Journalism from the center of the world

Known as Sumaúma in Portuguese, the kapok is one of the largest trees in the Amazon rainforest. It joins heaven and earth, in the words of Juma Xipaia, the first female cacique, or leader, of the Xipaya people and advisor for the SUMAÚMA journalism platform. During their constant exchange with non-human forest beings, the roots of the kapok collect water, producing a sound that can be heard over long distances, according to Maria Francineide Ferreira, a beiradeira—as members of traditional Amazon forest communities are known. The tree’s roots draw water from the ground and release it into the sky, swelling the rivers flying above our heads and carrying rain to other regions, says Raimunda Gomes, another beiradeira from the Middle Xingu, who has a deep relationship with the ancient kapok that is her neighbour. The grandmother of socio-environmental activist Eldinei Souza used the soft silky white floss that surrounds the kapok seeds inside their pods to stuff the pillows and mattresses where her family lay down to dream.

In the Amazon, just say the word Sumaúma (or samaúma, as it is also pronounced) and everyone will have a story to tell. That’s why we chose the name for our journalism platform. We want to tell stories that live here, in the Amazon. We also want to tell stories from other parts of the world, but in a different way–from the perspective of forest peoples, as well as the most rigorous science. We will work to have these stories reverberate far and wide, helping irrigate the public debate and expand flying rivers of ideas that can be converted into action. We believe in the power of storytelling and in the power of journalism that deserves this name because it is done ethically, scrupulously, and independently.

This is what the five of us, the founders of SUMAÚMA, have done throughout our journalistic lives, and this is what we want to do together with this new project. We are reporters with decades of professional experience who realise we need to create something different in response to the climate emergency and mass extinction of species. We want to do more than we have already done, and we are committed to dedicating our lives to the great struggle that has fallen to the current generation. We have challenged ourselves to act more forcefully to defend today’s and tomorrow’s children—and SUMAÚMA is our response.

Our values ​​can be summed up in two words: forest first. The forest–its nature and its people–must come before the market. This is an approach based on both cutting-edge climate science and traditional Indigenous thinking. But there are powerful and violent threats to those who believe this from companies, politicians, and organised crime.

As journalists, we stand with the forest-peoples on the front lines of the war now being waged against nature. As well as violence against environmental defenders, the website MapBiomas tells us this conflict killed eighteen trees per second in the Amazon rainforest in 2021, and it is almost certainly killing them at a faster rate now. This war is forcing butterflies to mute their colours, mimicking the brown and grey of the burned forest so they can survive. Instead of tanks, this war uses tractors and chainsaws; instead of traditional bombs, its planes rain agrotoxins down on the earth, rivers, and people; instead of battleships, gold dredgers release mercury that destroys the health of the rivers; instead of regular soldiers, this war relies on hired guns and police officers turned militiamen, because the state has been usurped. Today, this war of unbalanced forces has become a massacre, and the massacre must end.

When we say we will do journalism from the centre of the world, we do not mean it rhetorically. The only way today’s children will have any chance is if we understand that the centre of our values has been misplaced and must be repositioned. This misplacement is why we have reached the terrifyingly absurd point where a minority of humans is altering the planet’s morphology and climate. The most important centres of a planet experiencing climate collapse are not Washington or Beijing, nor are its centres the bunkers of the financial system; they are the enclaves of life on which our survival depends–the oceans, tropical rainforests, and other diverse biomes.

As journalists, we pursue truth and we look for the clearest possible perspective. The urgent need to reposition centralities must be accompanied by a shift in viewpoints and values. This decentralisation is fundamental if we are to create, in a short period of time, a human community capable of living with all other species without destroying our planet-home. This is what we call the Amazonization of the world, a concept woven by many voices, a concept that goes far beyond the Amazon.

Based in Altamira, in the Middle Xingu region of Pará state, SUMAÚMA takes a side. SUMAÚMA is an ally of those who defend enclaves of nature and centres of life. Altamira is the epicentre of both the destruction of the forest and resistance to this destruction. SUMAÚMA stands firmly on the side of life. We want to be part of a transformation. We want to connect supporters in distant cities with those fighting in the forest to protect our planetary life-support systems.

  We will start as a seed, releasing a forttnightly newsletter in Portuguese, English, and Spanish beginning on September 13. With your support, we will sink our roots into the ground and spread our limbs until we form a tree, as a trilingual digital newspaper. We will also release an audio podcast, led by Elizangela Baré, an Indigenous woman from São Gabriel da Cachoeira, considered “the most Indigenous city” in the state of Amazonas. Designed to respect the oral transmission of knowledge by Amazon peoples and distributed over WhatsApp, the podcast is a partnership with the Indigenous communication network Rede Wayuri. SUMAÚMA will also seek partnerships with other independent journalism agencies and collectives of forest communicators as part of a collaborative network.

SUMAÚMA is not just an environmental journalism platform. Our understanding of the world is not compartmentalised: we believe the climate crisis cuts across all topics, and journalism should approach it as such. It is a prism to view everything, not just another subject. Only by understanding that the war on nature is shaped by the power relations between race, gender, class, and also species can we cover the brutal actions of the human minority that is causing the mass die-off of nature and risking a hostile future for its children. The climate crisis has been triggered by inequalities that it now magnifies, since those hardest hit are Indigenous and Black people, women, and the many species headed toward extinction. Yes, SUMAÚMA defends democracy, but in the twenty-first century, it makes no sense to speak of democracy without extending representation to other species and future generations. We are anti-racist and anti-speciesist.

We are the founders of SUMAÚMA, but the platform will only grow like its namesake by working with forest journalists in a process of co-training, where we will teach local communicators the best of what we have learned and practised in journalism, some of us for more than thirty years, while young Indigenous, beiradeiros, descendants of enslaved rebels known as quilombolas, small-hold farmers, and youth from the marginalised areas of Amazon cities will teach us how they tell stories. After all, Indigenous peoples have been transmitting their knowledge and producing news in the Amazon for at least 13,000 years. As proposed by SUMAÚMA, this process of training journalists will also be a process of de-training its founders. SUMAÚMA believes the main field of contention in this war is language, and we align ourselves not with the “commodities people,” as Davi Kopenawa calls colonisers and their descendants, but with people who have never stopped being part of nature. SUMAÚMA does not call rivers, mountains, or trees “resources” but aligns itself with those who call them “father,” “mother,” “grandfather,” and “grandmother.” It is a relationship of interdependence.

The future we imagine for SUMAÚMA is a newsroom composed increasingly of forest journalists. We, the founders of the platform today, should only be bridges for a movement that begins as a gesture in the present, a bridge with an expiration date, so that in the not too distant future we can cede our place to people trained in SUMAÚMA-izing. We will work so that those trained by us, and who will de-train us, can also create other enclaves of journalism, because we need much more than what exists today if we are to have any chance in this war, where the other side holds much greater power and is driving the rainforest to the point of no return.

SUMAÚMA begins as a seed. It can only become a tree if you believe it is important to have a journalism platform like this on the planet-home we share. Our content will be open in all three languages, but we can only exist with your support. Rather than passive readers, we want to create a community along with those who have already chosen their side in the great battle of our time, a war that will last well beyond today’s adult generations. SUMAÚMA is an independent journalism platform that can only grow and stay alive if you feel it is important to have such a platform in your lifetime, and if this understanding translates into an ongoing donation.

With your support, SUMAÚMA  will be able to form a newsroom that can cover the rainforest not just in Brazil but across the Pan-Amazon regions and other biomes threatened by destruction. We want to build the journalistic capacity to report on major global debates and events from a rainforest perspective. With your support, SUMAÚMA can conduct more investigations, spark more debate, train more journalists. Your donation will be the water and sun that allows SUMAÚMA to grow from a seed into a tree. Without water or sun, without you, SUMAÚMA will die before it blooms.

Living in war is not a choice; the war is here and all you need to do is open your window—or sometimes your faucet—to understand that it is advancing fast. Our only choice is whether or not to fight, a choice that has consequences for the present and future. We have chosen. Now it is your turn to choose.

We invite you to join us. Let’s SUMAÚMA-ize, let’s Amazonize!

Altamira, Middle Xingu, Amazon, Center of the World, September 1, 2022.

Eliane Brum, Jonathan Watts

Carla Jimenez, Verônica Goyzueta, Talita Bedinelli