How to save Earth's most threatened tribe - The Awá

By Nicola On May 17, 2012

Amnesty International London notified Joost of a campaign, launched by Survival International and backed by Oscar winning actor Colin Firth, to save the most threatened tribe on Earth – the Awá – from invasion by a vast army of illegal loggers, literally hunting them and destroying their home. 

After watching the film, all of our Greenhouse and By Joost staff have joined the campaign by sending a message to Brazil’s Justice Minister, José Eduardo Cardozo, in protest.

You can do so too! – via the Survival International website.

Click here to view the video on

“One man has the power to stop the loggers: Brazil’s Minister of Justice. But it’s just not his priority.
Let’s push it up his list.” 
— Colin Firth

The Awá, who are some of the last uncontacted people on the planet, are a small tribe whose territory has been invaded by a vast army of illegal loggers, ranchers and settlers. The situation is now so critical that several Brazilian experts have spoken of a ‘genocide’ and ‘extinction’.

As nomads, they carry the things they need with them as they move: bows and arrows, children, pets. Everything comes from the forest: the baskets made from palm leaves, the loops of vine used to climb trees, and the tree resin burned to provide light. [Source]

Although wild monkeys are an important source of food, once a baby has been brought into the family and breast fed, it will never be eaten. Even if it returns to the forest, the Awá will recognize it as hanima: part of the family. [Source]

‘I spend a long time breastfeeding the baby monkeys,’ Parakeet explains. ‘And when they have grown they go back to the forest to live. I hear the howler monkey that used to be my pet, singing there in the forest.’ [Source]

The Awá wait to choose their children’s names until they reach an age when the right name presents itself. Another of Parakeet’s daughters is called Forest Tree. One particularly wriggly child has just earned the name Earthworm. [Source]

The Awá know their forests intimately. Every valley, stream and trail is inscribed on their mental map. They know where to find the best honey, which of the great trees of the forest are coming into fruit, and when the game is ready to be hunted. To them, the forest is perfection: they cannot dream of it being developed or improved upon. [Source]

The forest provides its bounty, but not everything is taken. Some animals, such as the capybara and the harpy eagle, are taboo and no Awá will eat them. Eating a bat is said to cause a headache. The large opossum? Bad-smelling. Hummingbirds? Just too small. Other animals are hunted only at certain times of the year. In this way the Awá ensure the survival of the entire forest, themselves included. [Source]

‘If my children are hungry, I just go into the forest and I can find them food,’ says Peccary Awá. Women encourage their husbands to return with plentiful game meat, and the men oblige. Those Awá still living uncontacted in the forest hunt with 2 metre (6 foot) long bows. Arrows fly high and silent into the forest canopy, allowing several shots before game is alerted to the hunters’ presence. [Source]

Despite their extreme self-sufficiency, the uncontacted people are also uniquely vulnerable. The common cold could kill an entire group, and, if they run into illegal loggers, their bows and arrows will be no match for the invaders’ guns. [Source]

The work of the loggers and ranchers has reached crisis point: some 30% of one legally-protected Awá reserve has been cut down. The Awá’s forests are disappearing faster than any other indigenous area in Brazil.[Source]

If their forests fall, the Awá have no hope of surviving as a people. As Blade Awá says, ‘If you destroy the forest, you destroy the Awá too.’[Source]


“Having been to this part of the world, and appreciating its beauty and biodiversity, it saddens me that we need to be doing this – but I am happy for the initiative and fully support this approach.” – Joost





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