Some time ago Denise asked me to write about my work with indigenous peoples who live in voluntary isolation. I thought about it over and over. How would I tell about having to constantly battle the chauvinism of my friends who used to tell me this was a man’s work, that a woman was not capable of being part of it?
How would I tell about discussions that lasted for days until they realized that a woman is capable, and that I was not going to give up.
They reasoned that the survey of areas occupied by indigenous peoples living in isolation required many sacrifices; we had to stay from 60 days to 6 months right in the middle of the Amazon forest with no more than two changes of clothes – one for daytime, one for nighttime. We would have to sleep in hammocks with a 6 x 9 ft tarp over our bodies, and we would get very wet if it rained.
Moreover, they said, during hikes that started at 5 a.m. we would have to keep our eyes peeled to identify signs of natives; our trained eyes would notice bent and broken vegetation, and we would be able to tell when this was caused by a native person or by an “anta” (tapir). We would have to be skilled enough to walk through the jungle without touching the traps. When we would find arrows, ceramics, animal remains, harvested fruit, baskets… we would not be able to touch anything. We would record and map everything.
We would also have to report everything we saw–animals, plants, and whether it rained, whether the “white men” were threatening the lives of the natives. We would even have to report on what we ate, whether we were attacked by ants, caititu, alligators jaguars or any other animal living in the jungle. Or, even worse, we could be attacked by loggers, farmers, land-grabbers know as grileiros who destroyed indigenous lands.
The more they talked, the more I wanted to go, and I knew I could handle everything with no problem
I always defended the right of indigenous people who voluntarily want to live in isolation to do so without interference.
Our role is to protect their lands and their lives, but we shouldn’t make contact with them.
The forest fascinated me, and I was passionate about working with indigenous peoples.
The arguments of my male friends did not work on me, and since they could see I wasn’t going to stop saying I wanted to work with indigenous people, they gave up dissuading me.
This was how I became the first woman to work with indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation – and surveying the lands they occupy.
I used to weigh 84 pounds (I’m still skinny, though I try to gain weight), I had long hair, and the boundless energy that only those who believe in life have.
I’ll continue my story later, and I promise I will tell about the time when I was attacked by a jaguar, our onça pintada – one of the most beautiful animals in the world.
Ivaneide Cardozo is one of the founders of Kanindé, and has also been active in working on behalf of isolated indigenous tribes. These are tribes who are often aware of the civilization that exists beyond their forests, and also aware of the destruction and disease that comes with continued contact with that civilization. So they have chosen to remain apart, even if they have had some contact with outsiders at some point in the past.
For more information on efforts to protect isolated indigenous tribes, see these links: