Vincenzo Lauriola

Vincenzo Lauriola

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COBRA’s positive impacts: First initiatives in Makushi intra-ethnic & cross-border cooperation

November 26, 2014

Just a couple of visits by Abel, Beatriz, Charles and Jacir, the 4 members of the Brazilian Macushi COBRA team from Maturuca (Raposa Serra do Sol Land, Roraima), to Bina Hill in Annai, North Rupununi Guyana, carried out between January and June 2014 for training and working on the COBRA project, were enough to get two exchange and cooperation actions started between Makushi communities living east and west of the Ireng river, the international Brazil-Guyana border crossing their common traditional territory.

Young Guyanese delegation visits Brazilian Agro-technical school

Delegation visits agro-technical school

The first action was a visit of a delegation from Bina Hill Institute’s Youth Learning Centre (Annai, Guyana) to the Centro Indigena de Formação e Cultura Raposa Serra do Sol (CIFCRSS), the Indigenous Agro-technical School, Barro community, Surumu region, Raposa Serra do Sol Land. The BHI-YLC delegation was led by Victor P. Ferreira, Director, and included 4 indigenous students from Guyana: 2 girls (Eslyn Alfred and Verlyn Skybar) and 2 boys (Jeremiah Lawrence and Jenkins Lawrence). The visit took place between June 30th and July 3rd 2014. The delegation was welcomed by Edinho Batista de Souza, Coordinator of CIFCRSS, other members of the school directing board and the school’s students. English-Portuguese language mediation was voluntarily facilitated by Marina Sousa Lima, an anthropology student at Roraima Federal University (UFRR).

The location and infra-structure of CIFCRSS premises were immediately perceived by the Guyanese visitors as representing an important potential for tourism (it is part of BHI-YLC’s school curriculum), an activity which remains unexploited in most indigenous territories in Brazil. On the other hand, the main focus of CIFCRSS on organic and agro-ecological agriculture and breeding techniques and activities, strongly linked to indigenous land rights recognition and agricultural production as a main strategy for communities’ food security, as well as land environmental management, were well perceived not only through talks, but also by visiting the school’s several and diverse productive and experimental fields. These include not only cassavas, bananas, salads and several other vegetables, but also fruit trees and agroforestry ongoing experiments, as well as breeding of different animals: cattle, pigs, chicken, rabbits, sheep and fish.

School burnt down by non-indigenous settlers following demarcation of the Raposa Serra do Sol indigenous territory

Scars from the conflict

The recent history of conflicts for land rights recognition of their Brazilian “relatives” were also perceived by the Guyanese visitors: despite some recovery efforts, the physical infrastructure of CIFCRSS still carries visible marks of the aggression suffered in September 2005, when a dozen of masked and armed men, led by non-indigenous settlers who refused to leave the recently demarcated Indigenous Land, invaded and set fire to the school’s premises, terrorizing students and teachers.

The visit was an opportunity to start exchanging ideas for future cooperation between BHI-YLC and CIFCRSS. Agriculture and tourism stood out as potential fields for students’ and teachers’ exchanges, which would also represent an opportunity to learn a second national language. Besides enhancing the development of future relations across the Ireng river, such a language learning process would increase academic opportunities both for Guyanese indigenous students, who could have access to universities in Boa Vista, and for Brazilians, who also have to pass English language tests to access academic opportunities in Brazil. The different timing of the school-year between Brazil (February-December) and Guyana (September-June) was also seen as a potential opportunity to develop students’ exchanges without official school-time loss. The BHI-YLC is now waiting for a CIFCRSS delegation’s visit to Guyana to further develop cooperation ideas and proposals.

Visiting new project developments

Visiting new project developments

The second action, which took place in September 2014, was a week’s internship of a Brazilian Makushi young leader, Gercimar Morais Malheiro, from the Raposa region of Roraima, at Surama Eco Lodge, Guyana. Following up the invitation made by Sydney Allicock and Surama Eco Lodge staff, Gercimar spent a week to see and learn from the inside about the history and working of a community owned and run eco-tourism business. Gercimar’s home region, Raposa, harbours Lake Caracaranã, an outstanding site with significant tourism potential in Roraima. In fact, the site has represented a local tour destination over decades, mainly to Roraima urban residents, attracted by its white sand beach and clear water, for daily or weekend trips.

Until the indigenous land entitlement was recognised in 2009, access to Lake Caracaranã was controlled and managed by a family of non-indigenous settlers, who left the area in 2010. Since then, the Macushi communities of Raposa have taken over the site, using it mainly as centre for indigenous meetings. However, they have recently started discussing the possibility to develop its tourism potential as an income generating activity. While tourism is still largely unexploited as an economic alternative in indigenous territories in Brazil, Makushi indigenous communities of Roraima can learn from the successful experience of their relatives just on the other side of the Ireng river. Gercimar’s internship week at Surama was a first, short but inspiring experience, which will certainly be followed by more best-practice exchange initiatives.

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