Brazil: Zenilda Maria de Araújo

The land is our mother, it needs to be managed and preserved to guarantee the survival of everyone that lives in it, not be transformed in an object of business speculation.

— Zenilda Maria de Araújo

Considered to be the mother of the Xukuru of Ororubá, an indigenous tribe, Zenilda Maria de Araújo (1950) stimulated the rescue of the culture and territory of this ethic group from Pernambuco. Until 1998, alongside her husband–an Indigenous Chief–she showed the indigenous their rights and created leaderships. On that year, he was assassinated. Zenilda was threatened, but she continued ahead of the land retakes and of the appreciation of the rituals and costumes of the Xucurus.

“Welcome your son, my mother nature! He will not be buried; he will be planted, so other warriors will be born.” In May 1998, by the sound of the maracás (indigenous rattles), Zenilda Maria de Araújo buried her murdered husband. “The farmers killed him to frighten us, to stop our fight. On the contrary, this made the Xucurus more united.” One of Zenilda's sons was acclaimed the new Indigenous Chief. The threats were now directed at the mother and at her son. For about five years, she only left the indigenous village accompanied and when she was invited to participate in indigenous meetings in other Brazilian states. Her daily activity is going from village to village on mount Ororubu, in the city of Pesqueiro, countryside of Pernambuco, where 9000 Xucurus live divided throughout 24 villages. She speaks with families; she is present in the monthly meetings between health agents, professors and leaderships. Thanks to Zenilda's, her husband's and the Pajé's (a witch doctor and priest in indigenous tribes) initiative and persistence, the Xucurus retook part of their land and became an organized community. In the 1980s, the three of them initiated a mobilization against prejudice and for the rescue of their people's culture and territory. The first retake happened in November 1990, in the village of Pedra D'água. “The farmers and the occupiers were deforesting our territory, covering it all with pasture for cattle. Our children would die of starvation. Today, they grow healthy because their parents have land to plant and a place to raise cattle that will provide milk.” Another great conquest for the little Xucurus was the indigenous schools installed in the villages, with bilingual teaching and ethnic valorization. “The fight for our rights is still long and rough. But the seed that was planted by my husband bloomed.”