By Leonardo Benassatto and Ueslei Marcelino
FEIJO, Brazil (Reuters) – As thousands of fires ravage the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, some indigenous tribes are turning to prayer in a bid to halt the destruction and protect their environment for future generations.
In the village of Feijo, in the West of Brazil, approaching the border with Peru, indigenous people from the tribe of Shanenawa on Sunday performed a ritual to try to find peace between humans and nature. With faces painted, dozens danced in circles as they prayed to put an end to the fires.
“We want peace and love,” Tekaheyne Shanenawa, a Shanenawa leader, told Reuters as he danced in a circle as part of their ritual. “Peace, harmony and education to stop these fires that have attacked the Amazon.”
Tens of thousands of forest fires have been recorded in the Amazon during this year’s dry season, the most in at least a decade, at the same time as Brazil’s new far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has argued that the forest needs to be exploited, and Indian reservations vastly reduced.
“If the fires continue the way they are, in 50 years time we will no longer have the forest standing up,” said Bainawa Inu Bake Huni Kuin, another Shanenawa leader.
“And we will not feel secure in what we have, in our culture, in our language, in our songs. Us without the forest, we won’t be able to farm, we won’t be able to eat, without our land we won’t be able to live.”
Most of the Amazon is located in Brazil, but significant parts are also located in Colombia and Peru, where fires have also been detected. The Shanenawa number about 720 and inhabit around 23,000 hectares (57,000 acres) of land.
But the backlash has been particularly strong against the Bolsonaro administration, which has acknowledged it does not have the resources to put out the fires. Many of them are believed to have been set by cattle and soy farmers.
As a far-right Congressman and presidential candidate, Bolsonaro drew headlines for his disparaging comments regarding Indian tribes, and as president he has said that too much of the country’s territory is unproductive because indigenous tribes have special rights.
“Our rituals pray for planet Earth, to always keep it healthy and safe,” Bainawa said. “We pray for mother water, for father sun, for mother forest and for mother earth, whom today feel very wounded.”
(Reporting by Leonardo Benassatto and Ueslei Marcelino in Feijo, Brazil; writing by Marcelo Rochabrun; editing by Richard Pullin)