Pire'i, Awá leader of Juriti communityPire'i, Awá leader of Juriti community © Survival International, 2015

Survival International is deeply saddened at the death of Pire’i Awá.

Pire’i lived with his family in the Awá indigenous territory, in the eastern Brazilian Amazon. His sudden death, after he fell from a tree while hunting, has shocked his relatives and all who knew him. 

Pire’i was at the forefront of his people’s fight to evict illegal loggers and ranchers from their forest. He tirelessly denounced the invasions and the government’s inaction, expressing deep anger and worry for the health and survival of his relatives. As he said to Survival on one of our visits to his community, during the decades-long campaign with the Awá for their land to be protected: “I don’t know how we are going to eat.. everything is being destroyed.. the whole area.. this land is mine, it is ours. We Indians live in the forest. This is Indian land. And we don’t go after the white people.. here we had deer, wild pigs, turtles, the loggers have killed all the turtles, the fires are killing them, they are going to kill everything.”

Pire'i Awá standing on an illegal logging road which has blocked a stream. 2010Pire'i Awá standing on an illegal logging road which has blocked a stream. 2010 © F Watson/ Survival

He was extremely concerned for the future of the uncontacted Awá, who avoid contact with outsiders and will be wiped out if their forest isn’t protected. “I don’t like loggers. The loggers said, ‘We want to kill the Indians,’” he told Survival.

In 2014, following relentless pressure from the Awá and their allies, the Brazilian government sent hundreds of police into the Awá Territory to remove the loggers and ranchers. At the end of the police operation Pire’i was taken up in a helicopter to see the results, and was elated and overwhelmed to see that the loggers and settlers had gone.

Members of the operation team arrive to update the Awá on progress in expelling the loggers. Brazil, 2014.Members of the operation team arrive to update the Awá on progress in expelling the loggers. Brazil, 2014. © Silvano Fernandes/FUNAI

“I went up in a helicopter. We flew around and I saw our land without white people, only for the Awá. All of us together achieved this. You live far away but you helped us a lot. I’m happy now. Everything’s great.”

Pirei’s love of the forest, optimism and determination shone through to all who knew him.

You can see Pire’i talking of his joy at the removal of loggers and ranchers from his territory in this video we produced after the campaign victory. “We are happy now. We sing and we hunt, deep in the forest… Our families are happy.”

Our thoughts are with Pire’i’s family and relatives at this extremely difficult time.

 

Below is an extract from one of our many conversations with Pire’i over the years, when the logging invasion was at its height:

“The loggers are destroying all the land. The loggers are going to destroy this whole area. They are chopping down wood and they are going to destroy everything. The tuquinho have run away, the capu have run away, the tapir have run away, the monkeys have run away too – all the monkeys have run away…. monkeys, pigs, tapir, they are all running away.

“The loggers are going to destroy this whole area. They are going to burn everything. The turtles, the paca, the armadillos… the turtles have all died, the paca have died, everything is being destroyed, everything is dying. 

“We are all going to go hungry, the children will be hungry, my daughter will be hungry, and I’ll be hungry too. There’ll be nothing in the forest… the loggers come here with their trucks and they take the trees away. The loggers are destroying everything in my land. The trucks come in, they take all the trees, the trucks make a lot of noise, and the wild pigs run away.. I can’t find any game any more, I can’t find anything. The children are hungry, all the children are hungry, what are they going to eat? 

“The loggers’ trucks come into the forest, trucks, cars, 4x4s, many vehicles come here and they take the trees away. Then there’s nothing left, all the animals run away, there is nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing at all… the children are hungry, the children are hungry and I am angry with the loggers.”