Mar 26 2011
Source: Scottish Daily Record
THE chief of Brazil's Paiter Surui tribe knew his people could fight no longer.
After living in the centuries-old ways of their ancestors, their very survival rested with an unlikely ally - Google.
The advance of deforestation into their Amazon habitat had become critical and Almir Narayamoga decided he must reach out to the world in a plea for help.
"We decided not to fight any more with our bows and arrows but to use the internet and technology to bring attention to our situation," said Almir, 36.
"If we hadn't done that, as a people we would have been finished - and so would the rainforest."
To help save his tribe's 250,000-hectare reserve in western Brazil from illegal loggers, Almir made a surprise visit to Google in California in 2007.
Staff from the internet giants visited the reserve, trained the Surui and donated computers which they use in Cacoal, the nearest town.
The tribe have used Google Earth to build a satellite picture of their reserve that they can monitor for illegal logging.
The Surui spread their message using blogs, video messaging and a website.
Now they have embarked on an ambitious project to record the density of the rainforest in their reserve.
Engineers are training them to use GPS equipment and the Surui will be paid to protect their rainforest by planting at least a million trees.
Their work is funded by donations but their goal is financial independence.
Almir said: "Alone, we Surui cannot manage to reconstruct this region. We need the help of the whole world."
The Surui first made peaceful contact with the outside world on September 7, 1969. Previous encounters with rubber planters had ended in bloodshed.
Naramatiga Surui told me how he was one of a group who went to meet the Branco - their name for the white man.
Staff from the Indigenous Protection Service of Brazil signalled to them they wanted to meet the whole tribe. But the meeting was to result in disaster because the Surui had no immunity to diseases carried by their new friends.
Naramatiga, who reckons he is around 65, said: "People started dying quite soon after that first contact - three or four a day."
A state immunisation programme three years later was too late to prevent Surui numbers plunging from 5000 to around 250.
Almir was elected chief at 17 in 1991, and became the first Surui to go to university.
He campaigned at the World Bank in Washington for loans for farming, persuaded the state to provide fresh drinking water and urged his people to have more children.
Then he took on the illegal loggers - which resulted in a $100,000 bounty being placed on his head. He was forced to flee the reserve but returned after seven months.
There are now just over 1300 Surui in 23 villages on the reserve. One of them, Lapetanha, has a school and electricity.
Almir feels hopeful for the future of the rainforest and his people.
He said:"Two or three years ago, nobody believed we'd get all the loggers out of our lands but we did. Every day we believe we'll reach our goal. A better future for all."