Editor’s note: This film is no longer available online.
In the Brazilian Amazon, environmentalists, scientists and politicians are facing one of the most difficult challenges of our time. If the earth’s lungs collapse, the planet itself will collapse. This three-part series, The Fight for Amazonia, looks at the efforts being made to save the rainforest – not simply revealing how bleak the prospects are, but documenting the avenues that raise hope.
Amazonia is much more than just the earth’s lungs: it is home to 20 percent of the world’s fauna, 20 percent of its fresh water reserves and countless animal species.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Brazil started the conquest of the massive ancient forest in order to increase the country’s prosperity – a people without land moved to a land without people, built roads, dams and cities.
Since then, two million hectares of tropical rainforest have been burned down and cleared in the Amazon every year.
An area approximately the same size as France, 65 million hectares, has now disappeared.
Today, the earth’s largest forest is home to 20 million people: All of them have their own, usually conflicting, ideas about the future development of the Amazon region.
The Internet Indians
A film by Ilka Franzmann
“The internet is our weapon. We gave up fighting with bows and arrows a long time ago,” says Benki Piyako, the son of the chief of the Ashaninka in the Brazilian rainforest. “We all need to be interconnected if we want to live in safety on our territory.”
The Ashaninka live on the border of Brazil and Peru. Their region is rich in tropical wood and regularly attracts illegal logging gangs.
When the tribe confronts the logging mafia their villages are attacked and the villagers killed or driven away. Benki explains:
“I’ve been threatened several times …. The attacks began when we tried to prevent their logging. The woodcutters felt their livelihood was threatened. As if we were taking something away from them.”
That all started to change a few years ago when a Brazilian NGO began equipping isolated indigenous communities with internet stations. This enabled the rainforest inhabitants to ask the authorities directly for assistance when they need it.
Illegal woodcutters are now apprehended because the military and the police can get to the territory very quickly and catch the raw materials pirates red-handed.
This gave a significant boost to the fight for the rights of the indigenous population, and the Ashaninka in particular made headlines because they are a living example of how to combine traditions with modernity and responsibility for the environment.
Today, the chief’s two sons, Benki and Moises Piyako, are working hard to provide more indigenous communities with internet access. They have also established an environment school where they teach sustainable farming methods, made their villages self-sufficient again and started reforestation.
Benki says: “We are striving for a new way of thinking, for respect between the peoples, and to protect our way of life.”