Suruí - History and Cultural Relations

The Suruí lived in isolation in the heart of the tropical rain forest, occasionally waging war against rubber tappers and other encroachers on their land, until 1969 when the National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio, FUNAI), the government agency in charge of relations with indigenous peoples, made the first peaceful contact with them. They then lost half of their territory to settlement projects and companies. In 1976 the remaining portion of their land was demarcated and now has full legal protection, as well as an abundant cover of tropical forest. In 1981 the Suruí succeeded in forcing out the last remaining encroachers, eighty peasant families, but not without violence and some deaths. Between 1982 and 1987 their economic, cultural, and social lives underwent profound changes because of the drastic economic effects and in-migration to the region brought about by the Polonoroeste Program. This project centered on the paving of the Cuiabá-Pôrto Velho highway, which was partially financed by the World Bank. The Suruí have faced grave health problems—malaria, tuberculosis, and other diseases—and lack of medical assistance. Even so, the population is growing at 7 percent a year.

The Suruí are seeking economic and political self-reliance. They have organized an association and lend support to other tribes, including the Zoró, who were their traditional enemies. They have campaigned for Indians' rights, protesting against the tutelage and omissions of FUNAI and the Brazilian government. They are seeking access to schools and education.

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