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'Our land is shrinking': Amazon tribe tells ITV News how fires and gangs are pushing them to the edge

The spear was six foot long, carved from animal bone and tipped with a panther’s tooth, the coloured feathers were from eagles and the necklaces made from the teeth of whatever prey had ended up on the end of the spear.

A little boy fired a bow and arrow and beyond him the elders danced a dance of forgiveness for the white man.

Vast swathes of the Amazon have been burned down this year. Credit: ITV News

Life for the Uru-eu-wau-wau tribe hasn’t changed much in the hundreds of years the Amazon has been their home.

What has changed though is the threat they now face. They have always had to defend their land but used to have mile after mile. Now they have a single tiny camp on the edge of the forest and are subject to a relentless campaign to see them off it.

There has been more than an 80 per cent increase in the number of fires this year compared to 2018. Credit: ITV News

The 21 surviving members of the tribe may have very little, but they have land and in Jair Bolsonara’s Brazil that is a commodity others believe they have a right to. Never mind that indigenous rights are written into Brazil’s constitution, that seems to count for little anymore.

Two hours from the nearest main road down an unpaved track their camp is a few shacks in a clearing. At the edge of their land is a sign informing all visitors that this was protected land. It is bullet ridden.

Just a few feet on a large smouldering mass of charred trees lie on the forest floor. An armed gang turned up last week, felled the trees and set them alight.

A sign which says the land is government protected has bullet holes in. Credit: ITV News

And if that wasn’t enough to unseat them there are threats to attack the camp, injure the chief and kill the children.

This is the human side of the Amazon’s fires. Farmers want the land for cattle, the President wants to see industry thrive and slowly protections once afforded to the custodians of the forest have been eroded. If people won’t leave they will be chased off - and those doing the chasing are emboldened.

The way of life for the Uru-eu-wau-wau tribe is under threat. Credit: ITV News

Paiajupi, the tribal elder is in his nineties now - he fears for the future of his tribe, that his children and his children’s children will end up landless, begging on the streets of Brazil’s cities like so many other tribe members.

“It used to be we could walk for miles and hunt for miles. But our land is shrinking and shrinking,” he tells me.

Some of the utensils used for hunting by the tribe. Credit: ITV News
Locally-sourced fish which the tribe eat. Credit: ITV News

“It threatens our home and our food but we will not do to the white man what he does to us. We will leave their cows alone. I just wish they would leave our land alone.”

He stares out into the wood his old eyes barely able to see yet full of sadness. Finally he gets up and walks away, spear in hand, to sing an ancient song of victory over white man. I couldn’t tell you the words but his tone was more of defeat than victory.