The Surui on the internet: "Trading Bows & Arrows for Laptops"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009 at 10:45 AM

[We've invited Chief Almir Surui to write a guest post about the ways the Surui tribe of Brazil has been using Google Earth -- Ed.]

Among the Surui tribe of the state of Rondonia in Brazil, a gift is given when a gift is received. This is how our Bioneers experience ended – with an exchange of gifts between Māori tribal representative, Wikuki Kingi of New Zealand, and myself. Presented with a fertility amulet carved out of whale bone, I, Chief Almir Surui, responded by offering a necklace of traditional beads from around my neck.

This past weekend, at the 20th anniversary of the Bioneers Conference in San Rafael, California indigenous representatives, socially-conscious entrepreneurs and foundations, as well as other green-minded participants, gathered for an exchange of ideas to discuss innovative solutions to the social issues that matter in the “new” green revolution. Honored to be a part of this forum, I and my colleagues, Rebecca Moore, Manager of Google Earth Outreach, and Vasco van Roosmalen, Brazil Director of the Amazon Conservation Team, unveiled the “Trading Bows and Arrows for Laptops” Google Earth tour. Our goal with this tour is to tell the world about my people, the Surui, our struggles and our successes, and how our lessons-learned can contribute toward a more sustainable world for everyone. This tour uses Google Earth to share the history and realities of the Surui people and our contributions to preserving the world’s largest rainforest – the Amazon.

In September 1969 – only 40 years ago - the first white men entered our forests. With great hope, we welcomed these visitors in order to build peaceful relations with the outside world. However, our hope for the future was met with great tragedy. Just two years after first contact, the Surui population had dropped from 5,000 people to only 290. Not only did we lose our people to new diseases, our culture was threatened with extinction as a result of the deaths of our elders. At 17, I assumed a leadership role and am now looking to the outside world with renewed hope.

The illegal logging of the rainforest in our territory began by outsiders two decades ago, and still continues today. With help from the Amazon Conservation Team, Kaninde, Google Earth Outreach and other partners, we are bringing the Surui story to the world so that we can strengthen our ability to protect and sustainably manage the 600,000 acres of threatened rainforest which is our home.

Explore the tour in Google Earth