Christian missionaries keep Amazonian Indians in "slave camps"
Posted January 6, 2004
06 January 2004
The bulldozer is a defining moment in Parojnai's fugitive, fragmented life. Although there are thought to be up to 5,000 members of his tribe, the Ayoreo, living in Paraguay and Bolivia, his family had been isolated from their people for years. Intensive missionary activity and the invasion of farmers on their traditional lands had forced hundreds of them to abandon their huts and live rough in the forest.
Their new friend took the family to a tribe of several hundred Ayoreo in a camp run by the American fundamentalist group New Tribes Mission. But the family could not flourish away from the woods and their traditional sources of food, and, like many fellow tribespeople, became desperately ill. Survival International one of the three charities in this year's Independent Forgotten Peoples Appeal, likened conditions in the camp to "semi-slavery".
But due to the work of one of Survival's partners, a Paraguayan organisation called the Totobiegosode Support Group, Parojnai and Ibore are now living in a community of 12 Ayorean families in an area the Paraguayan government bought for them from landowners. "Life on the run from the bulldozers was very hard for me," Ibore says. "We moved with all our things from one place to another. Even though I am a woman I still had to hunt for anteaters. I got so tired. Now life is easier. We have our house; we have our things stored in our house."
The couple are desperately concerned for their relatives, living uncontacted in the forest. Footprints and deserted huts suggest there may be hundreds of Ayoreos living a precarious life. But there is cause for hope. Thanks to a 20-year campaign by Survival International, the New Tribes Mission has abandoned its practice of using contacted Ayoreans to hunt isolated relatives and bring them into camps.