Archaeologist Raoni Valle, defender of indigenous interests in Brazil, is fired at by attackers in the Amazon
Raoni Bernardo Maranhão Valle, 41, Ph.D. in Archeology, worked as a researcher in the State of Paraíba, Brazil in the beginning of his career in the 1990s. Had he continued to investigate the rock records of the Northeast, his life would probably not be in danger as it is today.
Had he stayed there, perhaps Valle would not have been the target of the attack he suffered on the eve of March 9th on the balcony of his house in Alter do Chão, in the state of Pará. Two men – perhaps three -fired at the archaeologist. Faces covered, they carried garruchas, shotguns adapted from sawed barrels.
Immediately, upon noticing the invasion, the researcher threw himself at the two men. The first of the assailants fired towards Valle’s face, but the cartridge exploded inside the gun. The second tried to focus his aim on the archaeologist, but Raoni plunged under his office desk and turned the table over the would-be assassins pushing them out of the house and screaming for help. The commotion alerted residents and the pair fled. A third element in the house had been cornered by his wife and by his dog and escaped after being threatened. The researcher did not even see the third man.
All of this would not have come to pass had Raoni Valle stayed in Paraíba but no, his work and ambition took him to regions of conflict in the Amazion and led him to befriend indigenous and extractivist peoples of the forest. Since 2005, the archaeologist carries out photographic surveys of rock sites in the Rio Negro, Branco, Jaú, Jauaperi, Tapajós and Erepecuru basins.
The restless academic is currently an Adjunct Professor in the Program of Anthropology and Archeology (PAA) at the Federal University of West Pará (Ufopa) and Coordinator of the Archeology program. During the years 2005 through 2007, Valle carried out the innovative task of qualifying indigenous teachers of the Mura community in the field of archeology.
Working with the Mura, Raoni coordinated between 2007 and 2008 the Yandé Anama Mura project – a cinematic documentation of an intangible heritage of Mura shamans.Today at the University of West Pará, he develops, along with students of the Munduruku tribe, an ambitious research program: Oral Archeology in the Munduruku Villages of the Middle Tapajós River. The program proposes “Indigenous Archeology”through documentary work.
His documentary film Figueira do Inferno (“Hell’s Fig Tree”) recieved numerous accolades such as Best Documentary in the Rio de Janeiro International Short Film Festival.
It was to be expected, then, that a citizen with significant contributions to the advancement of archaeological knowledge of the Brazilian Amazon, especially in the field of rock engravings, would be able to generate admiration and respect, not the wrath of banditry that now prevails in various parts of the forest. With his unconditional support given to indigenous peoples, in particular through his work with the Munduruku, Raoni Valle drew the attention of enemies of indigenous peoples in the Amazon and became known as an unpleasant presence.
Raoni suspects that the attack was connected to his defense of the Munduruku and to his continued resistance against the construction of a hydroeletric dam in the Tapajós. Although at first he resisted the idea of a premeditated and commissioned attack, Raoni is confident that it wasn’t a run-of-the-mill burglary.
“After almost being killed, I have come to realize that something strange has been going on. Since then I have come home and seen my things messed up. This is not uncommon behavior for these people. The assaults that afflict Alter do Chão may not be the final objective, but it may be a political instrument for other purposes” said Valle.
For the also archaeologist and historian Alenice Baeta, Raoni’s colleague, the attack aims to disparage the archaeologist’s courageous work in defense of indigenous peoples and human rights. “This attack is another example of the dangerous times we are living in. Good people are being eliminated simply because they are fighting for social and environmental justice” stated Baeta, just days after the murder of politician and social activist Marielle Franco in Rio de Janeiro.
Subsequently Valle has left his home and is now living in refuge with his family, fearing for his life and his wife’s as well.