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The Last Kuruaya?

Miguel Pinheiro | Brazil

In 2011, a few kilometres from the Kuruaya territory, it was built the third largest hydroelectric dam in the world, Belo Monte. The dam controls the volume and quality of the river’s water. The fish are now scarce, the hunt has moved to other territories, and the dry course of the river makes navigation impossible. The Kuruaya people seem to have been cornered by history.

The awareness of life is based on language, an entangled puzzle of meanings that form a lens through which we perceive the past, the present, the future and the invisible. When we listen about an endangered tiger species, or a penguin, or a dolphin, it is a tragic story. At a faster rate of extinction though, we are losing human diversity. There are about seven thousand idioms ​​in the world, most of which are spoken by indigenous populations. They are oral, without grammar, nor dictionaries. Knowledge is passed from person to person. According to a 2014 report (Loh, Harmon), 25% of languages ​​are now in danger of extinction, a higher percentage than mammals (21%), reptiles (15%) or birds (13%). The decline in linguistic diversity is linked with social, political and economic behaviours, such as forced migrations or urbanization. The journey of the Kuruaya indigenous group, at the heart of the Amazon Rainforest, is a sum of those factors. It’s been long since their lands were invaded, the culture decimated, and Iawá, the last Kuruaya fluent speaker, is now on the verge of becoming a closing statistic.

It is hard to imagine a place with greater human diversity than the Mid-Xingu region, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon. Here one finds many of the First Peoples of the forest, there’s the Xipaya, the Kuruaya, the Kayapó, the Xikrin, the Parakanã, the Asuriní, the Arara, the Juruna, the linguistic variety is greater than the one we find in Europe. It’s a tropical Babel. But the tables have turned since the third largest dam in the world was built in the region, and now threatens all these cultures. As the Anthropocene progresses it is becoming obvious that the greatest of all extinctions is that of the human race itself.

email. l.miguel.p@gmail.com

site. www.miguelpinheiro.com

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