lembrado em prêmio no Rio. Folha de S. Paulo Online, 16.08.2018. (Online, last accessed 30.09.2018)
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

TV report (2015 fire)
[click to view]

8. Survival International (2014): Awá – the campaign. (Campaign summary April 2014)
[click to view]

6. FUNAI (2014): Conheça o Povo Awá Guajá (Short video report).
[click to view]

13. Survival International / Franciel Souza Guajajara (2017): "We're putting our lives at risk" (Short video interview with a leader of the guardians)
[click to view]

10. Clark, N. (2015): Rede Cerrado questiona governo sobre Plano MATOPIBA. Portal Trabalho Indigenista, 28.08.2015. (Online, last accessed 30.09.2018)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Max Stoisser
Last update19/11/2018
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