Brazil: Instituto Socioambiental

Culture Clash in the Amazon Basin

The English language has no precise word match for socioambiental, the mission that mobilizes Instituto Socioambiental, or ISA, is an NGO based in Brazil. Its name signifies the convergence of social activity and nature as one integrated unit, not two forces in perpetual competition, says Bruno Weis, ISA’s information coordinator.

Bid goodbye to coexistence marked by human attempts to tame nature. Instead of protecting the environment from human trepidation, and humans from natural upheaval, ISA seeks inspiration in native peoples who have lived for centuries in harmony and balance with the fitful world around them. “We have 240 different indigenous cultures and languages,” says Mr. Weis, a journalist by training. “It’s not easy to find a country as huge as Brazil, one of the world’s biggest economies, with so much cultural diversity.”

The Baniwa people,  ISA reports,

live on the borders of Brazil with Colombia and Venezuela, in villages located on the banks of the Içana River and its tributaries. The Kuripako, who speak a dialect of the Baniwa language and are kin of the Baniwa, live in Colombia and on the upper Içana (Brazil). Both groups are highly skilled in the manufacture of arumã (aririte) basketry, an age-old art that was taught to them by their creator heroes and which is being commercialized today in Brazilian markets.

Treating indigenous culture as expendable, Weis warns, risks more than erasing the past. If they go, so does their pact with the environment, exposing first Brazil and eventually the whole world to environmental and humanitarian calamities.

There’s no overstating the unique importance of the Amazon basin to people worldwide. According to the World Wildlife Fund,

The Amazon rainforest has long been recognized as a repository of ecological services not only for local tribes and communities, but also for the rest of the world. It is also the only rainforest that we have left in terms of size and diversity.

“We cannot preserve the future without the Amazon,” Mr. Weis declares. “Indigenous people are the guardians of the forest.” ISA assists these guardians and lobbies on behalf of their communities.

Solar energy merges timeless Xingu respect for the environment with reality in the 21st century:

Despite its crucial mission, ISA faces hurdles in a country that has endured intermittent stretches of democracy and dictatorship. Three decades after securing constitutional protection, indigenous rights are under attack from conservative political forces that favor privatization. “The fight now is to defend collective rights,” says Mr. Weis. Brazil’s current president, whose predecessor was impeached, has a weak mandate. “He’s so fragile in Congress,” says Mr. Weis, “that he is selling some rights to gather support.”

Communication poses a high hurdle, says Mr. Weis. A secure future for all people begins by connecting Brazil’s urban population to the distant reality that threatens indigenous peoples. “They are invisible,” says Mr. Weis, “until city water stops coming out of the tap.” By then, of course, it may be too late.


[Banner photo credit: Beto Ricardo (ISA)]