The Internet Indians**

Meet the tribe using the internet to tackle the logging mafias targeting their villages.

Amazonia is much more than just the earth’s lungs: it is home to 20 per cent of the world’s fauna, 20 per cent of its fresh water reserves and countless animal species.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Brazil started the conquest of the massive ancient forest in order to increase the country’s prosperity - a people without land moved to a land without people, built roads, dams and cities.

Since then, two million hectares of tropical rainforest have been burned down and cleared in the Amazon every year.

An area approximately the same size as France, 65 million hectares, has now disappeared.

Today, the earth’s largest forest is home to 20 million people: All of them have their own, usually conflicting, ideas about the future development of the Amazon region.

The Internet Indians
A film by Ilka Franzmann

“The internet is our weapon. We gave up fighting with bows and arrows a long time ago,” says Benki Piyako, the son of the chief of the Ashaninka in the Brazilian rainforest. “We all need to be interconnected if we want to live in safety on our territory.”

The Ashaninka live on the border of Brazil and Peru. Their region is rich in tropical wood and regularly attracts illegal logging gangs.

When the tribe confronts the logging mafia their villages are attacked and the villagers killed or driven away. Benki explains:

“I’ve been threatened several times …. The attacks began when we tried to prevent their logging. The woodcutters felt their livelihood was threatened. As if we were taking something away from them.”

That all started to change a few years ago when a Brazilian NGO began equipping isolated indigenous communities with internet stations. This enabled the rainforest inhabitants to ask the authorities directly for assistance when they need it.

Illegal woodcutters are now apprehended because the military and the police can get to the territory very quickly and catch the raw materials pirates red-handed.

This gave a significant boost to the fight for the rights of the indigenous population, and the Ashaninka in particular made headlines because they are a living example of how to combine traditions with modernity and responsibility for the environment.

Today, the chief’s two sons, Benki and Moises Piyako, are working hard to provide more indigenous communities with internet access. They have also established an environment school where they teach sustainable farming methods, made their villages self-sufficient again and started reforestation.

Benki says: “We are striving for a new way of thinking, for respect between the peoples, and to protect our way of life.”


** I understand that they are Ashaninka, not “Indians” Just posting the title of the article. I intend in no way to offend anyone. 

© Mike Goldwater, ca. 2000s, Acre Province, Amazon Rainforest / Brazil

A large group travels upstream by boat, to visit neighboring Ashaninka.

The Ashaninka are one of South America’s largest tribes. Their homeland covers a vast region, from the Upper Juruá river in Brazil to the watersheds of the Peruvian Andes. For over a century, however, colonists, rubber tappers, loggers, oil companies, and Maoist guerillas have invaded their lands.

It is thought that the traditionally semi-nomadic Ashaninka have lived for thousands of years in the Peruvian Selva Central, where the Andean foothills flatten out into the Amazonian rainforest. During the late nineteenth century, some fled across the border into Brazil’s Acre state when Peru conceded vast tracts of rainforest to foreign companies for rubber tapping and coffee plantations. This resulted in the displacement of thousands of Ashaninka from their homes. “The vulcanization of latex and the ‘rubber boom’ that swept through this part of the Amazon wiped out 90 percent of the Indian population in a horrific wave of enslavement, disease, and appalling brutality,” says Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International. Today, the Ashaninka of Brazil number around 1,000, living mostly along the Amônia, Breu, and Envira Rivers. The majority still live in Peru. The total Ashaninka population is estimated at approximately 70,000. (read more)

The Ashaninka, A Threatened Way of Life

A friend applies the finishing touches to a girl’s face-paint. Ashaninka Indians apply face-paint each day, in a design that reflects their mood. Made from the seeds of the Urucum plant, the paint has a rich, red color. Sometimes they also use fire-black for details. (© Mike Goldwater) #

External image