Translate page with Google

Story Publication logo June 24, 2022

With Support From Politicians and Businessmen, Violence Against Indigenous People Spreads in Maranhão (Portuguese)


Two people are paddling a canoe on the river.

This project proposes a visual investigation on the stress caused by the Amazon’s economic...

author #1 image author #2 image
Multiple Authors

This story excerpt was translated from Portuguese. To read the original story in full, visit Ponte. You may also view the original story on the Rainforest Journalism Fund website here. Our website is available in English, Spanish, bahasa Indonesia, French, and Portuguese.

The generous rains in the first six months of the year create splendorous landscapes in the natural fields and lakes of the Maranhão Lowlands. Through the giant water mirrors, the canoes guided by the Cruupoohré, Rokrã, and Rop Prupru Indians tear through the vegetation over the majestic Lake Aquiri, until we reach the place where a mutilated and persevering man lives.

Pan Akroá Gamella, 42 years old, born Aldeli de Jesus Ribeiro, has scars all over his body, the result of gun wounds, stab wounds, kicks, and blows suffered in the Gamella Massacre, a violent attack carried out on April 30, 2017 against the Indians of Viana, a municipality with 52,649 inhabitants in the Baixada Maranhense, 214 kilometers from São Luís.

After being wounded in an attack by armed men in 2017, Pan (Adeli de Jesus) can no longer hunt, fish or tend the farm and spends his time praying. Image by Gui Christ, Brazil, 2022.

Five years later, between tears and the signs of a bruised body, Aldeli displays the nobility of a warrior. "I am one of the heroes of my people. I have lived again," he announces, remembering the day he was shot in the back, had his wrists and left leg cut off, and suffered two deep cuts in his head—one of them opening a deep fissure in his forehead—in addition to a laceration in his mouth that caused the loss of five teeth.

On the banks of the exuberant Lake Aquiri, in the village Centro dos Antero, in her beautiful wooden house painted in tropical tones, surrounded by ornamental plants and fruit trees, Aldeli Ribeiro celebrates her rebirth, noticeable in the ethnic name chosen for her indigenous identity—"pan"—which means "seed" in the language of the Gamella.

The Akroá-Gamella rely on the shaman Maria Roxa to invoke the guardians of the forest and protect them from attacks. Image by Gui Christ, Brazil, 2022.

"The order was to kill everyone, even the children," recalls another victim of the massacre. José Ribamar Mendes Akroá Gamella, known as Zé Canário, 55, had his right hand and left leg cut off and received a cut on his face. He never forgets that day: "It was about two o'clock in the afternoon and we went out to do a ritual. There were men, women and children and everything, in Lagoa das Flores, when we were attacked. There were a lot of people and they started shooting at us. They surrounded me and cut off my arm with the terçado knife used to cut juquira. They were going to cut my neck," he recalls.

After long stays in various hospitals and several surgeries, the two Gamela bear many physical and psychological similarities. Their hands and legs were fixed with platinum pieces. Aldeli Ribeiro still manages to sweep the yard around her house and takes care of the farm with the help of relatives. Zé Canário laments. "My life is over," he says, showing his stiff right hand and wrist, unable to make basic movements, and his weak leg. He receives a minimum wage pension, has eight children, and counts on his wife's solidarity for the daily work in the field, personal hygiene, and household care.

Hunting, fishing, and farming—the indigenous people's main sources of survival—are no longer part of their daily lives. Pan Akroá Gamella has seven children from various marriages and receives an accident allowance of R$600.00. With this money, she juggles to maintain the house, help her dependents, and buy medicine to alleviate permanent pain and other sequelae. The attempt to get a full disability retirement always comes up against the bureaucracy of the Social Security system.

Young Akroá-Gamellas prepare manioc flour in a kitchen in the Taquaritiua territory. Image by Gui Christ, Brazil, 2022.

In Viana, a buffalo farm, a stock that became popular in the 1960s because it can adapt to flooded areas, unlike other cattle. Image by Gui Christ, Brazil, 2022.

Praw Akroá Gamella witnessed the attack against her people in 2017. Image by Gui Christ, Brazil, 2022.

Akroá-Gamella chief Kum'Tum Akroá-Gamella, 49, and his mother, Maria do Carmo, 78: as a leader, Kum'tum fights for the ancestral rights of his people. Image by Gui Christ, Brazil, 2022.