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Project April 25, 2019

Amazon Indians Strengthen Resistance Through Rite of Passage


Benito Miquiles, a Sateré man. Image by Matheus Manfredini. Brazil, 2019.
Benito Miquiles, a Sateré man. Image by Matheus Manfredini. Brazil, 2019.

On the division between Pará and Amazonas states in the Brazilian Amazon, young men from the Sateré-Mawé tribe go through a painful rite of passage each year to mark their arrival in manhood. They assert their courage and cultural identity by being repeatedly attacked by tucandeiras, ants with extremely painful stings.

Today, Sateré-Mawé men and women need these qualities more than ever as the economic frontier is reaching their land. Although their territory is very isolated, demanding a four-day journey in a canoe with an outboard engine, their land is being invaded from the east by loggers and land thieves. News only filters out slowly from this remote area, but some reports suggest that violence is increasing, as the invaders take advantage of the coming to office of an extremely right-wing president who has repeatedly said he believes that Brazil's Indians possess far too much land.

Central to the Sateré-Mawé culture is a product, known as guaraná, produced from the seeds of a native Amazonian creeper. The Sateré-Mawé domesticated this plant a long while ago and believe it has spiritual power. Today guaraná, now produced commercially in other regions, is widely used in the soft drinks industry. The Sateré-Mawé have developed a successful fair-trade business in guaraná, which produces a regular income and is one of the reasons why the Sateré-Mawé are managing to survive and prosper. 

Support for this reporting was made possible by the Rainforest Journalism Fund, in association with the Pulitzer Center.