Bruno Pereira, an expert on Brazil’s indigenous society, died at the age of 41

Placeholder while article actions are loaded

SÃO PAULO, Brazil – Bruno Araújo Pereira, a Brazilian expert on isolated indigenous communities who led exhaustive expeditions into remote corners of the Amazon rainforest, was killed in an attack in the Javari Valley in western Brazil, authorities confirmed Saturday. He was 41.

Authorities announced that human remains taken from an isolated forest site belonged to Mr. Pereira and Dom Phillips, a Brazil-based contributor to the Guardian and former contract writer for The Washington Post. A fisherman had confessed this week to killing the two men while traveling on an uninhabited stretch of river leading to the town of Atalaia do Norte, police said. The fishermen led investigators to the place where the remains were buried.

Police said Pereira and Phillips were shot dead. At least three men have been remanded in custody.

Mr. Pereira, a longtime official at Brazil’s Indigenous Protection Agency, had accompanied his friend and frequent travel companion on a reportage trip for a book the British journalist wrote on conservation in the Amazon. The men had traveled along the Itaquai River to interview indigenous surveillance teams that mapped criminal activity and defended their country against intruders.

It was the kind of work to which Mr. Pereira had devoted his career, and worked closely with indigenous communities and studied the whereabouts of uncontacted people who were threatened by the encroachment on modernity. A passionate defender of the Amazon, Mr. Pereira gained the trust of indigenous partners by building in and investing in their communities, according to friends and colleagues. He could understand several languages ​​in the Javari Valley. He could often be heard singing indigenous songs. He loved to tell stories, say friends and colleagues, and had a witty, universal sense of humor that allowed him to connect with groups that are often skeptical of outsiders.

Dom Phillips, a journalist who portrayed the deforestation of the Amazon, has died at the age of 57

“When everyone was desperate, Bruno was the guy who calmed the team down,” said Lucas Albertoni, a doctor who accompanied Pereira on several expeditions. “Even in the most serious, tense situations, he makes a joke and everyone laughs. And the jokes are so global that both whites and indigenous people laugh.”

Since he disappeared on June 5, friends have joked that if he had been found, he would have cursed them: “You took too long!”

Mr. Pereira often went on week-long expeditions by boat and on foot into the thick jungle of the Javari Valley, considered home to the world’s largest concentration of uncontacted: Indigenous communities that have avoided and should be protected from the outside world. It is a lawless territory larger than South Carolina, where the absence of the state has allowed widespread illegal mining, fishing and logging to move in.

Mr. Pereira had received death threats over the years, most recently from illegal fishermen shortly before his last trip. But he was known as a thorough researcher and guide, who carefully planned routes and strategy using local indigenous communities.

“He was a person who studied and researched deeply,” said Leonardo Lenin, a friend who works with the Observatory for the Human Rights of isolated and recently contacted indigenous peoples. Mr. Pereira believed in the importance of building himself into the region, Lenin said, saying that “our feet must be on the ground, we must smell the fire together, feel it in ourselves.”

Lenin said that made It is especially “painful and outrageous” to hear President Jair Bolsonaro accuse Pereira of going on an “adventure”.

“Two people in a boat, in a completely wild region like this, is an adventure that is not recommended for one to do,” said Bolsonaro, a far-right spokesman for the development of the Amazon and a critic of environmental restrictions.

Mr. Pereira’s wife, Beatriz Matos, told Brazil’s TV Globo that she was hurt and offended by the president’s words.

“These are statements that contradict the extreme dedication, seriousness and commitment that Bruno has with his work,” she said. “If his workplace, our workplace and many others’, became a dangerous place, where we need an armed escort to be able to work, there is something very wrong there. And the problem does not lie with us. It is with the one who made this happen. “

Hope weakens, anger grows in the British journalist’s disappearance in Brazil

Mr. Pereira met Matos, an anthropologist, in the Javari Valley in 2015, according to a family friend. Mr. Pereira was the father of three, a 16-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, and two children aged 2 and 3 with Matos.

Mr. Pereira was born in Pernambuco, a state in northeastern Brazil along the Atlantic coast. He went first to the Amazon in the early 2000s as an employee of a company engaged in afforestation work around a hydropower plant near Manaus. He joined the government’s Indigenous Bureau, FUNAI, in 2010 and became General Coordinator of Isolated Societies, working in Brasilia.

Under his leadership, in 2019 the agency conducted the largest contact expedition for indigenous peoples since the 1980s. That same year, he coordinated an operation that dismantled an illegal mining operation in the Javari Valley.

Then Bolsonaro came to power – and soon cut funding for the agency. Mr. Pereira was removed from his post.

Mr. Pereira accompanied Phillips on a 17-day journey in the Javari Valley for a 2018 article in the Guardian. Phillips began the story with a description of a morning with Mr. Pereira: “In just shorts and flip-flops while squatting in the mud by a fire, Bruno Pereira, an official at Brazil’s government body for indigenous peoples, opens the boiled skull of a monkey with a spoon and eats his brain for breakfast while discussing politics. “

Mr. Pereira told Phillips on the challenges of working with a government that deprived the agency of critical resources. But he downplayed the difficulties of officials like himself.

“It’s not about us,” Pereira said. “The indigenous people are the heroes.”

Until his death, he worked as an adviser to the Javari Valley Indigenous Peoples Union, or Univaja. He had trained indigenous peoples who did not speak Portuguese to use satellite technology to map invasions in their territory. When he accompanied Phillips on his last trip, he did not work in official capacity.

Throughout his career, Pereira believed in the importance of avoiding contact with isolated indigenous peoples. But as Phillips wrote, his surveillance expeditions provided “invaluable intelligence” to protect these communities.

Mr. Pereira contacted isolated communities only to prevent conflict with other groups. In 2019, he helped mediate an agreement between Korubo and Matis in the Javari Valley so that one would not enter the other’s territory, said Artur Nobre Mendes, a former president of FUNAI. As Mr. Pereira approached Korubo, Nobre said, he took with him some Korubo people he had already contacted.

“There are several dilemmas we went through to make this decision, and many others even to get these pictures of them for the whole world to see,” Pereira told TV Globo about the expedition in 2019. “But people are also right “to choose how they want to live and own their land, and we will continue to fight for it. It’s time for everyone to get out of their own bubble and understand that there are other Brazilians out there.”

American missionaries have long sought to convert the ‘unreached’ in the Amazon. Now indigenous groups are fighting back.

Albertoni, the doctor who accompanied Pereira on expeditions, said Pereira made a point of learning ancestral songs that were important to the culture of the communities in which he spent time. He remembered seeing Mr. Pereira sing with a Kanamari community while they all drank ayahuasca, a traditional psychoactive brew that is sacred in many indigenous cultures.

“You could see how much of an enlightened soul Bruno was,” Albertoni said. “There in the dark you could not tell the difference between him and the indigenous people who sang in their language, because his relationship with them and their culture was so intense.”

He had started teaching his young children the Kanamari songs, Albertoni said.

“What surprised me was his sensitivity and interest in learning more,” said Beto Marubo, a Univaja coordinator and member of the Marubo community. He described Mr. Pereira as a “happy and playful person” who managed to make contact with the indigenous people who were often reserved. “The indigenous people came to respect him as a connoisseur of the jungle … of the dangers and knowledge that the jungle offers.”

A member of the Kanamari community who was with Mr. Pereira in the days and hours before his disappearance described his death as a “great loss to all the people of Javari”.

“We lost a great man who fought for the land of the indigenous people and the Amazon forest,” said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of his safety. “He always motivated us, in the most difficult moments, to go and raise our heads.”