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Human Rights

Indigenous Brazilians on the road to cyberactivism

In Brazil, some native tribes are using new technology to defend their rights and traditions.

by Elodie Vialle (Youphil) On July 19, 2011

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Until he was 20, he had never touched a computer. Just like the other men in his village in Northeast Brazil (south of Bahia), Jaborandy Yande gets up at 3am to fish until 8pm, three days a week. The rest of the time, this young man with a timid smile and arms covered in traditional tribal tattoos, works in his manioc fields.

In his new life, this 27 year-old geek wears baggy jeans, sports t-shirts with the name of his tribe (Tupinambá de Olivença), is comfortable in front of camera, and gives interviews.

Indiosonline and the Internet in Brazil

This drastic change is thanks to the Brazilian NGO Thydewa that manages the Indiosonline [BR] network which Jaborandy joined in 2004. Their objective is to use the web, mobile phones, and pocket cameras as tools to defend the lands and identities of Brazil’s indigenous people.

Jaborandy recalls:

I loved computers, sending e-mails, and communicating with other communities and people instantaneously.

His new job, “Socio-digital officer,” consists of visiting indigenous villages in Northeastern Brazil and empowering them by giving these disadvantaged populations the means to be heard.

Despite unreliable connections, the network offers villagers the ability to “chat” between different tribes in one place. Twenty-six tribes are participating in this project, supported by government programs that help indigenous populations.

Many leaders (one per geographic area) organize themed chats every day on topics such as health, border disputes, and education. Yet for this young man – a son of a political leader – the new technologies are rapidly becoming much more than just a way to pass the time.

Four year ago, I went to a neighboring village to visit my brother and his wife who had just given birth. On the way, I saw a man who was cutting down trees with a chainsaw and surrounded by dead animals. I took a picture with my phone, under the pretext that I had never seen a chainsaw before. I posted it on Idiosonline, and forest rangers took an interest in the case which led to an investigation. I was impressed by the impact of my little photo.

There are the pros as well as the cons; in the months that followed, his brother and himself both received death threats.

Jaborandy doesn’t back down. On the contrary, he decided to film videos “to show what’s happening” and to tell the natives’ stories[FR]:

He finds the courage to leave his native country and go abroad to make himself heard (which means leaving his girlfriend and family for months at a time) because Jaborandy knows the web can preserve the quality of life for his people.  They can continue to have the life that they do today, which is threatened by eminent domain, deforestation, a lack of education and little to no access to health services.

“For me, it’s a digital arc

According to Jaborandy, the state must officially recognize that “available” lands previously given to developers were in fact the property of indigenous peoples who cultivated them. He also asserts that ecotourism should be further developed to limit deforestation.

There is no contradiction in wanting to continue native traditions and using Web 2.0 logic. “For me, it’s a digital arc,” says  Jaborandy serenely. “I’m contributing equally to my community this way as if I were hunting.”

Blogging, chatting, sending e-mails, and putting videos on Youtube – it’s revolutionary for the indigenous people who live in remote villages and never make it “to the city” to sell their goods.  Although the “ancients” seem to be adapting well despite viewing the technology under their traditional lens. “They dictate messages for us to write into e-mails,” said Jaborandy smiling.

Jaborandy has nowhere near the same style as Raoni, the chief who travelled the world to plead the cases on behalf of his Amazonian people, wearing a traditional headdress and tribal necklaces. Yet Jaborandy does admire this paternal figure, who knows how to talk for “all the indigenous people” and not only his tribe.

Jaborandy also began traveling the world. Last June he went to Europe for the first time to attend the Autres Brésils Festival in Paris. This architecture fanatic – his other passion, after the internet – was impressed by the “very different houses” and by the Parisian rhythm. “You’re always so rushed here,” he said laughing.

The young militant took advantage of his stay to talk to workers at Migrant Forum at a film  festival.

If the traditional media doesn’t pay attention to you, you have to fight for yourself! Make your own videos, show the world what you’re living!

Encouraged with applause, the young man from the Tupinambá de Olivença tribe repeated his speech to those who wished to listen.

All that we want is to be able to stay in our village, with our ancestors. To live like before, without ignoring technological and social progress.

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Initially published on Youphil under the title Jaborandy Yandê, the digital Indian[FR].

All of the videos are available here on Idiosonline [FR].

Photo credits: Flickr PaternitéPartage selon les Conditions Initiales by luarembepe

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