The men gathered around a campfire just after dawn, members of different indigenous groups united in their determination to find Bruno Pereira and Dom Phillips.
“We will do everything to find them. We will not give up,” promised Fabrício Ferreira Amorim, one of the indigenous defenders coordinating the latest search mission for the two missing men.
Among the two dozen volunteers gathered in the jungle clearing that morning were members of four indigenous peoples from the Javari region of the Brazilian Amazon: the Mayuruna, the Marubo, the Kanamari and the Matis.
Cristóvão Negreiros, a veteran indigenous defender who works with Pereira and who was believed to have traveled with the men on the day of their disappearance, urged the volunteers not to lose hope.
“We are here to fight for Bruno and make sure this never happens again,” Negreiros told them as the group prepared to set off along the Itaquaí River for the seventh day of their quest for the truth. about what had happened to the British journalist and the Brazilian. native lawyer when they disappeared in the early hours of last Sunday.
Armed with machetes and shotguns and divided into six small motorboats, the men headed south along the river towards where the pair were last seen.
“Bruno wanted to defend us and teach us to protect our territories,” said Binin Matis, a 31-year-old volunteer whom Pereira had taken under his wing. “Now we want to defend it by finding something.”
Exactly a week after Pereira and Phillips disappeared while returning from a four-day reporting trip to Itaquaí, hopes of finding them alive have all but evaporated.
“They are no longer with us,” the Brazilian mother-in-law of Phillips, a longtime Guardian contributor, wrote on Instagram on Saturday. “Their souls joined those of so many others who gave their lives in defense of the rainforest and indigenous peoples.”
Among the teams of Indigenous volunteers who tirelessly led the search process, there is also a growing understanding that they will not be able to bring Pereira and Phillips back alive.
In recent days, as the Guardian has followed them deep into the jungles of the region, the volunteers have increasingly come to refer to the missing men in the past tense.
On Sunday, rescuers said they found a backpack, a laptop and a pair of sandals near the riverside house of Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, which fishermen’s police are taking into custody and investigating. on disappearances.
“It’s a whirlwind of anger and sadness,” said Luiz Fernandes de Oliveira Neto, a 39-year-old indigenous specialist who is part of the search operation.
Yet this terrible realization did nothing to dull the resolve of the members of the research team. They all knew Pereira and several had met Phillips in the days before they disappeared.
“He interviewed me and asked me what was going on in Javari so he could tell the world about it,” said Tumi Matis, who is part of an indigenous environmental monitoring group known as its Portuguese acronym “Evu”.
Shortly after 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, the team set out from their riverside “Base Evu” to survey their last search area: a body of water called Lago do Preguiça or Lazy Lake.
En route, they were bombarded with examples of the immense natural beauty that had drawn both Pereira and Phillips to the Amazon. Murky waterways filled with playful pink river dolphins that periodically burst from the depths as they hunted for fish. An abundance of birds in spectacular shades of white, blue and red.
About an hour later, one of the boats cut its engine when Binin Matis spotted something strange floating in the water. “Cape! Kapet! he shouted to the boatman – the word for alligator in the Pano language spoken by his people.
Ten meters away, a dead caiman was lying belly up. Feasting vultures crashed into the branches above, frightened or perhaps exasperated by the interruption of their meal.
Half an hour later, two of the military police traveling with the Aboriginal group to provide security saw something else they thought was suspicious: a sunken red canoe. Officers inspected it for any trace of the two men but found nothing yet.
For another three hours, the group pushed on the igarapes – winding, narrow channels accessible only in canoes or other small watercraft. In the flooded forests, they made their way through thick vines and thorny branches. But, beyond the occasional fishing net, there was almost no sign of human activity, let alone the two missing men.
The afternoon brought disheartening news for the Aboriginal search team, who have now spent seven grueling days scouring the region’s rivers and forests for clues.
As they headed down the river to continue their hunt, the men encountered Federal Police forensic teams who had come to cordon off a section of the riverbank where Pereira and Phillips would now have been ambushed or some kind of offensive.
A forensic investigator pulled bright yellow tape around a grove of semi-submerged trees. Behind her, officers took pictures of something – possibly a footprint or an object – on the forest floor.
On the river, native scouts gazed ominously at the scene, where the bright yellow police line contrasted with the red berries of the munguba trees in the jungle behind.
“Federal Police,” read the message on the tape. “Do Not Pass.”
A crowdfunding campaign has been launched to support the families of Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira. Donate here in English or here in Portuguese.