Akuntsu: Indigenous People of the Amazon

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Five people – that is how many individuals are left in the last surviving tribe of the Akuntsu people. They live in communal houses called malocas made out of straw. They hunt wild pig and tapir, fish in creeks, gather forest fruits and vegetables and cultivate gardens. Their ceremonies feature people decorated with urucum (annatto dye), arm bands and anklets made of palm fiber. Wooden flutes are used in dances and rituals. Today they live on a small patch of forested land that is legally recognized and demarcated by the Brazilian government.

When FUNAI, the Brazilian government’s Indian affairs department, made contact with the Akuntsu in 1995 only seven people remained. It was in the 1970’s when FUNAI became aware of uncontacted Indians in the Amazon. The construction of a new major highway brought in loggers, colonists, and farmers, sending tribes further into the dwindling forest. These new settlers assumed that the discovery of these people would prevent them from continuing with their plans for the forest, and in an attempt to keep the government in the dark they tried to wipe out the indigenous people. Despite claims that there were no uncontacted groups, FUNAI field workers uncovered signs of the Indian’s presence in 1984. Abandoned homes, gardens, and tractors hit with arrows were all things left behind by tribes as they fled gunmen and bulldozers.

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Ururu, front left, with the last members of the Akuntsu, in a picture taken before she died this month. Most of the tribe was massacred by loggers in about 1990. FIONA WATSON/SURVIVAL INTERNATIONAL

Later FUNAI workers would discover evidence of a massacre. An entire community had been bulldozed over and covered with dirt. Living members of the tribe were able to identify broken pottery pieces and arrows as Akuntsu, and name many friends and relatives who were killed by gunmen.

Babakyhp was killed in a freak accident when a tree blew over during a storm and landed on her hut in 2000.

Ururú passed away of old age on October 1, 2009. She was Konibú’s sister and had lost her four children during the massacre.

Konibú is the tribe’s chief and shaman. He remains with his wife Pugapía and their daughters Nãnoi and Enotéi, who are around 35 and 25 respectively.

Pupak, Nãnoi and Enotéi’s cousin, has the scars from when he was shot in the back fleeing gunmen.

Tribal customs apparently do not allow outsiders to marry in, which means the Akuntsu gene pool cannot allow it to survive another generation.

 

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