11/28/2005

Survival International

Before the arrival of Europeans in 1500, Brazil was home to at least 1,000 tribes with a total estimated population of 5 - 13 million people.

Five hundred years of exposure to disease, violence and dispossession wiped out the vast majority of this indigenous population. Today, there are around 350,000 Indians in Brazil in over 200 tribes, who live scattered across the country. Between them they speak a huge number of languages; 110 of the tribal languages of Brazil have less than 400 speakers. Brazil's tribes range in size from the Guarani and Yanomami, who number tens of thousands, to tribes such as the Akuntsu and Kanoê, who number only a few dozen.

How do they live? Brazil's tribal peoples live in a wide range of environments - tropical forests, grassland, scrub forest and semi-desert - and have a wide range of ways of life. Their experience of contact with European invaders and their descendants also varies widely: some, such as the Guarani in the dry south, have been in contact with white people for 500 years; others encountered them far more recently; and some tribes are effectively uncontacted - the majority of the world's uncontacted tribes, probably more than 50, live in Brazil. Most tribes live by a mixture of hunting, gathering, and growing plants for food, medicine and to make everyday objects. Probably only the uncontacted Awá and Maku are completely nomadic, living entirely by hunting and gathering in the Amazon.

Survival International

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