The northern region of Brazil is home to the largest indigenous community in the country. There are more than 400,000 people of various ethnicities. According to the last Census of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), conducted in 2010, in Amazonas alone, there are 183,514 indigenous people. In Roraima, there are 55,922 indigenous people living in various places in the region. Those who have left for the cities face difficulties in maintaining their traditions.
The tall buildings, the internet, cell phones, and the rush of modern life increasingly consume lives. Now imagine all this added to the change in your customs—what you have learned since you were a child: your language, culture—being undermined day by day and swallowed up by the big city and the fast moving pace of time. After talking to Tamires Flores dos Santos, age 29, a university student and Taurepang Indian, one understands this is how many of them feel in the midst of the noise of modernity.
The Satere Mawe tribe settled in the city of Manaus almost 70 years ago, when the capital of Amazonas still had many green areas in its residential territory. According to the chief, Nilson Ferreira de Souza, age 40, living in the city has become more difficult every day: “Even the houses had to change with time. Today, there is not so much forest near our land. Every four years, we had to change all the straw for the roofing, and there came a time when we could no longer maintain the structure of the malocas, and then we had to build with bricks and cement.”
However, even in the face of such radical changes, they have managed to maintain their traditions of dances, meetings, and dialects, and in partnership with the Manaus Secretary of Education, they now have a teacher who teaches the Satere Mawe language to the children. “If our children don’t learn to speak Satere and perform the rituals, our culture will be lost, so we asked for help, and thanks to Tupã (God), we got this teacher,” reports the indigenous leader.
At the site, 12 families currently reside, totaling 46 people—adults and children. The Y’Apyrehyt (“first glove”) community, located in the Redenção district, in west-central Manaus, struggles to survive on their culture. They produce handicrafts and perform presentations for residents and tourists who visit the village daily.
In Sorocaima, 728 kilometers from Manaus, another ethnic group also tries to maintain its traditions and culture in the community of Pacaraima, located in the interior of Roraima. Besides being the largest, the group of leaders, coordinated by the chief, Sandoval Pinto Flores, age 39, of the Taurepang tribe, lives subsist from the production of handicrafts and typical foods, such as manioc flour.
The rituals and customs are maintained thanks to the firm hand of the tribe’s elders, who only make decisions after evaluation meetings. Nothing is carried out without the permission of the elders. “We have changed the way of our dwelling, but we will not allow our roots to be lost. Our children learn our language every day to keep our history alive,” says the chief.
Faith in God
Even with more than 700 kilometers of distance between the communities, the Satere Mawe and Taurepang ethnic groups have several things in common. Among them are faith in Jesus Christ and the help of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to maintain their origins. With their own headquarters, they keep the Sabbath, conduct sunset services, Sabbath School lesson studies, and small group meetings, according to the custom of each people group.
In Manaus, the Bible translated into Satere helps maintain the language. In Sorocaima, the dream of having the Bible translated into Taurepang moves the indigenous people to write it by hand every day. Both locations have Adventists present, who hold services in their own respective language and customs.
“As time goes on, it becomes evident that the challenges of preaching the gospel around the world are intensifying. However, to see native tribes in our territory being reached by the truth in their own cultural context is compelling evidence that the gospel definitely knows no barriers or boundaries. Therefore, we cannot retreat. We will keep moving forward to see Jesus return in our day!” exclaims Pastor Mark Wallacy, president of the Amazonas-Roraima Association.
The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples was created by a decree of the United Nations Organization (UNO) in 1995, with the objective of providing conditions to stop the attacks suffered by indigenous peoples around the world. After the decree, other working groups were set up to draft the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, giving them more security to fight for their causes.