Why you should care
Because some people really love their pets.
Pet Love: A global look at cozy relationships between people and animals.
To show the boob or not to show the boob? Breastfeeding gets a lot of headlines — where to do it, when to do it, at work, in public or even on Instagram. But in the Brazilian Amazon, where concerns about political correctness are a little less complex,
women raise and breast-feed their pets.
The Awá Guajá are among the world’s most isolated people, if not the most secluded. A dispersed population of just over 400, they live inside the Amazon and rely on the forest for everything, but most importantly for food, wild pigs, jaguars and monkeys. But it’s not all take and no give. Awá women show some serious love to some of their tiniest mammalian friends by caring for abandoned babies of dinner monkeys like infants.
According to Rosana Diniz, a missionary with the Missionary Council for Indigenous Peoples (CIMI) in Brazil who has worked with the Awá for 15 years, “Any animal that needs it they will breast-feed.” That means deer and piglets too. In a video for advocacy group Survival International, an Awá woman breast-feeds monkeys and agoutis, small rodents with teeth sharp enough to crack Brazilian nut fruit, and explains that “the Awá love to raise baby animals from the forest.”
The Awá are prolific keepers of pets, which they consider “sacred creatures just like us humans,” Diniz explains. Their pet collection includes everything from miniature capuchin monkeys and tamarins to tortoises and bush pigs to parakeets and coatis (a racoon relative). This closeness extends to animals they hunt too. A ritual known as oho iwa pe, which means “ascending to heaven,” allows the Awá space and time to “free the spirits of animals they killed,” says Diniz.
But jungle life isn’t easy. Daniel Rodrigues, a photographer who has lived with the Awá, stressed that not all women breast-feed monkeys and they do it because the baby monkeys need milk to survive. It’s all part of living in and with the forest, which many worry is in imminent danger from threats by ranchers, loggers and mining companies. Rodrigues says their land is threatened most by illegal logging operations and that “the Awá fight a lot against the people who steal wood and destroy the forest.” According to figures from CIMI, “around 450 tribespeople were murdered in Brazil between 2003 and 2010.” This accounts for several groups, including the Awá.
Things like logging don’t just destroy the Awa’s habitat; they scare off the animals they love and need to survive. Without the forest, Diniz says, “they cannot really be indigenous people.”