Challenges of true people

Not a partisan political post, but one about human beings in general and the problems of matching our past with our futures that we all face. Thought it might be interesting.

The indigenous people Huni Kui live in Peru and the Brazilian state of Acre. About ten thousand of them are today spread over twelve indigenous lands in Acre. They are the largest indigenous group in Acre.

Pinuyá was founded in 1972 when three families arrived from other parts of the state. They were not recognized until 1991 when they were granted 105 contiguous hectares (about 260 acres). The governor of Acre gave them another 200 hectares. With only 305 hectares, this is the smallest reserved area in the state. Today there are forty-three households and 162 people living on the reserve, which is 1.8 inhabitants per hectare. This is not enough for a hunting-gathering society. The economy of the area is based on family agriculture, fish farming and crafts.

The reserve is surrounded by cattle operations and 70% of the reserved land is still covered in cow pasture.The forest was mostly removed in the 1970s when the government made a concerted push into the "empty" lands of the west.The band is trying to reforest the land with native species.

Band leaders told (most speak Portuguese but some need to translate from their indigenous language) me that they need more land. It is true that 305 hectares are not much to support 162 people. It is impossible with hunting and extensive agriculture. They told us about some intensive agriculture. They do fish farming and raise pigs, ducks & chickens, all of which produce significant amounts of protein with relatively small inputs.

When I was in college, living an organic self-sufficient life appealed to me. I never did it, but my research indicated that you needed at least five acres (a little more than two hectares) of fertile farmland to support yourself. This was a minimum using intensive methods and it still required part-time work off the land. If you have 305 hectares, it is likely that much or most of it is not fertile farmland. Beyond that, the Huni Kui want to reestablish native forests. This is something close to my heart, but it implies hunting & gathering. You need a lot more acreage for this kind of lifestyle.

The rain forest ecosystem is not as rich as we might think if you look at the luxuriant growth, at least not for hunting and gathering. Its organisms have evolved over millennia to deny their energy to others. Lots of the activity takes place high in the trees where it is difficult for humans to access. That is why populations of rain forest hunter-gatherers remained so small for all those millennia. The land simply does not support large human populations. Densities can be only around two or three people per square kilometer (although they are obviously not spread evenly over this land). There are 100 hectares in a square kilometer (metric is easy) so a band like the one we visited would need about 8000 hectares instead of the 305 they have.

The forest here is a tough environment and we should not idealize the life of the past in a paradise full of serpents and dangers. There is no going back to the old lifestyle and the people clearly do not want to go back. The band's leader wants preserve the best of his traditions and combine them with good things from the wider world. (We noticed the popularity of mobile phones and this implies mobile phone towers close by.) This is a balance very difficult to manage or even envision how it could work.

I sure don't know what to do. It occurs to me that the problem of combining the old with the new is not a problem only for people like the Huni Kui. Although it seems much more urgent among them, creating sustainable futures for ourselves and our children is what all we face every day, a condition of being human. In their language, Huni Kui means "true people". Their challenges are the challenges of true people everywhere.

Posted by Christine & John at November 24, 2012 2:58 PM
Comment #357678

These folks aren’t holding any high cards, fer shure. But, hope runs rampant. I would suggest taking two or three of their best looking young ladies along with a representative and go forth and petition for, say, 50 acres per person.

Otherwise, try to get their young people through some good schools. They will need good representation in commerce and gov’t.

I would suggest using their ‘homeland’ as a sort of communal camping ground. Develop their traditional art and culture and try to get it on the internet and tourist track. A casino doesn’t take up much land. As a community, try to help individual families purchase adjacent or nearby tracts in towns/cities where they can begin to become self sufficient in the regular trades.

The Cherokee in NC installed much, or most of the fiber for cable tv/internet in that part of NC and Ga. I assume they are a large company and still at it.

A couple of good mentors with a ‘yes you can’ approach would be most useful.

What they can’t do is sit there and wait for the gov’t to ‘take care of them’.

Posted by: Roy Ellis at November 24, 2012 9:03 PM
Comment #357679


Re camping and/or casinos - This place is far away from far away. You drive five hours from the city of Rio Branco, which is a three hour plane ride from Brasilia, which is not exactly the center of the known world.

When you get near the place this is the road you take -

They do want to get educated and learn new things, however.

Posted by: C&J at November 24, 2012 9:46 PM
Comment #357687

Dang, more fish and chicken, C&J. They really do need gov’t support to get going. An uplink for internet/communications is sorely needed. Gov’t employment such as fire watch towers, timber police, civic administrators, road maintenance, etc. An airport, DC3 level, with a gov’t support flight a couple of times a month would help.

If this place is so isolated why would the gov’t not turn over some thousands of acres to them for cotton, soybeans and all that? Petition hard for some kind of military training near that area.

Tourist would come if there was some way to fly them in and some kind of minimal accomodations for a few days.

If there is anything like plentiful but rare trees they could turn into wooden whatevers, utility and art pieces, etc.

It seems doable with gov’t support and some good mentorship. But they definitely need internet and air support from the gitgo.

Posted by: Roy Ellis at November 24, 2012 11:03 PM
Comment #357697


It is a problem that they are indeed dependent on government. I don’t know how they can get away from this. I am not optimistic that they will succeed.

Re why the government doesn’t turn over land - because other people own the land around them, mostly cattle operations.

Re tourists - there is nothing much to tour that people cannot find much closer.

Re Internet - they have it. The wonderful thing about Internet is that it is getting pretty much everywhere. Using it properly is a different problem.

Posted by: C&J at November 25, 2012 7:46 AM
Comment #357702

Yes, I suspect they are surrounded by Archer-Daniels, or soon will be. Capitalism doesn’t condone standing in place, preserving ones culture, etc. Highest bidder - unless gov’t stands in the way.

Perhaps the best they can hope for is to subsist on their camping grounds until they can get some young ones educated, licensed, certified etc to take on work in towns/cities far away.

Maybe help them to understand that it won’t be long until they will all speak English, suit and tie, car and all the trappings of ‘one world’.

Posted by: Roy Ellis at November 25, 2012 10:52 AM
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