Awá

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The Awá are an endangered indigenous group of people living in the eastern Amazon forests of Brazil. Originally living in settlements, they adopted a nomadic lifestyle about 1800 to escape incursions by Europeans. During the 19th century, they came under increasing attack by settlers in the region, who cleared most of the forests from their land. From the mid-1980s onward, some Awá moved to government-established settlements, but for the most part they were able to maintain their traditional way of life, living entirely off their forests, in nomadic groups of a few dozen people, with little or no contact with the outside world.

In 1982, the Brazilian government received a loan of nine hundred million US dollars from the World Bank and the European Union. One condition of this loan was that the lands of certain indigenous peoples (including the Awá) would be demarcated and protected. This was particularly important for the Awá because their forests were increasingly being invaded by outsiders. There were many cases of tribespeople being killed by settlers, but perhaps more significantly, the forest on which they depend was being destroyed by logging and land clearance for farming. Without government intervention it seemed very likely that the Awá and their ancient culture would become extinct.

However, the Brazilian government was extraordinarily slow to act on its commitment. It took twenty years of sustained pressure from campaigning organisations such as Survival International and the Forest Peoples Programme before, in March 2003, the Awá's land was finally demarcated.

During this time, encroachment on their land and a series of massacres had reduced Awá numbers to about 300, of whom only about 60 were still living their traditional, isolated, hunter-gatherer way of life.

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