French Guiana

        Gustavo smelled burning. He swiveled his head to look back at the bare soles of his moving feet. They were darkened with ash. It wasn’t long before the group reached a large clearing where the underbrush was scorched down to sharp, broken roots for as far as the eye could see. Where there was once every shade of green and the full music of creatures, there was now blackened tree stumps and silence. The lingering smell of char hung thick in the air.

        Gustavo stepped more carefully across the wasteland and told Ned to check the compass. They needed to stay as close to due south as the terrain allowed. When Ned didn’t answer, Gustavo turned back to see the three of them struck dumb and motionless with the scale of destruction.  

        “This is nothing,” Gusatvo yelled at them, “Keep moving.”

        Beyond motorized canoes, the first automobiles Gustavo ever saw as a child were construction vehicles—and he screamed in terror.

        I remember that my real name is Wanato and I am Wayãpi, he chanted in his head. I remember why my people don’t kill butterflies…

        Wanato’s father once asked his son a long time ago, Why don’t Wayãpi kill butterflies? This was an easy answer for the boy. Because butterflies look after the vines that tie the sky to the ground and keep it up. Wanato’s father had nodded in the dying firelight and asked what happened when the Old People killed all the butterflies. This was back in an age when the world was new and Wayãpi were like children. The sky fell to darkness, Wanato whispered. The Old People couldn’t hunt… The words came so quickly that Wanato had to gasp for breath towards the end of the story as Yaneyar the hero brewed Caxiri beer and enticed his Wayãpi people to drink, sing and dance until the sun rose again.




Meet the real Waiapi people under threat in modern day Brazil.