Postcard from... Rio de Janeiro


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The Independent Online

They huddle in a circle, shaking maracas and shuffling in time to a rhythm that has pulsed through their tribes for generations. The dancers raise their voices in song, conjuring an ancient spirit that vibrates above the traffic roaring from a nearby expressway and the beat of funk music blasting from a neighbour’s loudspeaker.

Samba is the music associated with Rio but in this favela, a dense hodgepodge of cinderblock homes filled with the city’s poorest residents, the indigenous people are struggling to keep their traditions alive. Seeking jobs and forced out of their lands by loggers, miners and farmers, an estimated 22,000 Brazilian Indians now call the crowded favelas their home.

Deforestation continues to reshape the Amazon rainforest region, which is home to a third of Brazil’s indigenous people. The rate of deforestation rose 29 per cent last year, compared with 2012. Thought to number in the several millions in pre-Columbian times, Brazil’s indigenous peoples have been decimated by 500 years of persecution and disease. Now, the country’s 305 indigenous tribes include 900,000 people, or just 0.4 per cent of Brazil’s population. Nearly one in four indigenous people lives in urban areas, and anecdotal evidence suggests growing numbers are living in slums.