The Puyanawa people have historically lived along the Môa River in the state of Acre in Brazil. The Puyanawa lived in a natural way before the arrival of the “Latex Colonels” in the early 1900’s, who invaded these territories for the extraction of latex. After the arrival of the latex barons, they suffered many attacks and most of them were captured and enslaved, their cultural practices being forbidden to them. In 1913 they suffered a major attack. At that time they had about 800 people in their community. The colonels’ henchmen broke into their huts, killed the old and captured the young who were taken to Colonel Mancio Lima’s farm to serve as serfs in agriculture and latex collection. Many of the Puyanawa could not adapt to this new way of life, became ill and died. Some, however, managed to escape and fled to their home village in the forest. Those who survived remained prisoners, were put in school, forced to speak Portuguese, and forbidden to speak their own language.
The men were separated from their wives and could only see them once every six months. The men were put to work collecting latex and the women worked in agriculture, the Puyanawa people suffering a severe culture shock, reduced to slavery.
At the end of the 1970s, the Puyanawa began to receive lists of official anthropologists from FUNAI (National Indian Foundation, the ministry in charge of indigenous affairs), who supported the Puyanawa people in their struggle as indigenous people of Acre. Since this contact with anthropologists, Chief Mario Puyanawa was chosen by the community to reorganise the tribe. He is still today a person of great authority in the community.
Since then the Puyanawa started to fight for their land rights and to restore their traditions and customs. They had the support of sertanists such as Macedo and Terri Aquino, as well as other indigenous leaders, including Augutine Huni Kuin and Lopez, a great Ashaninka leader, and many other ethnic groups who participated in the struggle for indigenous rights in the state of Acre and belonged to the famous “Alliance of Forest Peoples” movement.
The current territory of the Puyanawa is where Colonel Mancio Lima’s farm was located at the time. It was demarcated in 2000 and returned by the government. This territory covers 24,498 hectares near the town of Mancio Lima, but is not their ancestral land. The Puyanawa now number about 660 and live in 2 villages.
Since then, the Puyanawa continue their struggle to strengthen their community and recover their ancestral land, a 10,000 hectare territory still in the hands of the family of descendants of Colonel Mancio Lima. This territory, located on the main sources of the rivers of the Alto Jurua basin, represents for the Puyanawa their spiritual strength, where their ancestors and sacred sites are buried.