The world’s most threatened indigenous group living in the eastern Amazon forests of Brazil is known as the Awa-Guaja.
This ancient tribe has been pushed to the brink of extinction by European colonists who enslaved them and ranchers who stole the land they needed to survive.
Few have ever met these people that are in total harmony with their jungle home. Photographer Domenico Pugliese is one of the lucky few to have met the Awa who adopted some wild animals as pets, and incredibly, the women even breastfeed them until they’re fully grown, reports the Daily Mail.
Pugliese told the Daily Mail, “They feed the squirrels and monkeys like they feed their kids, breast feeding. They are so close to nature. In fact, it is not even close – they are part of nature.”
Only 350 Awa remain—100 have never had contact with the outside world.
They keep wild pigs, squirrels, parakeets, and large rodents known as agoutis but their favorite pets are monkeys, according to charity Survival International who have campaigned for the Awa’s protection.
The primates are an important source of food to the Awa but once a baby has been brought into the family and breast fed, they will never eat it. Even if it returns to the forest, they will recognize it as ‘hanima’ – or part of the family, Pugliese explained.
Unfortunately, the harmony the Awa people have with nature is being eroded, and risks being lost forever.
Of the tens of thousands of Awa people who lived in sprawling settlements across Maranhao state when Portuguese settlers landed 500 years ago, only about 400 remain today. Around 60 of them have never even had any contact with the outside world.
Nearly all of the Awa were wiped out by diseases that the colonists brought with them, such as the flu, measles and smallpox, while the ones who survived were put to work on the sugar cane and rubber plantations.
According to the Daily Mail, in 1982, the World Bank and EU gave Brazil a loan of around 600 million pounds to protect the lands of its indigenous people.
Unfortunately, illegal loggers continued to threaten their existence for another 30 years – incredibly, about 450 of the tribespeople were murdered in just a seven-year period between 2003 and 2010.
Three years ago, an eight year old Awa girl was said to have been burned alive by ‘ranchers’ when she strayed outside her protected land. The leader of another tribe, Luis Carlos Guajajaras, said she was killed as a warning to other native people.
Domineco Pugliese will be releasing a book of his pictures of the Awa next year, and holding an exhibition of his work in London. To find out more about his work, you can visit his website.
If you’d like to help the Awa people stay safe in their territory, you can donate to Survival International’s campaign HERE.
The video below includes an interview with a tribe member who explains the Awa’s close relationship with nature.
Credit: Daily Mail