Brazil is always seen as a country of ethnic, social, and cultural diversity. A recent study on indigenous populations, the most extensive to date, proves that we are even more diverse than we knew it. According to the data published by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), Brazil is home to 305 indigenous ethnic groups.
The study brings glimpses of how culturally rich those populations are. The 900,000 Brazilian indigenous people speak 274 languages. Just for the sake of comparison: there are in Europe roughly 140 original idioms. Fifty-seven percent of that population lives in indigenous territories; 33 percent are in urban areas, while the rest lives in the countryside – including indigenous lands waiting for official recognition.
It is interesting to see how their way of life differs depending on their place of residence. Among those inhabiting indigenous territories, 57.3 percent speak at least one native language –only 9.3 percent of those living in cities do. Also, birth rates are higher in indigenous territories: for every 100 women between 15 and 49 years old, there are 74 children not older than 4. It is almost four times more than within indigenous communities living in metropolitan areas.
The city of São Gabriel da Cachoeira, in the heart of the Amazon, is Brazil’s “most native city.” Out of its 42,000 residents, 29,000 are indigenous. It is not by chance that São Gabriel da Cachoeira was the first Brazilian city to adopt native languages – Tukano, Baniwa, and Nheengatu – as official languages.
It is also the Brazilian city with the highest suicide rate: 50 cases for each 100,000 people, almost ten times as much as the country’s average. Experts disagree on the causes for it, but the lack of perspective, violence from non-indigenous communities, land grabbing, and marginalization are a factor.