A few months ago funds were raised for the largest congress of Amazonian Indigenous groups to be held in Brazil. Their focus – how to protect their lands. Despite having legal entitlement to their demarcated lands the situation in Brazil that led to the infamous fires of 2019 are triggered by deliberate slash and burn agriculture illegally encroaching onto their lands. This led to record numbers of fires coupled with a weakening of both indigenous land titles and deforestation laws to embolden farmers and international firms to go out and trash the forests of which they consider themselves Guardians.
Despite global outrage the policies continue, in fact the politics of the age provide perfect cover, why should they listen to outsiders, ex-colonists and non-Brazilians when its theirs to do with as they please? Forgetting of course that those who arrived first in those lands and who have learned to live as one with their environment continue to be actively oppressed, jailed and even killed in order to allow a modern day gold rush into the Amazon region.
So it was with incredible luck and privilege that I was invited to meet Chief Raoni, Chief of the Amazonian Indigenous tribe, the Kaypapō, and his team on a recent visit to the UK. Through Lush we had been sourcing Tonka bean direct from his and other communities. Tonka being one of those fabulous ingredients, a tree that requires full Amazonian rainforest in which to grow, provides bountiful crops of beans and produces a fragrance that could be said to surpass vanilla as the ultimate comfort smell!
Ok, full disclosure, the meeting was facilitated by Sam Roddick of the Body Shop family. My history and hers are somewhat intertwined as my dad remembers entertaining Sam as a child when he, my mum and the Lush founders were supplying Body Shop with innovations and products in the 80’s. Likewise I remember Gordon Roddick, her dad, coming to our house on the odd occasion, it always caused a stir as he held rockstar status as it does today when he arrives to shake his old friend Raonis hand, showing photos of them in the Amazon 30 years ago, much of that land has been deforested or threatened with clearance.
The combination of spiritual depth and grief as to the state of the environment in the Amazon and the gathering in an effort to support the protection and restoration of the Amazon is an incredibly inspiring event to be apart of. For the Kayapō and people whose dignity and feeling for their environment could only touch you, things have only become worse. On returning to Brazil the threat of Covid-19 reared its ugly head. For many Indigenous groups pandemics are a horrendous part of their living history - since the arrival and colonisation of their lands. Many are susceptible to respiratory illness and as the world watches many of the Indigenous groups returned to their lands to hold up, in the hope they would be safe from harm. Unfortunately already many have succumbed to the disease leaving communities in need of protective equipment and the means to provide food for their returning families.
However, perhaps the most important lesson for me in the meeting was the description of their approach to these devastating problems, not to be depressed by the situation but instead to remind everyone that as people, as a community they come together to dance and to weave their culture together and that its maybe more important at this point in time than any other. I was left with the feeling that no matter how surprising the events, we should not despair and discount the possibility that we could still celebrate together again at some point soon, allowing us all to move onto new beginnings whatever they maybe.
As the meeting wrapped up I asked if I could present Chief Raoni with a gift. It was the first (and at that time only!) bottle of Beån. He looked quizzical and slightly bemused to be honest until it was explained it had his Tonka absolute in it! I hoped it was a gesture of exchange and partnership for the future and, when we at ånd heard about the worsening situation it felt only right to launch with a gesture of support and solidarity for the future – 100 bottles where all proceeds will go to supporting the Kayapō via the Raoni Institute, as they protect themselves from Covid-19.
We wish them and you the best of health and whilst we can’t connect in person we can hopefully through connect through fragrance, a small piece of the Amazon carefully bottled for you to enjoy.
Simon Constantine & the ånd team.
Photographer: Ricardo Stuckert