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Day 2: Demini, Roraima

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Bedtime story.
Michael Palin - BrazilWhen this airline hub of north-western Brazil finally quietens down I ask Davi if he sees himself as Yanomami or Brazilian first. Though his answer is Yanomami, he concedes that there are some aspects of integration with the wider world that have been of great benefit. In health, particularly. The clinic and the airstrip have ensured that far fewer of the Yanomami are dying from diseases like measles and malaria. There have been no deaths from malaria for several years. But the threats remain. There are still those who see the rights of the gold prospectors as equal to those of the Indians. There are farmers who want to start clearing the forest to raise cattle, military who want to take land to secure the border area, and big dams are planned which will cause their rivers to dry up. He is glad that we have come here to show the world how his people live; but if we truly want to defend their way of life then we must go home and protest to our governments who support companies investing in Brazil's abundance without a thought for the tribes.

'We are the people of the forest,' he says quietly and insistently. 'We are the ones who know how to look after it.'

Before we leave there is further evidence of how rapidly the world outside has changed the Yanomami way of life. Not far from the maloca they have cleared the forest to create a football pitch. It might not be level, but there are two goalposts and two very keen teams. The kit consists of footwear (optional) and a pair of shorts. Striped shirts are painted on their upper bodies and striped socks painted on their calves. Despite the punishing heat they throw themselves into the game, everyone chasing for every ball. It's a happy image but it's also a confirmation that their old way of life is changed for ever and now, for better or worse, the days of isolation are over.

We walk back slowly, reflectively, through this sylvan peacefulness until we reach the airstrip. Francisco, our pilot, is already waiting, looking anxiously at the sky.

We bid our last farewells and climb aboard. The clearing and the cluster of buildings recede into the distance. For the next hour there is nothing below us but rolling rainforest, swathing the land in every shade of green, broken occasionally by vivid dabs of purple and yellow blossom. Thin spidery rivers appear, then peter out. I can see no sign of a track or a trail. Then the landscape changes, levels out, and where there was forest there are wide fields of grass and some soya and ahead of us is a proper airport and soon we're down to earth again.
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With Davi, spokesman for the Yanomami around the world.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 2: Demini, Roraima
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Demini, Roraima
  • Book page no: 26

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