Brazil Federal police set fire to illegal heavy gold mining equipment, 5 May 2018. The indigenous Munduruku say that the police have done little to protect their preserve on the Tropas River. Photo: Federal Police of Santarem

By Rosamaria Loures, Sue Branford, and Maurício Torres
31 May 2018

(Mongabay) – “The gold mining in our territory is bringing a lot of illness, a lot of malaria. It’s bringing alcohol into our communities. It’s bringing drugs into our territory,” said Maria Leusa, a Munduruku female warrior and a leading member of the Ipereg Ayu Movement (the phrase means “I am strong” in the Munduruku language). “The garimpeiros [gold miners] are worsening the divisions within our community, co-opting some Munduruku leaders and giving them guns. They are bringing in cachaça [cheap rum], seducing our young girls. We are afraid it will all get worse. We must stop it.”

Leusa is outspoken, despite news from an informant revealing that mine owners have offered to pay 100 grams of gold to the person who assassinates her. She talked to Mongabay in the indigenous village of Boca do Rio das Tropas, near where the Tropas River flows into the Tapajós River. Leusa was there taking part in a meeting of Munduruku women expressing anger and indignation at the impact of mining on their communities.

This isn’t small-scale artisanal mining. The Munduruku women say that there are now mines, using heavy, damaging equipment, at the headwaters of the Tropas River — all well supported by an airstrip where supply planes arrive daily. All 21 Munduruku villages, with a combined population of about 500 individuals, have been negatively affected by the stream’s worsening severe pollution and by rising violence.

Unfortunately for the Munduruku, a raid launched against the mines on 5 May 2018 by Federal Police, known as Operation Pajé Bravo, while it destroyed some equipment, did little to close the mines on Munduruku land. Instead, death threats against the Indians have multiplied, and the possibility of violence in this remote part of the Amazon is growing.

Aloísio Ikopi, a respected Munduruku chronicler and Boca de Igarapé Preto resident, described the harm done so far. Clearly very angry, he said that the garimpeiros have carelessly and unnecessarily damaged the forest around the mines. They have even pulled out timbó planted by their ancestors.

The timbó is an important ceremonial plant. It possesses a poisonous root, which Amazon indigenous groups use at an annual festival, called a tinguejada. Held in the rainy season, when fish are abundant, the celebration ends in a feast. Poison from the timbó root, rarely used at other times, enables the Indians to gather quantities of stunned fish for the feast.

Aerial view of an illegal gold mine in Brazil, showing the scope of the extensive environmental destruction along the Tropas River. These gold mines, dug with heavy equipment, heavily pollute the river with runoff sediments, and also with mercury, used to purify the gold. The indigenous Munduruku rely on the river for drinking water and for fishing. Photo: Federal Police of Santarem

Ikopi explained that the miners are polluting the river, with catastrophic impact. “The pariwats [whites] have killed the Mother of the Fish. We didn’t see her die, but we knew that she would die, when [the miners] came up our river with their excavators,” he said. “Along with the machines came a lot of pariwats [white people]. I saw so many fish die.”

The Munduruku ancestors are angry, he explained: “They are telling us, we must not accept this kind of destruction. Pariwats don’t depend on the forest; they live on destruction. But we depend on the forest for our survival — on the fish, wild animals, fruit, açaí palm. And we can’t even eat açaí berries [a staple food] any more, as they’ve destroyed the açaí trees in the forest. In the past, our forefathers warned us that if we knocked down as much as one buriti palm, we were all going to suffer. Imagine today!” [more]

Raid fails to stop gold mining, death threats on Amazon’s Tropas River

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