Rafael Vilela is an independent photojournalist and reporter. He was one of the founders of Midia NINJA collective in Brazil, an initiative that today has more than 4 million followers. His photographs are part of São Paulo’s Museum...
Manuela Vidal, a young Guarani-mbya Indigenous woman from the Itakupé village in São Paulo, walks through an area that was burned in a fire of unknown origin on Guarani land. The pressure of urban development and real estate speculation has intensified on the Guarani territory in Pico do Jaraguá, one of the last remaining areas of Atlantic Forest in the city. The ecosystem that has lost approximately 80% of its vegetation since the beginning of colonization. About 620 Indigenous people live in this UNESCO recognized biome. They live in six villages spread across five hectares, the smallest demarcated Indigenous territory in Brazil. During the coronavirus pandemic, the Guaranis-mbyá strive to maintain their language, traditions, and culture on the edges of the largest metropolis in Latin America.
Youth from the Guarani village Tekoa Pyau participate in a soccer tournament for seven hours straight during the pandemic. The Guarani indigenous land in Jaraguá, São Paulo, is the smallest delimited indigenous area in Brazil. It is surrounded by urban sprawl and under permanent attack from real estate speculation. The five villages located around the Jaraguá peak are fighting to preserve the region’s Atlantic Forest belt, recognized as a Green Belt by UNESCO. The indigenous land is surrounded by the Bandeirantes highway- the name given to the colonizers from São Paulo who sought precious metals and to capture indigenous slaves- and the Anhanguera highway, which in Guarani means "Devil's Path," a traditional route that colonizers used to the interior of the state.
Young Guarani Mbya awaits the beginning of the Guarani New Year ceremony in the village of Aldeia Guyra Pepó, in São Paulo State. “It’s two different worlds. One world that has always existed and the other that has arrived. The Nhandereko, the Guarani way of life, is within us. What is outside is not so important, the child can spend the whole day on the cell phone, on the computer, watching television, but there is no way to get it out of us," says Sonia Ara Mirim, one of the leaders of the Guarani territory in the northern part of São Paulo.
Hortencio Karai, 107, observes the sky in Itakupe village, in the North Zone of São Paulo. Karai had COVID-19 and survived after 15 days of suffering and confinement inside his house, treating himself only with traditional plants of Guarani medicine. "The city is invading our territory, whether we like it or not, it is approaching. We see it coming closer. Our ancestors didn't care about a specific territory, they lived one or two years then they moved. If we leave this place for two years it will become part of the city". His life story has been defined by physical work - always planting, fishing, hunting or moving from one village to another on long walks. At the age of seven he experienced the slavery of the white man in Argentina but managed to escape through the woods. He passed through Argentina and Paraguay before arriving in Brazil.
Young Guaranis fight a fire in their territory. In total about 18 hectares were destroyed after the incident of unknown origin. "This is our job, we are guardians of the forest" says Anthony Karai. Located within Latin America’s biggest city, the Atlantic Forest Reserve is part of an ecosystem that has lost around 80 percent of its vegetation coverage since colonization. Around 620 indigenous people live in this UNESCO-recognized biome, spread out in six different villages in a five-acre territory. They continue to struggle to maintain their language, traditions and rituals. According to the Guarani leadership of the region, the fires in the area have criminal origins, linked to the white men’s conflict over their territories.
Thiago Karaí Kekupe, the young Guarani Mbya chief, fights a fire in his territory. In total about 18 hectares were destroyed after the incident of unknown origin. "We can't accept the forest being destroyed, being taken by flames, which some people consider normal. If we burn, we hurt ourselves. Our lives are at risk." Located within Latin America’s biggest city, the Atlantic Forest Reserve is part of an ecosystem that has lost around 80 percent of its vegetation coverage since colonization. Around 620 indigenous people live in this UNESCO-recognized biome, spread out in six different villages in a five-acre territory. They continue to struggle to maintain their language, traditions and rituals. According to the Guarani leaderships of the region, the fires in the area have criminal origins, linked to the white men’s resulting from the conflict over their territories.
A Guarani child swims near his village. The pressures of the city of São Paulo on their territory intensify with real estate speculation and the advance of the urban sprawl to the farthest regions of the metropolis. "We don't have drinkable water in the village, the only water we have is from a natural spring" says Thiago Karaí Kekupe, a young Guarani Mbya chief. On January 31, one of the biggest construction companies in Brazil, Tenda Construtora, started to fell trees on a roughly two-acre parcel the company had bought to build 11 residential towers. The parcel adjoins Guarani Mbya indigenous land in São Paulo, which is the smallest demarcated territory in Brazil.
Guarani women prepare for confrontation with the military police in the Jaraguá indigenous territory, in São Paulo. Facing the devastating loss of centenary trees, a group of young leaders from the indigenous villages in the Jaragua decided to lead the occupation of their traditional land. Through a pacifist action, they were able to maintain their movement for 40 days during February and March, 2020.
A guarani house built with wood in the middle of a eucalyptus plantation in Guyra Pepó Village, in the interior of São Paulo State. After the construction of a highway on their land in São Paulo in the 2000s, the Guaranis-mbya had the right to choose a new land in the interior of the state as compensation for their loss. This right was only realized in 2017, when 36 indigenous families began to occupy a land filled with eucalyptus plantations near Sorocaba city to start a new life.