Their Very Breast

Brazilian Indians Share Milk
With Their Babies & Animals

For centuries, babies have been breast fed by their mammal mothers as a normal part of their upbringing, and that includes both humans and animals. It’s considered the best food an infant can have and most scientific studies have confirmed the fact.
Except when they don’t, as was the case of the online version of the British Medical Journal, which questioned last week the benefits of the practice on a recent study. Or when, openly or not, the baby food industry sponsors research in support of the use of, ahem, baby formula products.
But unless there’s disease involved, such claims are generally bogus and in nature, no animal hesitates to breastfeed her babies before they’re ready to switch to their species’ adult diet. Also in nature, many primitive tribes don’t discriminate between their own babies and small animals as well.
That’s the case of the endangered Awá-Guajá, probably the last nomad tribe living in Brazil’s Amazon indigenous reserves. A mostly matriarchal society, women seem to be the dominant gender within their society and most of them have at least two men as consorts.
Perhaps in consequence of that, the Awá-Guajá have a deep connection with the animals of the region. They usually kill and eat their mothers but raise the cubs for life, as they are thought to believe that they owe their care for taking their parents’ lives.
Since being first contacted by Brazilian sertanistas, mostly laymen who explored the Amazon and established the first relations with indigenous people of the forest, the Awá-Guajá have nearly been exterminated by diseases brought about by such contacts.
Anthropologists estimate that there’re now only under 400 left, including whole groups that have remained hidden and avoid contact with Brazilians. Another hazard they survived was the nearby Carajás gold pit, which until closed for good in the 1980s, polluted the waterways of the region and caused the death of thousand of workers by heavy metal poisoning and unsanitary conditions they faced.
The gold that many of them gave their lives to find wound up enriching landowners, government officials and entrepreneurs, most of them who never set foot in the area. The Awá-Guajá are still at risk from poachers, miners, loggers and cattle ranchers who have access to their territories and are ransacking parts of their reserve.
If they disappear, another example of extreme communion with the natural world by humans will be also lost. For there’re several examples of women breastfeeding animals around the globe, either out of circumstantial need or simply for entertainment purposes.
But none equals to the institutionalized habit adopted by the Awá-Guajá and their ancestors thousands of years ago. As they remain locked in the Stone Age, vulnerable to the mores of our powerful and destructive society, so are their habit of treating animals as one of their own.
It’s a small consolation, thus, that with them, there’ll never be the risk of baby formula even be considered as a replacement for the milk and love they share with their infants and all small creatures that live around them.

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