Preserving the Pan-Amazonian culture

Magis, in collaboration with the Xavier Network, Fe y Alegría and the Jesuit Provinces of seven South American countries, takes action to help indigenous peoples of the Amazon. The project aims not only to preserve the indigenous culture, but also to build environmental awareness that allows the preservation of the region in which the natives live.

In the Amazon there are many Indian tribes with different traditions. Some ethnic groups of the Arawak, Cariban and Tupi families, that occupy tropical rainforest areas, use agriculture and build canoes, hammocks and ceramics. Others, like the ethnic groups Yê, usually live in the prairies, cultivate little, but have a more complex social organization. Scattered among the farm villages, in the heart of the jungle, live hunter-gatherers who belong to minor linguistic families, such as the Nadahup, Pirahã and Guajiboan families, who are more or less the direct descendants of the early hunter-gatherers.

The Indians are the native population of South America. The arrival of Europeans in the sixteenth century brought many challenges for the local people including European diseases which caused a decrease in the indigenous population. Europeans also used Indians as slaves for centuries. Over time, indigenous communities have been progressively relegated to the margins of society. Today, their environment is seriously threatened by deforestation and land exploitation. Their century old traditions and native languages are disappearing.

In 2011, the Conference of Jesuit Provincials in Latin America formulated a shared apostolic programme stating the need to “support the Company’s mission in the Amazon and the coordination of actions in the Provinces and regions that operate in the region”. In 2012, the Pan-Amazonian project was started up involving Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Guyana. Over time, the Jesuit Service for the Pan-Amazonian region focused on two themes: indigenous peoples and sustainable environment. Thus, a project was started up, in collaboration with the International Federation of Fe y Alegría, the national schools Fe y Alegría of the Pan-Amazonian region and the Xavier Network, intended to promote intercultural education and environmental protection.

The initiative aims first of all to transmit to the young generations the Indian culture and with it a greater environmental awareness. The recipients of the project are the teachers (27% indigenous) and the students (33% indigenous) of the Amazonian schools of seven Latin American countries. The project foresees a coordination of the work of the Fe y Alegría schools present in the Amazon, by creating alliances and a common programme among the different institutes. This will, at a later stage, lead to an exchange of experience between the teachers and the managers of the organisations.

Magis will support the activities in Bolivia. Here the project focuses on two cities: Beni, because it is the largest centre of the Amazonian region and one in which Fe y Alegría has a consolidated presence; and Cochabamba, where Fe y Alegría has gained extensive experience in intercultural and bilingual education with the Quechua population. In Beni, five schools with 2,616 students and 137 teachers will be involved. In Cochabamba, two schools with 43 teachers. Priority will be given first to the intercultural level and then to the linguistic one. The elements of the local cultures will be transmitted first to the teachers (who currently do not have an adequate curriculum) which, in turn, will pass them on to their students. Then focus will be placed on the environmental level. “Local communities – explain project leaders – are actually concerned about the environment in which they live. And, in particular, the loss of biodiversity, waste management, the disappearance of forests and climate change. People believe that the Amazon is an important place for the world because of its cultural and ecological diversity, and that both the indigenous populations that inhabit it and the ecosystems threatened by the unsustainable extraction of natural resources should be protected. We will work thoroughly on these aspects.”