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Story Publication logo July 19, 2023

Bible and Airplane: How Missionaries Seek Out Indigenous People in the Amazon (Portuguese)


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Journalists explore the aftermath of Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro's government.


This story excerpt was translated from Portuguese. To read the original story in full, visit O Joio e o Trigo. You may also view the original story on the Rainforest Journalism Fund website. Our website is available in English, Spanish, bahasa Indonesia, French, and Portuguese.

Image courtesy of O Joio e o Trigo.

Bible and airplane: how missionaries seek out Indigenous people in the Amazon

"We respect governments up to the point where they speak against the word of God. (…) The word of God [is] above everything." Although it sounds like a political slogan of the Brazilian far right, the statement is by evangelical missionary Andrew Tonkin, who has been prosecuted in Brazil for trespassing on Indigenous land.

Putting religion above laws is not Tonkin's exclusive rhetoric, but an indication of what some religious denominations are capable of in order to evangelize Indigenous peoples, especially in the Amazon.

Some missionaries are pilots and use their own aircraft to travel long distances. Most of these organizations are based in the United States and use virtual crowdfunding to finance their activities, such as training pastor-pilots and translating the Bible into the native language of the communities. Some translations, however, are of questionable quality.

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These groups also show special interest in reaching isolated peoples—a violation of the Federal Constitution and international treaties signed by Brazil that preach respect for the customs and ways of life of Native peoples.

One of the regions with the greatest harassment is the Javari Valley, the region with the highest concentration of isolated peoples in the country. "We see an increasing presence [of evangelical missionaries], of different doctrines," says Eliesio Marubo, legal attorney for the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley (Univaja).

Map courtesy of O Joio e o Trigo.

Andrew Tonkin is prosecuted for trying to illegally enter Indigenous lands where isolated people live. Image courtesy of Facebook.

Wings of Relief, a Christian missionary organization that provides logistical support, including aircraft, to remote areas. Image courtesy of Wings of Help.

Vale do Javari is the region with the highest concentration of isolated Indigenous people in the world. Image by Gleison Miranda/FUNAI. Brazil.


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Indigenous Rights

Indigenous Rights
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