Google launches cultural map of Brazil's Amazon tribe

Jun 17, 2012 by Gerard Aziakou
Rebecca Moore (R-front), Engineering Manager of Google Earth Engine and Earth Outreach, speaks alongside Brazilian Surui tribe Chief Almir (L-front) and members, during press conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Moore announced the creation of a Google culture map for the Surui tribe in the Amazon.

Google on Saturday unveiled a cultural map of Brazil' Surui indigenous people, a digital tool that will help the Amazonian tribe share their vast knowledge of the forest and fight illegal logging.

The map, the result of a five-year partnership between Surui chief Almir and the US technology giant, was released online for the first time at a business forum held on the sidelines of the UN Rio+20 conference on sustainable development here.

The map, a collection of picture and videos mapping historical sites and offering 3-D visualization of Surui territory in the northwestern Brazilian state of Rondonia, is available on the site www.paiter.org as well as on .

Donning a multi-colored feather wreath, chief Almir hailed the project that "shows the value of our culture to the world through ."

Almir, who proposed the idea of the map to Google during a visit to the United States five years ago, told a press conference that he was particularly proud of the contribution Surui youths made to the project, including narration.

Rebecca Moore, Google Earth Outreach leader, described it as Google's first such project with an .

"We really believe that this is ground-breaking, ground-breaking for Google," she added. "The Surui people and Google worked together to bring the story of the forest to the global community."

Kristen Coco, a deputy spokesperson for the business forum, hailed the map as an "excellent example of innovation and successful collaboration between the private sector and indigenous peoples.

Google also aired the world premiere of a new documentary titled "Trading Bows and Arrows with Laptops: Carbon and Culture, which chronicles its five-year partnership with the Surui people.

"When you fly over Surui territory, you can see it's a beautiful virgin forest, but it is surrounded by ," Moore said.

Almir said he chose to announce the project at the Rio+20 conference to raise awareness of the need for a sustainable use of the forests and to preserve the way of life of indigenous peoples.

He said his 1,300-strong tribe plans to use the map as well as Android smartphones provided by Google to monitor and denounce around its territory.

Deforestation is a key theme at the Rio gathering, which aims to steer the planet toward a greener economy that recognizes the need to protect and restore vital natural resources such as the Amazon rainforest.

Caused by logging, agriculture and development, deforestation in the tropics accounts for up to 20 percent of global emissions of carbon dioxide, making it the second largest driver of global warming after the burning of fossil fuels.

Moore meanwhile said by developing the map, Google had perfected a methodology that can be used to help other indigenous peoples around the world.

"It has taken us five years (to launch) the first cultural map with the Surui and now we feel we have the methodology that can work with other tribes," she added. "There's a project already planned for two tribes who are neighbors of the Surui and the Surui themselves would be trainers of this technology."

Moore said Google had been contacted by tribes all over the world, including aboriginal First Nations in Canada, Maoris in New Zealand and many others in the Amazon.

"So we hope that the Surui cultural map will be the first of a number of maps that will be coming out over the coming years," she added.

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