Where Traditions and Modernity Collide: The Amazon Tembe Tribe

A traditional tribe fighting the war against deforestation through modern methods.
Fabienne Lang

The Tembe indigenous tribe from Brazil's Amazon rainforest live in very traditional ways: hunting with bows and arrows, fishing for piranhas, and foraging for wild plants and herbs.

On the other hand, they also use mobile phones, watch the latest soap operas on their flatscreen TVs, and all from their wooden huts. 


Who are the Tembe tribe, and what do they do?

Imagine your morning shower consists of bathing in the Amazon's murky brown river waters, followed by a friendly football match played in jerseys of various European teams in the afternoon sun. That is just one example of a typical day for the Tembe tribesmen. 

Other typical days include snapping pictures and documenting video logs of trees being cut down on their lands by illegal loggers.

Their aim is to share these images and videos on social media sites for everyone to see the ravaging effects of deforestation. 

Since last year, Tembe tribespeople has been meeting with a non-governmental group. The group has provided them with drones and GPS tracking devices so that the tribe can catch the perpetrators red-handed. This is done in exchange for wood harvested sustainably. 

Sticking to their ancestral ways, the Tembe people teach the young to plant trees and the importance of preserving the Amazon rainforest. 

Cidalia Tembe, a tribeswoman, said: "I tell my children: I planted for you, now you have to plant for your children." 

The tribe lives off everything they collect from their surrounding lands — avocadoes, coconuts, lemons, and acai, among other plants, and harvested directly from their backyards. 

There are only around 2,000 Tembe people, and they live in their Alto Rio Guama homeland.


The land spans approximately 2,766 square kilometers (or 1,080 square miles). Their villages, which range from a few dozen people to hundreds, are only reachable through long and arduous journeys by boats or dirt-track roads. 

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Currently, the indigenous reserve is protected. However, their reserve is regularly damaged by loggers who illegally enter the land to seize hardwood.

There have been massive concerns over the Amazon forests' deforestation, especially as there has been an increasing number of forest fires and deforestation in recent years. 

"We have to fight for the trees that allow us to breathe," said Gleison Tembe, a tribesperson from Ka'a kyr village. 

Tembe continued, "The Amazon, nature, is my mother because it raised me. The animals that it takes care of give us strength. My children only eat natural food, and it all comes here from the forest. So, why, deforest?"

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