A group of Amazonian Indians has arrived in London on a two-month mission to raise funds for an ambitious reforestation project in their native Ecuador.

They speak no English, have practically no money and have already had a run-in with police. But the Shuars still hope to win pledges equivalent to dollars 160,000 (pounds 106,000).

Two weeks ago the four men and two women arrived at Heathrow airport with details of a scheme to return part of the rainforest to its natural state, andboxes of their handicrafts to sell.

Things have not gone well. A meeting with the British Council was postponed. One man went missing following an argument and has not been seen for days.

As for assistance from the Ecuadorian embassy, the Shuar's spokesman, Antonio Chiriap, talks dismissively of 'too much bureaucracy.

To Antonio and his group, members of a 1,000-strong community in the jungles around Pikiur, London is overwhelming. The six had encountered urban life in the Ecuadorian towns of Macas and Puyo, where they sell woodcarvings, musical instruments, and pottery. Nothing, however, had prepared them for the assault on their senses of central London.

Speaking through an interpreter, Antonio admitted they left their country without knowing what to expect. 'London is very developed, there is so much technology, but the air is sad because it's contaminated. The people don't think about the future of their children in the way they run the city - they must leave them a good heritage.

The cost of their plane tickets, paid for from several years of selling crafts, used up the bulk of their savings. They were thrown out of their hotel after four days and their travel documents were confiscated when the management realised they could not meet the pounds 300 bill.

Attempts by the group to raise money have proved unsuccessful. When the six attempted to play music in Covent Garden the police quickly moved them on, and they have been unable to find a pitch to sell their crafts.

However, the group have been offered some help by Alexander Assiego, a Spaniard who found the Shuar wandering the streets and offered to house them temporarily in his South Kensington flat.

Antonio refuses to be overawed by the difficulties facing him and his group. He views his visit to Britain as an important quest: 'I am not a tourist, I am a messenger, and the message is to defend life.

Traditional Shuar life has been under threat for some 40 years from international companies plundering the Amazon's reserves of oil, minerals and timber. Simultaneously, lowland people have been moving into the jungle in search of land and are clearing large areas for cattle pastures.

The Shuar want to reverse this trend by replanting a 2,500 treeless acres with native crop-yielding species such as peanut and jungle cacao, creating a botanical garden to preserve rare plants and animals, and organising educational classes on conservation. The project would be managed by the Union of Shuar Artisans and would cost dollars 200,000 to complete, of which four-fifths is to come from overseas donations. The Shuars' labour and materials would make up the rest.

By the aid community's standards, the scheme is massive, and some experts on South American peoples doubt whether the scheme will ever happen.

But Antonio remains adamant the scheme's bold thinking is the only way to surmount the problems facing his community, such as malnutrition and the gradual eradication of traditional ways .

'If the project doesn't happen it won't just affect us, but everyone in the world. Without reforestation there will be less oxygen and rare species will become extinct.

'When the forest has gone money will be useless, we won't be able to eat dollar bills or pound notes. We have to act now - it takes 100 years for a tree to grow.

Contact Antonio Chiriap via Alexander Assiego, on 071 586 4909, during office hours.

(Photograph omitted)

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