World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Brazil
|Publisher||Minority Rights Group International|
|Cite as||Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Brazil, 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4954ce5a23.html [accessed 26 November 2015]|
|Comments||In October 2015, MRG revised its World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. For the most part, overview texts were not themselves updated, but the previous 'Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples' rubric was replaced throughout with links to the relevant minority-specific reports, and a 'Resources' section was added. Refworld entries have been updated accordingly.|
Brazil is the largest and most populous country in South America. Minority groups are prevalent in all regions of this diverse nation.
Unlike most of Latin America, Brazil was colonized by the Portuguese. Initial relations with the indigenous population were friendly but colonists eager to exploit trade in wood and sugar soon provoked conflict. The massacres and slavery which almost exterminated the coastal Tupi initiated a pattern repeated over the next 500 years. Rival colonial powers, France and the Netherlands, exploited existing hostilities between indigenous groups. Colonists introduced dysentery, smallpox, influenza and plague. Epidemics of these European diseases swept through the reduções (settlements) instituted by Jesuit missionaries, killing many thousands of indigenous and tribal peoples within a few decades. According to the NGO Survival International the indigenous population of Brazil is less than 7 per cent of what it was in 1500. It is thought that during pre-colonial times there existed up to 1,000 distinct tribes, while today only an estimated 197 of these remain.
In the early nineteenth century, Brazil increased its traditional exports of cotton, sugar and coffee, encroaching still further on indigenous lands. A reported 87 indigenous groups were exterminated in the first half of the twentieth century through contact with expanding colonial frontiers. Between 1964 and 1984 foreign companies and international lending banks tightened control over Brazil's economic structure, continuing to expand the colonizing frontier. Roads stretching across the Amazon basin forced the removal of 25 indigenous groups at the time and the same trends continue. Pressures to expand the Brazilian economy have continued to aggressively erode the Amazon.
After the decimation of the local indigenous population in the seventeenth century an estimated 3.65 million enslaved Africans were imported to Brazil, and the majority of these were brought to Brazil's first capital, Salvador da Bahia. Urban slave labour differed from plantation life; slaves were not passive victims of the system and many escaped to found their own 'quilombos'.
Brazil did not abolish slavery until 1888. Initially the Portuguese authorities promoted miscegenation as a way of ensuring a Portuguese presence in under-populated regions. But, fearing the rising black population Brazil, subsequently opened its country to white immigrants, who were given preference over black people in jobs, housing and education.
Main languages: Portuguese, indigenous languages.
Main religions: Christianity (majority Roman Catholic, also Pentecostal), Afro-Brazilian religions (Candomblé, Umbanda), Judaism, indigenous religions.
Minority groups include Afro-descendants (at least 40%), Japanese (1%), indigenous groups including Yanomami, Tukano, Urueu-Wau- Wau, Awá, Arará, Guaraní, Nambiquara, Tikuna, Makuxi, Wapixana and Kayapó, Tapeba, Tremenbe, Kaiowa, Nandevi Guarani (totalling 0.2-0.4%) and Jews (data: Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística 2000, UNDP).
Brazil currently has 197 forest-dwelling indigenous groups, living either on reservations or in one of four national parks. According to the 2000 Brazilian Demographic Census, about 730,000 people or 0.4 per cent of the total population identified as indigenous. Nevertheless many non-governmental organization (NGO) leaders and scholars dispute these numbers and opt to use the 0.2 per cent figure from the 1991 Census. Although over half of the indigenous population is concentrated in the northern Amazon states and the north-east of the country, there is also a considerable indigenous population in the states of Mato Grosso do Sul and São Paulo, where 8.6 and 7.3 per cent of the total indigenous population reside, respectively (data: Instituto Socioambiental).
Afro-Brazilians are the majority in the north-eastern states. Large agricultural plantations and slave ports dominated this warm temperate region, but black people are also well represented in major industrial metropolitan areas throughout the country.
Excluding the period 1941-50, Japanese migration to Brazil has continued uninterrupted since 1908. By the 1980s their numbers had reached 750,000. Today, Brazil has the largest Japanese-descendant population outside of Japan, and there are strong ties between the two countries. Prior to 1914 the majority of Japanese immigrants were contracted labourers. Later, efforts were made to establish agricultural colonies. Many also worked on coffee plantations. Although they were the subject of popular protest by xenophobic elements in Brazil in the early 1900s, Japanese and their descendants have become acculturated and accepted into middle-class society; trends in social mobility, industrialization and urbanization contribute constantly to this process. The largely Japanese-descendant Liberdade neighbourhood is a strong example of the Japanese-descendant presence in the heavily industrialized city of São Paulo. Mixed marriages among Issei (first-generation immigrants) are almost unknown, although they are common among second- and third-generation immigrants in urban areas.
Brazil's Jewish population lives mainly in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre, with small communities in Pernambuco, Bahia, Belém and Manaus. Since 1945, Jews have played a part in all areas of Brazilian political, economic and military life. Historically anti- Semitism was not a major social problem in independent Brazil, and Jewish communities were able to retain their religion while serving in public life, unlike in neighbouring countries, such as Argentina, where conversion was required in order to obtain high-ranking positions in the military and government.
Since 2001, violence against Jews has increased. Brazil has several neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic organizations, active since the 1930s. Carecas (skinhead) groups operate in Brazil, mainly in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Like their counterparts in Europe, many of them are neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic and xenophobic. The Confederação Israelita do Brasil (CONIB), founded in 1951, represents all the Jewish federations and communities in Brazil and campaigns against anti-Semitism in the media and more generally in Brazil.
The Brazilian policy of 'whitening' has denied the existence of ethnic minorities. Those unable to express themselves in the national language have been banned from voting. Since the United Nations World Conference against Racism, Xenophobia and related forms of Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa in 2001, Brazil has taken important steps to recognize the diversity of the nation, although the country still has a long way to go in order to reach racial equality.
Environmental issues dominated the latter part of 1988 and much of 1989 when the murder of Francisco (Chico) Mendes, founder of the National Council of Rubber Tappers Union, brought Brazil's environmental problems to international attention. One of his close followers, Marina da Silva, currently serves as the Brazilian Minister for the Environment. Mendes' efforts led to the creation of 150,000 acres of extractive reserves, which have allowed rubber tappers to extract commercial products from the trees within this territory. As the Brazilian government continues discussions of hydroelectric dams in the Amazon River and other mega-projects, these tappers remain threatened.
International environmental organizations like Greenpeace have condemned the damage caused by large-scale development projects such as cattle ranching, industrial logging, and 'slash and burn' farming techniques of peasant smallholders. In addition, the activities of an estimated 60,000 gold prospectors in the Amazon region has led to the release of large amounts of mercury into the environment. This continues to present a serious threat to the indigenous population and the rain-forest.
International criticism of the government's poor response to the threat to the environment persisted throughout the early 1990s. Of particular concern to many international observers was the plight of the Yanomami. The National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) was heavily criticized for failing to provide effective protection and support for Brazil's indigenous population. A new cabinet post of Minister with Special Responsibility for the Brazilian Amazon was created after the Yanomami massacre at Haximú in 1993. In June 1992 Brazil hosted the UN Conference on Environment and Development - otherwise known as the Earth Summit.
According to Survival International, in 2007 the Brazilian Socio-Economic-Environmental Institute began coordinating the 'Y Ikatu' or 'Good water' campaign to save the headwaters of the Xingu River, which is a major tributary of the Amazon. The campaign involves a combination of efforts and collaboration from the indigenous peoples of the region, as well as NGOs and farmers. Over the last 10 years, deforestation along the Xingu's headwaters has doubled. Eighteen tribes with a population of 10,000 live in this region and are dependent on the rivers for fish and drinking water. The Xingu park is home to 14 of these indigenous tribes, but the headwaters of the river lie outside the park and are therefore unprotected. Some tributaries have already dried up due to deforestation and forest fires.
Indigenous land rights
The 1988 Brazilian Constitution guaranteed indigenous forest peoples rights to inhabit their ancestral lands, though not their legal right to own them. It made no provision for land reform. In April 2005, after much delay, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio 'Lula' da Silva ratified the Federal Supreme Court ruling to establish the Raposa Serra do Sol Indigenous Reserve in the state of Roraima. After many years of violence and land disputes in this region, this action called for the demarcation and titling of land for a number of indigenous communities, including the Macuxi, Wapichana, Taurepang, Ingaricó and Patamona peoples, as well as the expulsion of non-indigenous settlers and rice farmers from the territory. Still, the Brazilian government has not fully implemented this decision. In August 2006, in response to an urgent request from the Indigenous Council of Roraima, and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Brazilian government was urged to take action and follow up on this decision.
In response to international pressure, the government has begun to recognize its failings in managing indigenous lands and the limited scope of its actions in indigenous communities. Instead of mitigating bad relations with indigenous communities and their advocates, these limited actions have led to new concerns regarding the abandonment of indigenous people by the nation. The demarcation of indigenous land still has not been completed and is a continuing source of conflict. However, the land titling process is moving forward more quickly than in the past, in part due to pressure from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which recommended in 2004 that the demarcation of all indigenous lands be completed by 2007, and that the state party adopt urgent measures to recognize and protect the right of indigenous peoples to own, develop, control and use their lands, territories and resources.
Despite these advances, problems continue throughout the reserves, in part, because the state environmental protection agency has only one staff member for every 2,000 sq km of protected land. FUNAI's activities have been severely curtailed in the past due to funding problems, and a lack of political will to register approximately 11 per cent of the nation's land to the indigenous community, which represents less than 1 per cent of the population. Where land has been demarcated, the exclusive rights of indigenous peoples to these resources is recognized under Article 231 of the constitution.
Many indigenous peoples continue to be threatened by illegal exploitation and colonization. For example, lengthy campaigning achieved the demarcation of a reserve belonging to the Yanomami, but no government action was taken to uphold the integrity of the reserve. In 1993 Yanomami continued to be the victims of premeditated attacks by illegal gold prospectors.
In the face of government failure, indigenous peoples have formally organized themselves through civil society organizations to defend their territory and their identity. There are currently over 250 registered indigenous non-governmental agencies in the greater northern region of Brazil, which is 20 times the number of groups registered ten years ago. These organizations have gained access to international sources of funding to support development activities in their communities and have conducted their own census reports.
President 'Lula' da Silva has alienated indigenous peoples in two ways. His embracing of neoliberal economics and agri-business has stalled many of the land titling actions, leaving his government with, arguably, Brazil's worst indigenous rights record since the military regimes left power in 1985. The 2005 'Indigenous April', inspired by the 2004 Landless Workers Movement (MST), drew attention to land needs and put pressure on the government to demarcate and title new reservations, as it is now obliged to do by the constitution.
In July 2005, after much delay, Brazil awarded land title in a violently disputed case in Roraima State to the Macuzi, an indigenous group near the Guyanese border actively involved in agriculture and cattle raising. However, violence and killings continue to mark relations between indigenous peoples and landowners. In addition, and clearly linked to the demands for land and resources, indigenous leaders and other land rights protesters have been killed by suspected agents of large landowners and agri-business (largely industrial soy bean farmers) seeking access to indigenous lands. Amnesty International argued that the government has 'laid the foundation for the current violence' and cited 'the continuous failure of Brazilian governments to act effectively to protect indigenous communities'.
Afro-descendants and land rights
With regard to Brazil's Afro-descendant populations, the international community has not fully recognized the importance of empowering Afro-Brazilians to become the leaders of their own liberation. Many Afro-Brazilian organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to secure international funding for their community-based activities and, despite raising awareness of the needs of Afro-descendants and a growing sense of black consciousness/identity, many groups are facing a major funding crisis.
The Palmares Foundation, established in 1988, continues to function as an important state institution for the accreditation and granting of lands to communities of the descendants of enslaved Africans, although for many activists the process is too complex and lengthy. Articles 215 and 216 of the Federal Constitution mandate the protection and preservation of these federally certified lands (or quilombos) and the Palmares Foundation assists in the securing of land titles for Afro-descendant communities. In 2007, the foundation identified 743 quilombo communities, 42 of which have been officially recognized and 29 of which have received titles. These rural communities are important historic and cultural reference points for the black movement as a whole, despite the fact that the majority of people of African descent in Brazil live in urban areas, often in favelas, where there are no land titles or formal ownership of property.
Social, economic and political rights of Afro-descendants
Monumental symbolic strides have taken place under the government of President 'Lula' da Silva. For the first time in its history, Lula appointed four Afro-Brazilian national ministers, three of them women: Benedita da Silva, Minister of Social Services; Marina Silva, Minster for the Environment; and Matilde Ribeiro, who heads the Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality, a cabinet-level ministerial position.
Federal universities around the country have continued to implement affirmative action programmes and the federal government has mandated the teaching of African and Afro-Brazilian history in high schools and universities. There are government quotas that require 20 per cent of new positions in federal government agencies to be filled by Afro-Brazilians; Itamaraty - the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs - is an exception; it has instead implemented admissions quotas for its prestigious training university, Rio Branco. The Ministry for the Promotion of Racial Equality has played an important role coordinating these new inter-agency initiatives, but there has been concern that the ministry faces severe structural limitations because it does not have an independent budget and instead must mobilize resources from the very agencies it is attempting to influence. Despite all this, Afro-Brazilians are still waiting for major social or political changes to benefit their communities. Moreover, the political crises in the latter part of the Lula administration have exposed corruption within the Partido dos Trabhaldores (PT or Workers Party), and shifted the party's attention away from issues of social inclusion as it defends itself against these allegations of corruption.
Brazil has also been in the forefront of affirmative action programmes, although not without controversy. Former Education Minister Paulo de Renato Souza voiced his concern that unprepared students might enter universities and called on the international community to help prepare Afro-Brazilian students for entrance exams. President of the High Court of Justice Paulo Costa Leite expressed concern that quotas represented an artificial way to allow black people to ascend in society, and that this may aggravate prejudice, although the federal court has declared the quotas constitutional. In 2006 a group of prominent opinion makers, including several leading Brazilian academics and artist Caetano Veloso, wrote a controversial letter to the Brazilian press condemning quotas. The fierce response to this letter referred to as the 'Manifesto Branco' by Afro-Brazilian activists and allies demonstrates how discussions about reparations and affirmative action programmes for Afro-descendants continue to engender fierce debates across the region.
- Makuxi and Wapixana
Minority based and advocacy organisations
CEERT (Centro de Estudos das Relações de Trabalho e as Desigualdades)
Tel: +55 11 6978 8333
Tel: +55 21 2518 6194
Geledés - Instituto da Mulher Negra
Tel: +55 11 605 3869
Instituto Steve Biko
Tel: +55 71 3241 8708
Soweto Organização Negra
(Black Human Rights NGO)
Tel: +55 11 3242 6208
Coordenação das Organizações Indígenas da Amazônia Brasileira
Tel: +55 92 233 0749
(Association for Ethnic-Environmental Defense)
Sources and further reading
Benjamin, M. and Mendonça, M., Benedita da Silva: An Afro-Brazilian Woman's Story of Politics and Love, Global Exchange, 1997.
Burdick, J., 'Brazil's black consciousness movement' and 'The myth of racial democracy', in NACLA, Report on the Americas: The Black Americas 1492-1992, vol. 25, no. 4, 1992, pp. 23-7 and 40-44.
Davis, D.J. (ed.), Slavery and Beyond: The African Impact on Latin America and the Caribbean, Wilmington, DE, Scholarly Resources/Jaguar Books, 1995.
Davis, D., Beyond Slavery: The Multifaceted Legacy of Africans in Latin America and the Caribbean, Lanham, MD, Rowman and Littlefield, 2006.
Dzidzienyo, A. and Casal, L., The Position of Blacks in Brazilian and Cuban Society, London, MRG, 1971, 1979.
Hamilton, C., Huntley, L., Alexander, N. and Guimarães, A., Beyond Racism: Race and Inequality in Brazil, South Africa, and the United States, Boulder, CO, Lynne Rienner, 1991.
Inter-American Foundation, Economic Development in Latin American Communities of African Descent, Arlington, VA, Inter- American Foundation, 2002.
Inter-Agency Consultation on Race in Latin America: http://www.iac-race.org
do Nascimento, A. and Nascimento, E.L., 'Brazil: dance of deception: a reading of race relations in Brazil', in Beyond Racism: Three Nations at the Crossroads, Atlanta, GA, Southern Education Foundation, 2000, pp. 7-32.
Nobles, M., Shades of Citizenship: Race and the Census in Modern Politics, Palo Alto, CA, Stanford University Press, 2000.
Reichmann, R., Race in Contemporary Brazil: From Indifference to Inequality, University Park, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999.
Reid Andrews, G., Afro-Latin America: 1800-2000, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004.
Sansone, L., Blackness Without Ethnicity: Constructing Race in Brazil, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
Skidmore, T.E., Black into White: Race and Nationality in Brazilian Thought, Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 1993.
Telles, E., Race in Another America: The Significance of Skin Color in Brazil, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 2004.
Vieira, R.M., 'Brazil', in MRG (ed.), No Longer Invisible: Afro-Latin Americans Today, London, MRG, 1995.
Warren, J.R., Racial Revolutions: Antiracism and Indian Resurgence in Brazil, Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 2001.
Basso, E.B. (ed.), Carib-speaking Indians, Tucson, Arizona University Press, 1977.
The Tribe that Time Forgot, London, Equilibrium Films, 1994, VHS, 54 min.
Donkin, M., 'The Awa have only been known in the west for three decades', BBC World Affairs, 28 August 2002.
Hill, J. (ed.), Rethinking History and Myth: Indigenous South American Perspectives on the Past, Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 1988.
Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estadística (IBGE), Censo Demográfico, 2000, URL: http://www.ibge.gov.br
Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI), 'Violência contra os Povos Indígenas no Brasil', 2006, URL: http://http://www.cimi.org.br
Inter-American Foundation, Economic Development in Latin American Communities of African Descent, Arlington, VA, Inter- American Foundation, 2002.
Urban, G. and Sherzer, J. (eds), Nation-States and Indians in Latin America, Austin, University of Texas Press, 1994.
Bamberger, J., 'Environment and cultural classification: a study of the Northern Kayapó', PhD thesis, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University, 1967.
Beckham, M. and Turner, T. (dir.), The Kayapo - Out of the Forest, ITV (Disappearing World Series), 51 min., June 1989.
Frota, M. (dir.), Taking Aim. 41 min., 1993.
Lea, V., 'Mebengokre (Kayapó) onomastics: a facet of houses as total social facts in Central Brazil', Man, vol. 27, no. 1, 1992, pp. 129-53.
Lea, V., 'The houses of the Mebengokre (Kayapó) of Central Brazil: a new door to their social organization', in J. Carsten and S. Hugh-Jones (eds), About the House: Levi-Strauss and Beyond, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 206-25.
Parker, E., 'Forest islands and Kayapó resource management in Amazonia: a reappraisal of the apete', American Anthropologist, vol. 94, no. 2, 1992, pp. 406-28.
Rabben, L., Unnatural Selection: The Yanomami, the Kayapo and the Onslaught of Civilisation, London, Pluto Press, 1998.
Sting and Dutilleux, J.-P., Jungle Stories: The Fight for the Amazon, London, Barrie and Jenkins, 1989.
Turner, T., 'Social structure and political organization among the Northern Cayapó', PhD thesis, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University, 1966.
Turner, T., 'Kinship, household and community structure among the Kayapó', in D. Maybury-Lewis (ed.), Dialectical Societies, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1979, pp. 179-214.
Turner, T. 'Dual opposition, hierarchy and value: moiety structure and symbolic polarity in Central Brazil and elsewhere', in J.C. Galey (ed.), Différences, valeurs, hiérarchies: textes offerts à Louis Dumont, Paris, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, 1984, pp. 335-70.
Turner, T., 'Social dynamics of video media in an indigenous society: the cultural meaning and the personal politics of videomaking in Kayapó communities', Visual Anthropology Review, vol. 7, no. 2, 1991, pp. 68-76.
Turner, T. 'The Mebengokre Kayapó: history, social consciousness and social change from autonomous communities to inter-ethnic system', unpublished manuscript, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago, 1991.
Turner, T., 'Kayapó on television: an anthropological viewing', Visual Anthropology Review, vol. 8, no. 1, 1992, pp. 107 -12.
Turner, T., 'An indigenous people's struggle for socially equitable and ecologically sustainable production: the Kayapó revolt against extractivism', Journal of Latin American Anthropology, vol. 1, no. 1, 1995, pp. 98-121.
Turner, T., 'Neo-liberal eco-politics and indigenous peoples: the Kayapó, the "rainforest harvest", and the Body Shop', in G. Dicum (ed.), Local Heritage in the Changing Tropics, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, 1995. pp. 113-23 (Bulletin Series, 98).
Turner, T. 'Social body and embodied subject: bodiliness, subjectivity and sociality among the Kayapó', Cultural Anthropology, vol. 10, no. 2, 1995, pp. 143-79.
Werner, D., 'The making of a Mekranoti chief: the psychological and social determinants of leadership in a native South American society', PhD thesis, University of New York, 1980.
Wilbert, J., Folk Literature of the Gê Indians, vol. 1, Los Angeles, UCLA, Latin American Center Publications, 1978.
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Makuxi and Wapixana
da Cunha, M.C., 'Custom is not a thing, it is a path: reflections on the Brazilian Indian case', in A.A. Naim (ed.), Human Rights in Cross-cultural Perspectives: A Quest for Consensus, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991. pp. 276-94.
Denevan, W., 'Native American population in 1492: recent research and a revised hemispheric estimate', in W. Denevan (ed.), The Native Population of the Americas in 1492, Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1992, pp. xvii-xxix.
Graham, L.R., 'Lessons in collaboration: the Xavante/WWF Wildlife Management Project in Central Brazil', in R. Weber, J. Butler and P. Larson (eds), Indigenous Peoples and Conservation Organizations: Experiences in Collaboration, Washington, DC, WWF, 2000. pp. 47- 71.
Grupioni, L.D.B., 'Indian organizations and pro-Indian groups in Brazil: views of the quincentenary', in L. Bary, J. Gold, M. Laurila, A. Ramirez et al. (eds), Rediscovering America 1492-1992: National, Cultural and Disciplinary Boundaries Re-examined, Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1992, pp. 100-10.
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Goehner, M., West, B. and Merrifield, W.R., 'Tucano (Tucanoan) kinship terminology', in W.R. Merrifield (ed.), South American Kinship: Eight Kinship Systems from Brazil and Colombia, Dallas, TX, International Museum of Cultures, 1985, pp. 55-70.
Instituto Socioambiental: http://www.socioambiental.org/pib/english/whwhhow/wichpe.shtm
Olschewski, L.E.B., 'Gender, commensality and community among the Airo-Pai of west Amazônia (Secoya, Western-Tukanoan speaking)', PhD thesis, University of London, 1992.
Simonian, L.T.L., '"This bloodshed must stop": land claims on the Guarita and Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau reservations, Brazil', PhD dissertation, City University of New York, 1993.
Albert, B., 'Sixty-three Yanomami myths', in J. Wilbert and K. Simoneau (eds) Folk Literature of the Yanomami Indians, Los Angeles, UCLA Latin American Center Publications, 1990.
Milliken, W. and Albert, B., with G. Goodwin Gomez, Yanomami: A Forest People, Kew, Royal Botanical Garden, 2000.
Survival International, Yanomami, London, Survival International, 1990, URL: http://www.survival-international.org