is one of the very last true explorers.
He has led
hundreds of expeditions across the Amazon jungle and made first
contact with nine until then, unknown tribes. If it were not for
him, dozens of ethnic tribes would have disappeared, exterminated
by contagious diseases or bullets.
It took Sydney Possuelo several
months of exploring the jungle in Javari to find traces of the Korubo
people. He has devoted his life to protect the last isolated ethnic
groups in the Amazon.
Born on the 19th of April
1940, the official day of the Indian in the Brazilian calender,
Sydney, like so many adolescents, used to dream of adventures in
the jungle. He began his career as a young boy assisting the Villas
Boas brothers who were founders of Brazil's first large protected
indigenous land, the Xingu Indigenous Reservation.
In the early 90's Sydney accepted an appointment
as Director of the Indian Department FUNAI (Fondaçao Nacional
do Indio). In two years time he managed to double the total surface
of officially designated indigenous land, including the Yanomami
territory, before the opposition from strong political groups had
time to get organized. Sydney then resigned from his post as top
state official responsible for indigenous affairs to continue managing
the protection of uncontacted isolated Indian groups.
By the middle of year 2001 around 40 unknown tribes
had been located, but not contacted and Sydney leads six so-called
frente de vigilanca, teams to protect these Indians' forest lands
and limit the expansion of our dominant society.
After our first contact with the Korubo Indians,
Sydney received many death threats from the white timber companies
near Vale do Javari and the team had to resist several organized
attemps at invasion. The biggest was on February 7, year 2000 when
almost 300 locally organized lumbermen and swamill owners armed
with guns and Molotov cocktail attempted a raid on the base but
zere deterred by a rapid helicopter intervention by the Federal
Police and their automatic rifles.
Since then, the so-called contact front where in
1996 we started clearing a bit of land to put up the first signs
of demarcation, has turned into a well-functioning centre for the
protection of the isolated Indians in Vale do Javari.
In April 1998 Sydney Possuelo was awarded the prestigous
price Bartolomeu de las Casas as a recognition for his lifetime
struggle for the rights of the un-contacted Indians in the Amazon
forest. Later the same year I accompanied him in the Saharan desert
with visiting Kamayura Indians when our car, driven at an extreme
speed, left the road, overturned three times and Sydney nearly lost
his life. It took many painful months for Sydney to recover.
I returned in 1999, 2000 and 2001 on several occasions
and stayed out in the area during several months, documenting Sydney
and the efforts for the uncontacted Indians and Korubo, amongst
others for Discovery Channel.
During and after my visits, several years after our
first contact, international media started awakening other and press
and TV teams from Der Spiegel, Italian RAI, Tele Globo, New York
Times, The Guardian, Istoe, Canal Plus (Stephane Peyron) Japanese
NHK arrived during a few days to make headline stories. Besides
them, a horde of media, photographers, missionaries and crazy adventurers
attempted to penetrate illegally into the lands to meet the Korubo
In year 2000 a new guard post to halt incursions
into Korubo land has been constructed on the Quixito river and the
Javari Indian land was finally demarcated. Arial surveys revealed
18 uncontacted native communities and their existence was confirmed
in our lengthy fluvial and terrestrial expedition "Ajuricaba"
covering 4000 kilometers of the Amazon forest into the lands of
the "Flecheiros" in the first half of year 2001. The following
year a similar expedition led by Sydney over roughly the same lands
was widely publicised in National Geographic magazine.
In 1998 Sydney was presented as "HERO OF THE
PLANET" by Time Kids Magazine, and presented as such on United
Nation's website in a small video where I have recorded a small
part of the sequences. Sydney has become a well known spokesman
for the so-called "lost tribes", the last survivors of
decimated tribes, who hide from the outside world and have no channels
to speak for themselves.
He is conscious of how important the mass media
have become for funding the protection of these people and for creating
an international awareness of the values of this human diversity.
That is why his project is named PROGRAMA DE PROTECÃO
ETNOAMBIENTAL (ethno-environmental protection project). After
all, you cannot protect people without protecting the land they
On January 20 year 2006, only two months after
Sydney had successfully organized the first international meeting
of experts from a dozen countries to unite for the protection of
the isolated indigenous people, he was dismissed from his post in
FUNAI (Fundacao Nacional do Indio), which is a disastrous blow to
the existing structures of protection he has managed to organize
during his life. This because he had dared to contest a statement
made FUNAI president Mercio Pereira Gomes that in Brazil there is
"too much land for very few Indians", a slanted argument
usually presented by loggin companies, gold diggers and ranchers.
Much thanks to Sydney Possuelo, of six Latin American
countries who have uncontacted, isolated indigenous groups, Brazil
was the only nation with a defined policy to protect the lands of
these populations. Now this protection is being dismantled by
a more aggressive policy in the interest of the economic powers
bent on exploiting the land and the last resources of the rainforest.