Oct 3rd, 2017, 09:59 AM

Empowering Brazil's Voiceless With Technology

By Beatriz Salgado
Image Credit: Inês Buschel
Indigenous tribes in Brazil are using modern devices and social media to make their voices heard.

“Have Facebook?” asked Sahu, one of the members of the Sahu-Apé tribe, an indigenous village situated along the margins of Ariaú River in Brazil's Amazonas state.
“Pardon?” I replied.
“You have Facebook? he repeated.
“Yes, of course! Why? Do you have Facebook?” I asked with a confused expression stamped across my face.
“Can be friends on Facebook?” he asked in broken Portuguese.
“Okay.”  

I couldn’t quite figure out why I had been so bemused by the fact that someone from an indigenous tribe also used Facebook like the rest of the civilized world. Why is it that, in the twenty-first century, we still stereotype so many cultures distant from our own? (at least I still did while visiting the Amazon with my family). I guess I was young and naïve and watched too many Disney movies, which led me to believe I would experience a magical world like that of the animated Pocahontas, only an Amazonian version in the rainforest. Instead, what I found was a village that had notebooks, cell phones, television sets — and even Facebook!

Image Credit: flickr/David Lazar

Guy Berger, UNESCO Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development states that “universal access to information is the critical currency for us to survive in the modern world.”

For urban dwellers of cities accustomed to digital connectivity, it's almost a natural instinct to use the internet as a means to make an impact at a local and global level. What we don't always realize or remember is that information is also essential for sustainable development. Indigenous people are keepers of rich cultural diversity and have protected their history and culture for many years. Several villages that were once isolated and survived by subsistence hunting, have received multimedia equipment and workshops to learn video production and editing. As a result, their unique wisdom and traditional tales are being shared with the rest of the world. This is necessary. Indigenous people need to be empowered with information and technology to give them a voice.

With the help of cell phones, cameras, and GPS indigenous tribes divide themselves into groups and spend up to five days in the forest monitoring illegal timber merchants and registering animal and plant species. This is known as bio-monitoring. Who would have thought this combination of technology and contact with nature would be so useful?

Image Credit: Sanderlei Silveira

Now, picture four young indigenous boys dressed in straight cap hats and loose jeans rapping in Guarani (their indigenous language) while their cart is being pulled by a horse in the middle of a rural land. Does it feel strange to imagine a hip-hop group without thinking of P.Diddy and 2Pac. Indigenous hip-hop? Indeed. Their coolness and indigenous swag have become tools to promote social issues through the Internet. They use these tools to raise awareness of their struggles and campaign for native rights.

Google and indigenous tribes? Here is another unique integration that has surprisingly worked out successfully. In 2007, Almir Saruí, the chief of Paiter-Suruí tribe partnered with the multinational superpower to protect their territory. Almir stated that Google knew more about technology and the Suruís knew more about the forest and that was exactly why the project would work. The company provides training to indigenous youth on how to use Google tools, which allows them to monitor diversity, borders, and deforestation. This led to the creation of a cultural map of the tribe, which fosters their tales, history, traditional food, and rituals. This fusion gave the village an opportunity to produce a new model in order to raise awareness and strive towards a more sustainable planet. Who would’ve thought of such combination?

By neutralizing extremes and balancing differences we can bring out the the best of both sides. Traditions and technology are not only able to provide sustainable development but They do offer the possibility of a powerful approach that marginalized indigenous people have been able to use to express their voice in a genuine and unique way.

Image Credit: Sanderlei Silveira

After an enthralling and magical adventure in the Amazon, I returned to the repetitive chaos of the city, and as I logged onto my Facebook page I anxiously clicked on the “friends” menu to see if I had received a request. Yup, an invitation from Sahu, directly from the Sahu-Apé village. I thought to myself, how amazing is this? To be able to interact with such distant realities through such a modern platform.