Portraits of resistance beyond the trees

[work in progress]

In 2018, the year I began this photographic project, a report established that during 2017, at least 201 land and environmental defenders worldwide lost their lives while protecting their communities and regions from the ravages of mining, agribusiness, logging and other environmentally devastating industries. According to the human rights and environmental organization Global Witness, the majority of the deaths were in Latin America, where 57 defenders perished in Brazil alone, 80 percent of them killed while defending a part of the Amazon rainforest.

Despite this alarming situation, the traditional communities of Latin America are undaunted and continue to protect their territory against development projects that exploit a region’s natural resources without consideration for its history or culture. Traditional populations, bound to the sacred land where generations of their ancestors lived and are buried, refuse to abandon it, even after it has been largely destroyed. This photo essay seeks to illuminate the powerful connection between land defenders and the territories they so fiercely champion.

“They [the ranchers] think the solution is to bury us, but they didn’t realize that we are seeds”.


is an indigenous young man from the Achuar Nation of Ecuador who leads a project of solar-powered river boats for collective transport. By installing solar panels on a specially designed boat’s roof, he is working to end Achuar’s dependence on petrol. Left: On his land, Nantu is lying down dressed with traditional Achuar clothing. Right: the pristine rainforest from the Achuar territory that Nantu wants to protect.


is an LGBT activist from the Prainha II community, on the Tapajós river who fights for her LGBT recognition and also to defend their territroy from agri-business expansion. The natural reserve where she lives is surrounded by soybean fields. Left: One of the soybean fields next to Dani’s territory. Middle: Dani laying on her territory. fields. Right: The limit between the rainforest where Dani lives and the soybean


is an indigenous man from the Achuar Nation of Ecuador. He fights collectively to protect his community of the consequences of a new road entering the Achuar territory, among other threats such as deforestation, which is already affecting his fellow indigenous Shuar neighbors. Right: Julian lying down on his sacred indigenous land. Left: An aerial view of the new road entering the Achuar territory.


is a Borari indigenous woman and a young mother which is part of Suraras de Tapajós, a group of indigenous women who live in Alter do Chão, a small town on the Tapajos river which is conceived by them as their indigenous village, even after becoming in an highly touristic destination. They protect their village from pollution as well as from real state projects who want to establish by the river. Right: Larrissa floating on the Tapajós river in Alter do Chão. Left: The many boats that offer transport to tourists in Alter do Chão.


is a riverine woman who leads a group of youngsters in defending the rainforest from plastic contamination in her village, Suruacá, in the Lower Brazilian Amazon. Plastic pollution gets to Suruacá through different means: the packaging of food and beverages they buy to complement their traditional food chain, waste thrown from from the emerging tourist resort across the river. As waste management is nonexistent, Suruacá villagers burn plastic waste on a daily basis. Joane is asking authorities to implement a waste collection system and promotes recycling in her village using organic waste to produce natural gas and compost to fertilize their orchards. Right: Joane lying on the sand, by the Tapajos River shore. Left: Plastic waste reaches the river beach, close to Suruacá village. 


is the first woman to have been elected as Quilombola Territory Coordinator and she represents the five communities living in the Brazilian Amazon. The first challenge these communities face is loggers eager to strike deals with the community. A second challenge is a Bauxite mine down the river: it has been building dams which are putting the entire Trombetas River at risk. But for Drica, the greatest challenge of all is a huge hydroelectric dam project which will probably be green-lighted by the government and which will not only destroy the river environment but also displace the communities from their homeland. Right: Drica lying down on her ancestral land. Left: Aerial view of the Rio Norte Bauxite Mine next to Drica’s territory.


is an indigenous woman from the Achuar Nation of Ecuador. To many Achuar women, giving birth is a rather taboo matter. When it is time to deliver the newborn baby, mothers leave their homes and give birth by themselves in the rainforest. Things don’t always go well and many women may lose their lives in the process. Vero is part of a project of pregnancy health care that supports women during the pregnancy period and afterwards. She uses modern medical instruments to do her work, in addition to medicinal Achuar plants traditionally used for the care of mothers and their children. Left: Vero lying on her sacred Achuar territory. Right: Vero’s garden in the rainforest, where many of her ancestral medicinal plants are grown.


is one of the leaders of the Achuar indigenous people in the Sharamentsa community. He defends his rainforest by generating projects in collaboration with external organizations. One of them aims to create an indigenous group to monitor their territory from the ground and also by using aerial technology such as drones. Right: José lying down on his yard over a banana leaf, dressing his traditional Achuar clothing. Left: The Achuar rainforest at the back of José’s house. Sharamentsa, Pastaza, Ecuador.


is a young Arapiun indigenous leader who has recently joined the land guard team at the Indigenous Territory of Maró (TI Maró) in the Maró River, deep inside the Brazilian Amazon. They carry out regular surveillance beats across the rainforest, watching for illegal loggers and poachers stealing from their sacred land. TI Maró covers some 42,000 hectares of untouched, pristine rainforest. Since their territory was officially recognized, they have been keeping a close watch. Right: 26 huge precious logs captured by the TI Maró team in one of their beats, now lying by the road track. Measuring 1 to 2 meters in diameter, the 26 logs rot to fertilize the land. Left: Ednei is portrayed lying on the road tracks left by logger trucks driving close to the borders of the Indigenous Maró Territory.


is a Wayuu indigenous woman who was born in Venezuela. Forced to leave her ancestral territory by the Venezuelan crisis, where her mother’s tomb still reamins, b, she and her family along with 12 other clans were given a piece of land in the Colombian side of the Wayuu territory. Borders take no part of the Wayuu culture. For this reason, they use to cross the border between Colombia and Venezuela in order to visit their village, where her grandmother is still living. Left: Paola lyiing down in their family cemetry, over the traditional fabrics made by the wayuu women. Right: an aerial view of Paola’s village in Venezuela, and the trochas– the ilegal paths they use to cross the border. 


is a Gunadule indigneous grandmother whose struggle is related to her culture and ancestry. Left: The territory of the Gunadule Indigenous people in the lower part of the Ibgigundiwala reservation, New Cayman, covered by banana monoculture. Right: Miguelina is laying down on her land that has lost fertility over the years. Her desire is to protect their culture and to do so, she dresses like mother earth, that is, with traditional clothes called molas. The molas are a wearable representation of their worldview. 

Ünãgükü  Taüchina

works with children to create awareness about human trafficking, which is a big issue in the borders, specially for indigenous children and women. Her territory of struggle is also the indigenous bodies. Left: Encounter of the Amazon and Loretoyaco rivers, in the municipality of Puerto Nariño (Colombia), on the border with Peru. Right: Ünãgükü Taüchina floating in the waters of the Loretoyaco River. For her, the Amazon River is the origin of the Tikuna indigenous people. She thinks the river unites the three borders of Colombia, Brazil and Peru, that politically divided the Tikuna territory.

Bebeto & Christian

are two young men from the Amazon Indigenous Guard in the Colombian Amazon. They look after their rainforest where the Amacayacu river meets the Amazon river. The Amazon Indigenous Guard is a collective group of volunteers that fight to prevent the exploitation of their natural resources to keep their forest alive. Left: Bebeto and Christian lying down on their village. Right: The Amacayacu river, which seen from above looks like a giant snake waving through the middle of the forest and which grants access to the guards to their dense forest.

José Gregorio

is the leader of the Amazon Indigenous Guard, in the Colombian Amazon. He leads a group of young volunteer men and women who fight to prevent the exploitation of their natural resources to keep their forest alive. Right: José Gregorio lying down on his rainforest. Left: The community next to the Amacayacu river where José Gregorio and the guardians live.

Copyright © 2021 - Pablo Albarenga