Isolated Nomads Are Under Siege in the Amazon Jungle

The tread marks in the blood-red earth are deep—and fresh. Tainaky Tenetehar climbs off his dirt bike for a closer look.

“From this morning,” he says, with the conviction of a veteran tracker attuned to any sign of human movement in these lawless borderlands.

Through binoculars, he scans the rolling hills of fire-scorched savanna that lead out to a tree-crowned ridge in the distance. Here, on one of Brazil’s most hotly contested frontiers—where denuded scrubland pushes up against old-growth forest and private homesteads breach the boundaries of Indian land—the tire tracks bear a singular, ominous meaning.

“Loggers,” Tainaky says. The enemy.

Tainaky, who also goes by his Portuguese name, Laércio Souza Silva Guajajara, turns to his companions, four other Guajajara tribesmen, as they dismount road-beaten motorbikes. The patrol forms a motley crew: patched jeans and camouflage and aviator shades and bandannas to shield their faces from the ubiquitous dry-season dust. Bearing an equally modest array of weapons—a single-shot hunting rifle, a homemade pistol, a few machetes dangling from cinched waistbands—they call to mind a strange, cross-genre film. Think Mad Max meets The Last of the Mohicans.

“Shall we go after them?” Tainaky asks.

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