The legend of the Amazons was based on fact. The nomadic tribes of Scythian women, as Vice reports, became legend as they we’re depicted in Greek literature, and later in comics and film as “Wonder Woman’s” origin story.
“The ideas and images of Amazons were modeled on flesh-and-blood warrior women—real nomadic horsewomen-archers of the steppes of Eurasia,” said Stamford classicist and Amazon expert Adrienne Mayor.
Today, in what we now call the Amazon river basin in South America, women warriors are rising up again. They are not direct descendants of the Amazons of old, but they are no less committed to protecting their land and the planet.
Thy have to be.
According to Poynter, climate change affects us all, but not equally. Minorities, women and children, and other disempowered groups face the worst consequences of the climate crisis.
“Ironically, these groups are also the ones that contribute to the problem the least,” writes Vanessa Hauc. “Additionally, women are most likely to be displaced by climate change. Women are also the primary caregivers and providers of food for their families and children, making them more vulnerable when a storm or a drought hits.”
The Guajajara “women warriors” are fighting for the Caru Indigenous Territory. They are fighting to protect their forests. More often than not, this is a job that requires thee women to leave their families for extended periods of time. And on a continent where environmental advocacy is a more dangerous occupation than soldier, these women don’t always know if they will come back.
In 2019, Paulo Paulino Guajajara, a 26-years-old indigenous Guajajara leader was murdered by illegal loggers while trying to protect his own land, the Conversation reports.
Before the women kiss their families good bye and go out on patrol, they pack up their maps of the 428,000 acre territory, they pack food and water, the bring drones, they bring GPS positioning devices.
“Across the country more of these groups are forming because of government inaction — or worse, because the government is actively trying to exploit their lands,” Sarah Shenker, campaign coordinator for Survival International’s Uncontacted Tribes team, told Mongabay.
In many cases, these indigenous groups of “warriors” are made of men. The women of the Guajajara tribe are unique. They came together about 6 years ago after the men in their community ran into a standstill attempting to end illegal logging operations in their forests.
“In order not to let the project end, we, the Guajajara women, entered and took over the project,” Cícera Guajajara da Silva, one of the women warriors, told Mongabay.
Continuing the fight has not been easy.
“To seek partnership, we walked, talked, slept on the floor — all in order to seek improvement for our community,” said Paula Guajajara.
Now, the male forest guardians respect the women warriors just as any other colleagues. They collaborate on planning and strategy, and work to gather to bring down illegal loggers.
“Today we have the women warriors who work together with the forest guardians,” Paula Guajajara said. “We’ve already evicted a lot of loggers. If we hadn’t acted, there would be no forest standing.”
“This whole movement is extremely important because it shows this strength, and that women have a lot to contribute to the movement because they are part of the territory and are concerned with it, and with future generations,” Gilderlan Rodrigues da Silva, the Maranhão coordinator of the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) told Mongabay.
There were close to 5,000 hectares of deforested land on the reserve in 2016. Thanks to the work of these women warriors, by 2018 the deforestation was reduced to about 156 acres, Global Forest Watch reports.
“The biggest achievement I see today in my village is because of the territorial protection, there are no loggers within our territory, and we managed to combat the sale of wood,” Cícera Guajajara da Silva said.
Illegal logging is one of the biggest threats to the Caru Indigenous Territory and its people, but by no means the most insidious.
Incidents of violence against women, and particularly those fighting for environmental justice, is rising in South America and the rest of the world. Indigenous women fighting for the rights and resources of their people not only face unjust scorn for being women, but the racial intolerance as well.
Still, they fight, because more often than not, no one else will do it for them.
“We fought to defend our territory against invasions and we sought this autonomy to fight for rights,” said Taynara Caragiu Guajajara. “Being a woman is difficult within the macho society, but being an Indigenous or black woman becomes even more difficult, because the prejudice is so great.”
As deforestation claims more of the land around places like the Caru Indigenous Territory, these islands of emerald green stand out in contrast against the pressures of industrialization.
The women warriors are fighting to keep it that way.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.