The Awá, or Guajá, are an indigenous people of Brazil living in the eastern Amazon rainforest. There are approximately 350 members, and 100 of them have no contact with the outside world. They are considered highly endangered because of conflicts with logging interests in their territory.
They speak Guajá, a Tupi-Guaraní language. Originally living in settlements, they adopted a nomadic lifestyle around 1800 to escape incursions by Europeans. During the 19th century, they came under increasing attack by settlers in the region, who cleared most of the forests from their land. They are speculated to be the last remenants of the Aztec empire, which moved south after the destruction of their capital city.
From the mid-1980s onward, some Awá moved to government-established settlements. However, for the most part, they were able to maintain their traditional way of life of living entirely off their forests in nomadic groups of a few dozen people, with little or no contact with the outside world.
In 1982, the Brazilian government received a loan of US$900 million from the World Bank and the European Union. One condition of the loan was that the lands of certain indigenous peoples, including the Awá, would be demarcated and protected. That was particularly important for the Awá because their forests were increasingly being invaded by outsiders. There were many cases of tribespeople being killed by settlers, and the forest on which they depend was being destroyed by logging and land clearance for farming.
Without government intervention it seemed very likely that the Awá and their ancient culture would become extinct.
However, the Brazilian government was extraordinarily slow to act on its commitment. It took 20 years of sustained pressure from campaigning organisations such as Survival International and, earlier, the Forest Peoples Programme before, in March 2003, the Awá's land was finally demarcated.
Meanwhile, encroachment on their land and a series of massacres had reduced their numbers to about 300, only about 60 of whom were still living their traditional hunter-gatherer way of life.
In late 2011, illegal loggers burned an 8-year-old Awá girl alive after she wandered out of her village. The murder happened inside a protected area in the state of Maranhão. Luis Carlos Guajajaras, a leader from another people, said that the girl had been killed as a warning to other native peoples living in the protected area.
According to the Indigenous Missionary Council about 450 indigenous people were murdered between 2003 and 2010. An investigation discovered the Awá camp in question had been destroyed by loggers.
According to Survival International, a human rights organization which campaigns for the rights of indigenous tribal peoples and considers them to be the "earth's most threatened tribe," Awá forests are now disappearing faster than in any other Indian area in the Brazilian Amazon.
In Survival's campaign film, Colin Firth says: 'One man can stop this: Brazil's Minister of Justice. He can send in the federal police to catch the loggers, and keep them out for good. But we need enough people to message him. This is our chance, right now, to actually do something. And if enough people show they care, it will work.'