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Tribal preservation

Fifty years ago, Brazil's indigenous peoples faced extinction. Thanks to a long campaign, led initially by white sympathisers but now by the Indians themselves, land rights and political protection have been won. Indian reserves now cover an area bigger than France and Germany combined

By John Hemming   January 2005

In 1972, I was part of the first group to make contact with the Suruí people of central Brazil. They were bewildered and apprehensive but – as feared warriors – put on a show of cocky bravado. Totally naked, the Suruí would slip unscathed through forests that had whites hacking with machetes at every step, or would race across patches of savannah with deer-like bounds. They had been contacted by Apoena Meirelles, a young man whose tousled hair, black moustache and political intensity made him look like a Californian anti-war radical, but who was one of Brazil’s elite sertanistas -…

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