In Western Brazil in the state of Mato Grosso, the Enawene Nawe tribe has been living and fishing for hundreds of years. When they were first contacted in 1974 by an expedition led by Jesuit Thomaz de Aguino Lisboa, there were only about 97 individuals. Today their population is about 500, but that number is in danger of decreasing with the arrival of new threats. They live in large communal homes that surround the center of the village where ceremonies and rituals are performed. Since they do not eat red meat and have a spiritual life that revolves around fishing rituals, proposals for new hydroelectric dams are putting their way of life in danger.

They are expert fishermen but only take what they and their family need. During the dry season they use spears and poison made from forest vines, and during the wet season they build boats and dams. They believe the natural resources belong to the spirits of the underworld, and that if the Enawene Nawe finish them off they will be killed – a belief that has taught them the importance of coexisting with nature.

During the fishing season, Enawene Nawe men build wooden dams to catch fish, Brazil.
© Fiona Watson/Survival

Enawene Nawe men smoke fish to preserve it for the yãkwa ritual.
© Fiona Watson/Survival

Today they face many threats: the building of hydroelectric dams, “garimpeiros” (gold and diamond diggers), “seringueiros” (rubber tappers), and “fazendeiros” (farmers). There are currently plans for 80 hydroelectric dams to be built on the Juruena River basin where the Enawene Nawe live. Dams have the potential to pollute the river and reduce the number of fish available. This is particularly important because the Enawene Nawe are one of the few tribes in the world who don’t eat red meat – fish are their only source of protein.

While the tribe’s land was mapped out and signed into law in 1996, the Rio Preto was not included. This is one of the areas crucial to the Enawene Nawe, who refer to it as Adowina. They have been fighting for this for several years. Therefore, it is very important that the Enawene-Nawe obtain a “demarcation of their territory” in the areas that provide the resources they need to sustain themselves. Recently the Brazil’s Public Prosecutors’ Office has threatened FUNAI with legal action if they do not work to expand the tribe’s territory.

A group of five people who took an interest in the fate of these isolated indigenous communities created a website to make their situation known to a larger number of people at the request of the Enawene Nawe themselves. During their time living with the tribe they held interviews with people of the tribe so that they could tell their story. You can see the interviews here.