Seeking water, Brazilian indigenous group finds new home
Published: Aug 08, 2022 07:56 PM
Clutching a machete and a cell phone, indigenous leader Vanderlei Weraxunu tours his community's future home, a swathe of tropical forest land north of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where his people will finally have water.

Weraxunu is one of around 50 members of the Mbya Guarani people who will soon establish a new home in the middle of what will be Brazil's first municipal nature reserve, where they plan to live ­according to their ancestral lifestyle.

The project promises to transform the lives of community members, who have been living in a settlement with no access to potable water in Marica county, in Rio de Janeiro state.

Hailing from different regions of Brazil, the community of Mbya Guarani moved there a decade ago and founded a village, Ceu Azul (Blue Sky) on a plot of land donated by a businessman.

But the land, a former ­coffee plantation, is too degraded to farm crops, and the village has to have water trucked in by the municipal government.

"A river ran through it 150 years ago. But then the former owner turned it into a coffee plantation and it was ­devastated," says the youthful, chiseled Weraxunu, sporting a beaded armband, traditional face paint and long black hair.

"They cut down the forest and that caused the river to dry up," he adds, as a black- and bronze-furred monkey playfully performs acrobatics on his arms and shoulders.

South America is home to an estimated 280,000 Guarani, divided into several subgroups including the Mbya.

They have a long history of conflicts with non-native farmers, who had often forced them from their ancestral lands.

After years of negotiations with the government, ­Weraxunu's community is now set to move in the coming months to a 50-hectare plot of public land about 35 kilometers away, donated by the municipality.

"We'll have more resources, we'll be able to plant [manioc and sweet potato] and gather medicinal herbs," says Weraxunu.

They also plan to bring back native crops such as Guarani maize, which they hold sacred, as well as bamboo for the handcrafts that are an important source of the community's income.