The Canela (Brasil)

The Canela are a community of native peoples who live in Brazil between the Amazon Rainforest and the plateau lands of eastern Brazil. More specifically, they live approximately 500 kilometers south-west of San Luis, the capital of Maranhao. For more than 200 years conquerors and settlers invaded their land, and they were ultimately assigned to a reserve in 1983. The land on this reserve is largely unfertile, which poses a significant threat to their way of life. They are primarily hunter- gatherers and rely on the land for their livelihood. The unfertile land and resulting insufficient amount of resources has led to health problems among the Canela.

These two factors combined have increased the pressure on the Canela. Despite their hardships they have been able to retain their traditional culture and practices, including their native language, Ge. They are increasingly confronted with the pressure to conform to modern society. The Canela do have their own form of government, which uses democratic principles. Their complex social structure is matrilineal and includes many varied social organizations to unite their community. Due to the struggle of indigenous populations in the world, 1993 was declared the “Year of the Indigenous Peoples” by the UN. The Kreisky Foundation demonstrated their support for this decision by awarding the Canela the Bruno Kreisky Prize in 1993. The award helped the Canela to maintain their social independence and autonomy within Brazil.

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft worked together with the German-Brazilian society to conduct research projects based upon the Canela society with their goal being the protection of their ”right to self-determination.” Since then there has been relatively little contact with the Canela. They remain isolated in Brazil, as they are only reachable by a three-hour ride through the jungle.