InfoAmazonia and Brasil de Fato visited the territory to understand the views of the indigenous people about the construction of the Tabajara Dam – a project for a 37-square mile (97-sq. km) reservoir in Machadinho d’Oeste, in Brazil’s Rondônia state, which is expected to impact 9 indigenous lands, including Tenharim Marmelos.

Once a year, dozens of indigenous people from the Tenharim Marmelos Indigenous Land (IL), in the municipalities of Humaitá and Manicoré, Amazonas state, leave their villages on an expedition towards the southern end of their territory, where the headwaters of the Branco, Preto and Marmelos rivers are located. 

The group spends up to 20 days in the forest and returns with game and fish that provide food for all participants of the Mbotawa festival, held in July. The celebration gathers the population of the eleven villages in the territory, as well as guests from other indigenous groups of the Kawahiva branch. Up to 500 people take part in the festival to experience, together, the rites of the Tenharim – weddings; the ritual of young women, which marks young indigenous women’s passage into adulthood; and the ritual of the dead, in which the memory of the deceased is revered.

“When we organize this party, we involve the entire territory. Women, children, young people and the elderly. It is a time for older people to pass on traditional knowledge, our culture and traditions to youth,” explains Daiane Tenharim, head of the Tenharim Morõgwitá Indigenous People Association (Apitem).

When we organize this party, we involve the entire territory. Women, children, young people and the elderly. It is a time for older people to pass on traditional knowledge, our culture and traditions to youth.

Daiane Tenharim, head of the Tenharim Morõgwitá Indigenous People Association (Apitem).

The expedition goes to the most preserved part of the territory, which the indigenous people call “the market.” They do not hunt or fish in that area during the year, precisely to have a “stock” to which they can resort for the July festival. The area has been inhabited by the Tenharim since before they had contact with non-indigenous people. It is the site of the ancient village Aeguera, after which a stream connected to the Preto River is named.

Being an area of virgin forest, isolated indigenous groups also circulate there, recognized as Kawahiva relatives by the Tenharim. They are identified by the National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples (FUNAI) as the Kaidjuwa isolated group, but their registration has not yet been confirmed by the General Coordination of Isolated and Newly Contacted Indians (CGIIRC), a FUNAI branch. That is what effectively guarantees the measures to protect their circulation area, since confirmation suspends all economic activities as well as contact with non-indigenous people by restricting use of the area.  

It is also in that area that the construction of the Tabajara Dam is planned, a 37-square mile (97-sq. km) reservoir in Machadinho d’Oeste, Rondônia state. The project has been under discussion for 17 years and, as revealed by InfoAmazonia and Brasil de Fato, it should reach nine indigenous lands (ILs), including isolated peoples. The Tenharim Marmelos is the closest IL to the project.