“In 1968, the Cinta Larga people had contact with the white man. There were more than six or seven thousand Cinta Larga members before the contact. After the contact, many Cinta Larga died. Today we are living with the white man's culture.”
Frontline/World Reporter Mariana van Zeller: How was life before the contact with the white man?
Chief Pio: Before it was wonderful too. We never had to worry about diseases, education, health, of being invaded by the white man in the village. Today, we dont have that peace anymore. Because today, its Ah, in that place there are wood cutters stealing wood. Ah, in that place rubber tree tappers are invading the reserve. So we have to be constantly running from one place to the other. Things have changed a lot. We ourselves are different. We have worries -- worries about health, worries about our children, worries about women, because now there are shoes, clothes. Before it wasnt like this. Before, Indians were only worried about hunting in the right season, working at the right time, picking native fruit in the right season. So we didnt have as many worries then. I didnt even imagine at that time that there were roads. I didnt even imagine at that time that there were soccer fields, airstrips, dams. We werent prepared for any of that.
And you have all of that now?
Yes, after the contact, we have all that. You can see we have health posts, nurses. The village now has tiled roofs, instead of thatched. So many things have changed after the contact with the white man. I think that we have two cultures: one white and one indigenous, and thats confusing our youngsters. They dont know the old culture. And we would like to teach them.
What do the children want?
The kids here just want to know about soccer, about white mans stuff, so I think the Cinta Larga arent living their old lives anymore. Money has changed the lives of the Cinta Larga. The truth is we dont want that. We want both cultures. We want to have cars and those other things that the white man has brought here. We werent the ones who went looking for any of that. It was the white mans culture that came looking for us. So today we want whats best for us. Because today we know that if our youngsters study and graduate, we will have someone to defend us. We wont need to hire lawyers to defend our rights. Today we know we have that right. But how can we get it? Thats what we still dont know.
What do you want for the future of this mine?
We want to explore this diamond mine. We dont want to give it to the white man. We can talk to the government, reach an agreement with them. But we need to hear their proposals, and we want them to hear ours. Thats what were fighting for with the government. We want to set up our own Indian mining company so that we Indians can explore the mine. Not that we want to explore it till theres nothing left, but explore it when we need to. That is our proposal to the government. We havent seen any proposal from the government yet. Were waiting for them to send us a proposal. We would like for them to come talk to us.
You mention an Indian mining company, but do the Cinta Larga know how to mine?
Well, we didnt know, but we are learning. Today we still need help from the white man because we havent learned everything. We still need a PC machine operator. Thats what we need in order to be able to mine.
For the mine to be legalized, the Cinta Larga tribe is going to have to give authorization. Will you?
We still havent seen the governments proposal, to see if they are going to legalize it for the Indians or for the mining companies. Thats what we need to know, to talk to the government.
How has life changed in the village during these last years with the presence of all these miners?
On the one hand it improved, on the other it got worse because life has become more stressful. Today, I can see the negative side of the mine -- people lost their marriages, some members are separated, women go to the city. That was the bad side. The positive side and where the mine has benefited the community is in the building of well-built houses, roads, agricultural projects; and it brought cattle. I think the treatment has to be differentiated. We are Indians so we should be treated differently from the white man. So today we have a different health system, different educational system, because not all of us know how to speak Portuguese.
Did you know what diamonds were before miners started coming here?
No. No. We made contact with them here in the river. When I was little, I followed a miner but I didnt understand why he was working with the gravel. But now we know. At the time we didnt even know what money was. Today we know what money and diamonds are, so we learned all that.
Do you remember the first time you saw a white man?
How was it?
They werent very close; I saw them from far away. It was in Tenente Marques. Some miners passed by, and I hid behind a tree looking at them pass. I thought they were weird.
Why did you think they were weird?
They had clothes on, everything was different -- shoes, canoes -- it was all new to me.
Were you scared?
Yes, I was scared. Very. [He laughs.] We knew that they didnt speak our language and that made things difficult.
Do you think youre lucky or unlucky to have this diamond mine in the reserve? Were here with the blessing of God, and if God left it here, it was lucky for us. Maybe its not a question of being lucky or unlucky, but God left it here for whoever explores it.
Joao Bravo says that if its necessary, we will fight and we wont hand over the mine easily. So Im not sure what the government is thinking, and weve been living here for a long time, so we wont let the government do that. We want to wait for the government to legalize this for us. I dont know if this is the best mine in the world because Ive never seen diamonds from anywhere else. If the white men say that these are the best diamonds in the world, its because they know diamonds from other regions. I dont. The miners had permission from the Indians to mine here. But then more started to come in and there were more Indians bringing them in, then we just started losing control.
So there was a good relationship between miners and Indians?
And you dont think that exists anymore?
It still exists, but today you see the federal police everywhere, so if the government doesnt want us to mine, what can we do? Were not going to fight with the government, so we have to wait. We cant keep on working clandestinely and fight with the government. We dont want that. We want to work legally.
Are you hopeful about the future of this mine?
Yes, Im hopeful, and thats why Im cooperating with the FUNAI and with the federal police, so that better things can come to the Cinta Larga people.
And do you think the miners are also going to be able to benefit in some way?
I cant answer that because I dont know.Back to top