At around midday on 11 May, Dario Kopenawa, an indigenous leader, received a desperate phone call from a remote village in the Brazilian Amazon. Palimiú has a population of about 1,000, who live in large communal houses on the banks of a river called Uraricoera. You can only reach it by plane, or after a long journey on a boat.
Kopenawa, who is from the Yanomami tribe, is used to hearing pleas for help from communities in the rainforest, but this one was different. “They attacked us,” a man told him, “they almost killed us”. They, Kopenawa was told, were garimpeiros, or illegal gold miners, who had arrived on seven motorboats, some carrying automatic weapons, and started shooting indiscriminately.
Hiding behind trees, the Yanomami fought back, using shotguns and bows. An indigenous man was grazed by a bullet in the head, Kopenawa learned, and four miners were injured. The attackers left after half an hour, but threatened to come back for revenge. Terrified, women fled into the dense jungle with their children to seek refuge. It was chaotic, and two boys, aged one and five, drowned.