With a machete and a cell phone in hand, indigenous leader Vanderlei Weraxunu tours his community’s future home, a swath of tropical forest north of Rio de Janeiro, where his people will finally have water.
Weraxunu is one of around 50 Mbya Guarani people who will soon establish a new home in the heart of Brazil’s first urban conservation area, where they plan to live according to their ancestral way of life.
The project promises to transform the lives of community members living in a settlement without access to drinking water in Marica County, Rio de Janeiro State.
Hailing from different regions of Brazil, the Mbya Guarani community moved there a decade ago and founded a village, Ceu Azul (Blue Sky), on land donated by a businessman.
But the land, a former coffee plantation, is too degraded to grow crops and the village has to be supplied with water by the city government.
“150 years ago a river flowed there. But then the former owner turned it into a coffee plantation and it was vandalized,” says the youthful, chiseled Weraxunu with a beaded bracelet, traditional face paint and long black hair.
“They cut down the forest and dried up the river as a result,” he adds, while a monkey with black and bronze fur playfully performs acrobatics on its arms and shoulders.
There are an estimated 280,000 Guarani living in South America, divided into several sub-groups, including the Mbya.
They have a long history of conflicts with non-native farmers, who have often driven them off their ancestral lands.
– “Guardian of Nature” –
After years of negotiations with the government, the Weraxunu community will now, in the coming months, move to a 50-hectare public lot about 35 kilometers away that was donated by the community.
“We will have more resources, we can grow (cassava and sweet potato) and collect medicinal herbs,” says Weraxunu.
They also plan to bring back native crops like guarani corn, which they consider sacred, as well as bamboo for handicrafts, which are an important source of income for the community.
“Until now, we had to bring bamboo from other places” to make traditional baskets, says Maria Helena Jaxuka, a Guarani cacique, or chief.
The local government has pledged to provide houses, a school, health care and a cultural center for the new village – plus official ownership of the land.
“It will allow us to preserve nature as well as our culture and way of life,” says Weraxunu.
“The Guarani and all indigenous peoples are the guardians of the nature that gives us life.”
#search #water #indigenous #group #Brazil #finds #home