Amazon chiefs visit British Museum as part of dam-building protest
Leaders of the Munduruku people will be shown the storeroom’s head-dresses and other objects made by their tribe more than 150 years ago
Amazonian leaders, in Britain to protest against the construction of several large dams which they say will destroy the lives of thousands of indigenous people, will on Tuesday be shown head-dresses and other objects made by their tribe more than 150 years ago.
The two chiefs of the Munduruku civilisation, which has flourished peacefully for centuries by fishing and farming along the banks of the great Tapajós river and its tributaries in the rainforests of central Brazil, will visit the massive storeroom of the British Museum in London, where a collection of 50 objects brought to Britain by a Victorian merchant are kept.
“The Munduruku collection is particularly significant given that the majority of items are between 150 and 190 years old, and were therefore collected during the early period of contact between the Munduruku and Europeans. They are all in an astonishing state of preservation for objects of such great age,” said a museum spokeswoman.
The leaders have welcomed the museum visit but say that their people’s future is now at stake. If the dams are built, said general chief Arnaldo Kaba Munduruku, they will destroy a way of life that has barely changed from the time that the British collector, Richard Carruthers, was living in Rio de Janeiro and exploring Brazil’s interior.
“The Tapajós valley is our supermarket, our church, our office, our school, our home, our life. We have been fighting to protect it for many years, and we will not give up. But it is not just our homes that are under threat. Many trees, animals and fish will be wiped out if the river is dammed and the valley is flooded,” he said.
Carruthers left Brazil in 1837 and his collection of objects was given to the museum in 1854. Since then, the Munduruku’s contact with Europeans has been less than happy. Most recently, giant German technology company Siemens has provided equipment for several mega-dams which have had massive ecological effects in the Amazon.
Until now, the Munduruku have tried to reason with the Brazilian government over the dams. Last year they invited Greenpeace to help them, and the focus is now on persuading the corporations and dam-builders not to enter the indigenous territories. Last week, working with Greenpeace, a delegation visited Siemens UK offices near Guildford after a five-day journey from Brazil.
Siemens, says Greenpeace, has been a key player in the last four mega-dams built in the Brazilian Amazon. “During the one-hour meeting, the delegation showed a Siemens UK director pictures of the devastation caused by a previous mega-dam built in the Amazon, for which a company partly owned by Siemens supplied key components,” said Sara Ayech, forests campaigner for Greenpeace UK.
“Siemens needs to make a decision about whether they want to remain part of the problem or become part of the solution. They are a leader in renewable energy and have the expertise and muscle to help Brazil boost its energy security without trashing the Amazon rainforest,” she said.
“The chief was an eloquent ambassador for his people and both he and Greenpeace showed respect for Siemens’ good reputation on sustainability while being unequivocal about the damage from planned mega-dam projects in sensitive, biodiverse areas in the Amazon,” said Toby Peyton Jones, HR director of Siemens UK.
“Where there is mining and dams, there is a lot of destruction, diseases and pollution. The fish are gone. It is not only the construction of dams that makes life difficult, but it also logging, and the canals and the thousands of people who come. Now we fear disease, such as malaria and diarrhoea,” chief Arnaldo told the company.
“These massive infrastructure projects attracts thousands of people to the region, bringing chaos, violence and diseases … This affects our health, because the few hospitals in the region are not equipped/structured to receive this massive influx of people,” said Ademir Kaba Munduruku, the chief’s adviser.
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