Brazil: land rights for escaped slave villages

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

  • a16.jpgQuilombolas, people who live in quilombos, learn about the process of legalising their land by playing a simple game.
  • a18.jpgLucia Andrade introduces complicated land rights processes as a simple game in a quilombo in Brazil.
  • a17.jpgQuilombolas learning about land rights by playing a simple game.
  • 01.jpgFishing is a big part of quilombola subsistence.
  • 02.jpgA young quilombola fisherman.
  • 03.jpgYoung quilombola dancers
  • 04.jpgQuilombola traditional dancing
  • 05.jpgRiver transport in a quilombo
  • 06.jpgCPI, a partner of Christian Aid and ICCO, are monitoring land use by satellite to show how quilombos protect the environment.
  • 07.jpgFootball on a quilombo
  • 08.jpgA young quilombola at home
  • 09.jpgA hairdresser on a quilombo
  • 10.jpgA communal kitchen on a quilombo
  • 11.jpgPeople living on quilombos have been surviving for many years by hunting and fishing.
  • 12.jpgA boy on a quilombo with bowl of brazil nuts.
  • 13.jpgGirls on a quilombo during a training event on land rights.
  • 14.jpgLucia Andrade with quilombolas during a training session on land rights.
  • 15.jpgIn the game pictures represent stages of the land rights process and players step from one to another.

“I’m a quilombo protector” says Lucia Andrade. There’s a good chance you don’t know what a quilombo is because there isn’t a word for it in English. Quilombos are communities of escaped slaves, communities that have hidden themselves in the remotest areas of Brazil to stay free. Well, that’s how they began. Lucia, who is supported by ACT members, is helping people to remain free, by teaching them how to stop the land they are on from being taken by commercial farming.

An estimated three thousand quilombos are thought to exist, in some of the remotest parts of Brazil, and are quite unchanged since their foundation. Their inhabitants live in harmony with nature - fishing, hunting and subsistence farming: doing no lasting damage to the environment. They are proud of their heritage, culture and way of life.

Being so remote they have never had, or needed, legal titles to the land they live and work on. Today, ranching and farming are expanding to reach these remote areas, and land titles can easily be adjudicated in favour of commercial interests. But the people living on quilombos are unprepared for the lengthy struggles needed to assert their land rights through the complex Brazilian legal system.

"Unless the quilombo communities understand how the legal system on land rights works, it is impossible for them to make any progress toward legalisation of their land", says Lucia. With the support of ACT members Christian Aid and ICCO, Lucia studied the systems of federal, state and international laws and procedures, and she invented a game that lays out the whole process on a map and a set of cards. "When we teach communities the game they can easily visualise and understand the legal process that is in front of them" she explains.

It is a very simple innovation, but it allows the communities to understand an otherwise extremely complex collection of laws. It makes it so clear that everyone in the community can understand.

This means that not only community leaders, but all members of the community, know what they should be doing, and what the next step in the process is. Turning mountains of legal documents into a straightforward game is transforming the land rights struggles of quilombos across Brazil.

At the other end of the technological spectrum, Lucia’s organisation, in conjunction with a Brazilian university, is also working on satellite monitoring of the way land is used in quilombos. Satellite evidence is proving to the government that quilombos are much better at safeguarding precious areas of the countryside and rivers than commercial interests. This is helping convince authorities of the value of protecting the quilombos' rights to their land.

Lucia Andrade works for CPI (Comissão Pró-Indio, São Paolo)