Damiana Cavanha is from the Guarani tribe, who are thought to have been one of the first peoples to be contacted after Europeans arrived in South America.
“We decided to fight and die for our land,” she said
Once occupying a homeland of forest and plains in Brazil totaling some 350,000 square kilometers, the Guarani hunted freely for game on their homelands, and planted manioc and corn in their gardens. During the past 100 years, however, almost all their forest land has been stolen from them and turned into vast, dry networks of cattle ranches, soya fields and plantations of towering sugar cane.
A decade ago, cattle ranchers intimidated Damiana and her family, evicting her from her ancestral lands. She has since lived in squalid conditions by the highway; her husband and three of her sons have been run over and killed on the road.
In September 2013, however, she led a courageous and dangerous ‘retomada’ (re-occupation) of the sugar cane plantation that has taken over her ancestral land. A ‘retomada’ had long been Damiana’s hope and solace: the goal that sustained her through the brutal years of eviction, fear, humiliation, malnutrition, bereavement, illness and depression.
“We decided to fight and die for our land,” she said. Sadly, Damiana and her group were brutally evicted in 2016. It took around 100 armed police to remove them. The eviction was widely condemned by Survival International supporters around the world.
For tribal peoples, land is life. It fulfills all their material and spiritual needs. Land provides food, housing and clothing. It’s also the foundation of tribal peoples’ identity and sense of belonging. Activists like Damiana are standing up for their right to their ancestral land, and they need a platform to speak to the world.
On the other side of the Atlantic are the Bushmen, the original people of southern Africa.
Between 1997 and 2002 almost all Bushmen were taken from their homes in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and driven to eviction camps outside the reserve, where they were not only deprived of their ways of life, but humiliated by endemic racist attitudes.
“Let them call us primitive. Let them call us Stone Age people. Our way of life suits us. We have seen their development, and we don’t like it” said a Bushman woman, Xlarema Phuti.
Xlarema is a healer, and was forcibly evicted by the government to New Xade, a government eviction camp known as ‘the place of death’. Xlarema talked to Survival International about the healing powers of the Bushman’s traditional trance dance, and the sadness she has experienced since being evicted from her lands.
“When I’m dancing in the trance dance I talk with the ancestors to help me heal the sick person” she said.
In countries like Botswana, Governments and multinationals are trying to silence tribal peoples. They brutalize and murder them, and they steal their lands. They call them backward and primitive – but they’re not. They have perceptive things to say about almost every aspect of life today.
These are just two of the inspiring stories of women’s courage and heroism Survival International has witnessed in our work with tribal peoples. We’re doing everything we can to support them, and to give them a chance to determine their own futures.
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