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Brazil Journey Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 17:19 GMT 18:19 UK
The 'forgotten' Indians of Aracruz
Aracruz: An 87 year-old Tupiniquim Indian leader says he can't write and won't vote Canudos: Paulo meets island-dwelling Marciano, who follows a 19th Century messianic leader Salvador: Traditional street vendors want a president who will give them a monopoly on bean fritters Pernambuco: A community descended from escaped slaves fights for access to its own land Eldorado dos Carajas: Where land reform has brought soaring crime Serra Pelada: Small-scale gold diggers win a 10-year mining rights battle Brasil Novo: A remote jungle town longs for electricity and a surfaced road Santarem: Canvassing votes by river boat at the heart of the Amazon jungle Belém: The city where a councillor with one arm is spearheading the fight for disability rights Belém-Brasilia highway: Two days with a trucker on Brazil's damaged and bandit-ridden roads Brasilia: The scavengers who live off the capital's waste Sao Paulo: The city 'island' dwellers who will have to travel for four hours to vote

Report one: Aracruz

As Brazil gears up for presidential elections in October, BBC Brasil's Paulo Cabral travels through remote mountains, arid countryside and deep jungle to find out what 21st Century politics mean in the Brazil that normally goes unreported.

The 180 families of Tupiniquim Indians living in Caieras Velha say they have been forgotten.

Indians in Aracruz
"The white man does not know the suffering of the Indian," said one woman
Not only do the politicians in the current government ignore them - none of the new presidential candidates have come seeking their votes, they say.

"The community wants to take part in these elections," says Jose Sizenando, the tribal chief of the community based in a suburb of the city of Aracruz, less than 60 kilometres from Vitoria, the capital of Espirito Santo State.

"But nobody came to us to talk, and the Indians don't know who they'll vote for," he said.

Presidential election
First round: 6 October
Run-off: 27 October
In the last municipal elections, the chief ran for councillor at the city of Aracruz and got 507 votes.

With seven more, he would have been the first Indian councillor in a city that hosts three Tupiniquim villages and three from another Indian tribe, the Guarani.

"If we had an Indian in these elections, it would be much better, because the white man doesn't know the suffering of the Indian," complained 62-year-old Tupiniquim Indian, Helena Coutinho.

"The white man only wants our vote."

But, in spite of that, she says the community must participate in the elections:

"The majority of the Indians from here vote nowadays. And we have to vote to put someone there who'll be concerned with the problems of the Indians."

Key candidates

Key presidential candidates:

Jose Serra - ruling centrist coalition
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva - Workers' Party
Ciro Gomes - centre-left Labour Front coalition
Anthony Garotinho - Socialist Party candidate
The chief's 87-year-old father, Alexandre Sizenando, has lived in Caieras Velha longest. He has also already been the chief of the village and is now its shaman, or holy man.

But Alexandre has never voted "in the elections of the white", he says, although he never misses the meetings where local village chiefs are chosen.

"I don't even know how to write my name. What is my vote worth?" he says.

And, as the Indians try to make their voices heard through the country's political system, they also trying to balance the preservation of their own identity against the need to relate to the country's white majority.

Mixed marriages

Traditionally, marriages between Indians and white people are not welcome.

Indian children in Aracruz
Some Indian children are learning Portuguese
"There's a rule in the village that says that the Indian who marries a white person must live outside the village," Chief Sizenando told me.

"I think this is important to keep the village as it is."

But the policy is not enforced strictly.

Even the chief's father is married to a white woman, Maria, his second wife.

And Maria does not like the rule imposed by her stepson:

"The one who's born in the river is fish, isn't that right? I was born in these lands, so I am Indian," she says.

Language dilemma

Two years ago a new village of Guarani Indians was created at the mouth of the river Pireque-Açu. With seven families, the community chose Carai as their chief.

At home Carai speaks Tupi with his four sons and his wife. But the children are learning Portuguese.

"It's important that the Indians preserve their language, but also speak Portuguese to communicate with the whites," he says.

"The Indians must fight for their community because the whites don't do anything."


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20 Aug 02 | Americas
19 Jul 02 | Americas
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