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The Awa Guaja

SAY IT WITH A SMILE
Brazil

*Displayed in First World Exhibition*

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The Awa Guaja are a group of hereto unknown South American natives who were recently contacted. They live in the North East of Brazil, in the Maranhao State, at the heart of the Tiracambu sierra. Maintaining their basic lifestyle takes the Awa only a few hours a day. The women harvest bananas, roots and wild berries, while the men hunt and fish. The Awa Guaja lived in isolation until the arrival of the railroad linking the capital of Sao Luis to the mines in Carajas.

Today, their rainforest environment has almost been entirely destroyed, which forces them to run from farm to farm. For several years they were even targets for bounty hunters. Hired guns were paid $60 per Indian head by unscrupulous landowners and speculators. The remaining Awa Guaja are scattered in small groups. Today FUNAI, the Brazilian office in charge of indigenous affairs, does its best to protect them.

According to FUNAI, there are still forty or fifty isolated groups of native South Americans, scattered all over the Amazon.

Naked, armed only with their bows and arrows and always on the move, they are very difficult to locate. They probably know about the outside world as, at one time or another, in the course of their recent history, they have come into conflict with our society. They have heard about boat engines and perhaps seen an airplane loudly passing through their sky like a strange angry eagle.

What they don't know is that there are billions of us. They think of us as another tribe, just a little larger than their own.

They are among the very last people in the world still maintaining their traditional lifestyle exactly as it has been for thousands of years, as it was for instance when the Portuguese explorer Cabral landed in Brazil in 1500. It is estimated that there were about 5 million native Americans in Brazil at the time. Today there are no more than 250,000 left, who are struggling to survive. Despite this, the Awa Guaja have never lost their smiles.