Die If You Must
Brazilian Indians in the Twentieth Century

By John Hemming

ISBN: 1405000953 Hardcover
December 2003
887 pages, Illustrated, 6 " x 9 "
$67.50 Hardcover

ISBN: 033049371X Paperback
October 2004
887 pages, Illustrated, 6" x 9 "
$28.50 Paperback


"Die if you must, but never kill" was the injunction of to his officers of Candido Rondon, first leader of Brazil's Indian Protection Service, established in 1910 as a new age of development and exploration began in the Amazon rainforests. This book completes John Hemming's authoritative trilogy on the history of the Brazilian Indians and covers their fate in the twentieth century as "civilized" life began inescapably to invade their world.

This book describes tough experiences expeditions and thrilling first contacts with Indians, notably by the dedicated and exuberant Villas Boas brothers on the Xingu River. The book also tries to show the trauma of contact from the indigenous side - how Indians reacted to the terrible loss of life from disease and occasional brutality, and the devastating pressures on their lands and way of life. Being intelligent human beings, every tribe behaved differently; and each makes a fascinating case study.

The Yanomami are the largest and best-known indigenous people in the Americas, but the story of their struggles to save their territory and repel invaders is harrowing. Brazilian Indians sank to a nadir in the mid-twentieth century. Their extinction was predicted, but they have made a remarkable recovery, entering the twenty-first century with their populations tripled, controlling vast areas of land (of which they are fine environmental custodians), and with renewed pride in their Indianness.

The story of the Indians' fight back is as exciting as the contacts deep in the rainforests. It was achieved by a coalition of activists - non governmental organizations, government officials, missionaries (most of whom radically changed their attitudes), and above all by the indigenous peoples themselves. Some tribes have adjusted to the Brazilian society that invaded their remote territories. They have learned how to manipulate politicians, the media and public opinion.

They are adapting to bewildering outside pressures, and most are succeeding, but there are still some forty uncontacted groups, in the only part of our planet that still has people who have never experienced clothing, metal or any other of the questionable advantages of modern life. Extraordinary in its range and power, with it John Hemming has created an exuberantly vivid, brilliantly detailed picture of the Indian way of life. It is nothing short of a masterpiece.

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