Planting Trees for Justice in Brazil

by | Jun 30, 2023 | Heartivist Of The Week

Temperature is projected to rise by 1°C to 2.2°C in Brazil by the 2060´s, according to the Climate Risk Profile: Brazil (2021): The World Bank Group.

“Everytime we collect something from nature we have to give back to nature because it is a relationship of mutual exchange,” Augusto Melo Brandão, member of Ilê Axé Omin Agbara Oluayê.

Brazil is a country of exuberant beauty and biodiversity. In fact, Greenpeace assures that the creation of the term “biodiversity” was inspired by the 2.6 million square miles of rainforest which is the home of 10% of the world’s plant and animal species in the Amazon. The Amazonia is spread out across 9 Latin American countries, but it is Brazil that holds 60% of its territory and it is a land that is being threatened by deforestation, a tragedy that the Ilê Axé Omin Agbara Oluayê terreiro community aims to prevent.

Terreiro: The Fight for Traditions

For over 300 years, African habitants were taken from their countries and forced to live as slaves in Brazil. They had very diverse backgrounds and religious beliefs but that changed when they lived together in the American country, generating a mixture of religious beliefs that longed to preserve their native traditions; Candomblé was one of them.

According to Harvard Divinity School, Candomblé englobes religious traditions from the Yoruba, Fon and Bantu ethnic groups and has many deities called orixás which are worshiped in their temples or terreiros, the places where they hold festivities, rituals and food offering, among other things. The institution states that many of the divinities of the Candomblé were associated with Catholic saints influenced by the secrecy enslaved people had to keep due to the constant persecution of their fate and beliefs.  

“I am a member of the Candomblé religion, which is a traditional, community based religion originated from the experience of Afrodiaspora in Brazil”, explains Augusto Melo Brandão. “This religion is organized through terreiro communities, which throughout history and until present day have faced threats of attacks and persecution motivated by racism in Brazil. These communities relocated from the urban centers to rural areas in order to avoid persecution. Many terreiro communities are located in regions with low human development index, where the population strives against challenges such as unemployment and hunger. In this context, our communities have an important role in the social and environmental development of their locations; because in Candomblé the whole concept of the divine is related to the welfare of the community and of the environment. As an Elder of our community, Iyá Regina Lúcia de Oxaguiã, used to say: Candomblé is about people, to belong in Candomblé, you must care for people.”

Climate Crisis in Brazil

According to Greenpeace, Brazil has lost 18% of their Amazonian rainforest in the last 40 years; and USAID stated that the country is “the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the Latin America and Caribbean region.” These facts and others contribute to the climate crisis in Brazil.

In fact, the temperature is projected to rise by 1°C to 2.2°C in Brazil by the 2060´s, according to the Climate Risk Profile: Brazil (2021): The World Bank Group; and rain is projected to diminish 20%, increasing tree mortality and a higher threat of forest fires. The climate change in Brazil will also affect agriculture and farming and will provoke floods, cyclones, landslides and infectious diseases, as stated in the report.

A Full Rounded Initiative Against Climate Change

Nature is an essential part of Candomblé. They have sacred species of trees like the palm tree – Dendezeiro – or the mango tree – Mangueira – and they recognize an intrinsic relation between how plants can be used either for religious or medical purposes. In  the Ilê Axé Omin Agbara Oluayê terreiro community, to which Augusto belongs, their 20 inhabitants are working together to help the environment through the direction of their leader, Iyalorixá Flávia Regina.

“We have been trying to engage in environmental projects and actions not only in our region but as a whole group of terreiro communities,” explains Augusto. “The area where we are located, which is the Baixada Fluminense in the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is expected to be one of the most impacted areas due to climate change in the years to come. It is a very watered, swampy type of terrain surrounded by rivers. In recent years, increasingly frequent summer storms have resulted in floods and tragedies that could be avoided with proper urban planning. At the end of our street is the Guandu river, the main water supply of the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro, which is also a sacred place to us. Despite this, many houses in the region don’t have access to basic sanitation services or running water.”

The Ilê Axé Omin Agbara Oluayê terreiro community is working together with the UFRRJ (Federal Land University of Rio de Janeiro) to plant over 30 fruit trees in their neighborhood, so they can serve as nourishment and increase the climate resilience of the region. Also, their project will create a community orchard where people will be able to learn how to grow vegetables and take them home for free. Finally, the terreiro will launch an online campaign to raise awareness on the subject of environmental racism, which explains how the most vulnerable communities will be the most affected by climate change. It will open the discussion pointing to the environmental problems occurring in terreiro communities. 

“I heard about The Pollination Project looking for grants online,” remembers Augusto. “I was very happy to know we were going to receive the grant, especially because it is very hard for a small organization, that is not already registered, to get funds for a project. It was an important achievement to our community. We are hopeful that we can make meaningful changes in the lives of people. Our hope is that our territory may create a network with other terreiros and other residents from the region, to promote environmental protection and human rights for local inhabitants and traditional communities.”

If you’d like to learn more and support the projects and initiatives of the Ilê Axé Omin Agbara Oluayê terreiro community you can find them on Instagram or send an email to [email protected].

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