Masaya Nakamura, Whose Company Created Pac-Man, Dies at 91

By Jonathan Soble,  30 January 2017

Masaya Nakamura, a Japanese toy and game entrepreneur whose company’s most enduring creation, Pac-Man, became a worldwide cultural touchstone, died on Jan. 22. He was 91.

His death was announced on Monday by Bandai Namco, the business where he retained the title of honorary adviser. No cause was given, and the company did not say where he died.

Mr. Nakamura began making a business of amusement in 1955. A decade after Japan’s calamitous defeat in World War II, the country’s economy was springing back to life, and the somber mood of the first postwar decade was retreating. Japanese were ready to embrace fun and games again.

His first venture — installing two wooden horses for children to ride on the roof of a department store — was simple, and turned into a modest success.

Rooftops gave him more success as time went on. In the early 1960s, he secured a deal with Mitsukoshi, a leading Japanese department store chain, to install another children’s ride, this one using small replica automobiles running on tracks, on the roof of its flagship Tokyo location. The attraction, Roadway Rides, proved popular, and Mitsukoshi commissioned it for all of its stores.

Real fame and fortune came later, with the rise of video games.

Mr. Nakamura was an early believer in their potential. In the 1970s, he hired software engineers and directed his growing company, Nakamura Manufacturing — later renamed Namco — to develop titles for arcades. His first hit was Galaxian, a Space Invaders derivative that he sold to the American company Midway Games in 1979. Pac-Man was born the next year.

It was conceived by a 25-year-old Namco employee, Toru Iwatani, who later said that he was inspired by the shape of a pizza with a slice missing. The “Pac” came from the Japanese onomatopoeic word “pakku,” equivalent to the English “gobble” or “munch.”

Pac-Man Original (Arcade 1980) Video by bobamaluma

And as fast as Pac-Man could gobble up pellets in his maze, players gobbled up Pac-Man.

“I never thought it would be this big,” Mr. Nakamura told an interviewer in 1983, after the game took the world by storm. “You know baseball? Well, I knew it would not be a single. But I thought maybe a double, not a home run.”

The game spawned spinoffs (Ms. Pac-Man, among others), an animated television series and voluminous merchandise. The Buckner and Garcia novelty song “Pac-Man Fever” reached No. 9 on the Billboard singles chart in 1982.


PAC-MAN SPINOFFS

pac man

·       Ms. Pac-Man
Perhaps the first famous female video game character to be hugely successful, Ms. Pac-Man was introduced in 1981 and is found more often in arcades and bars around the world than the original game.

·       Jr. Pac Man
Pac-Man even spawned a child, the beanie-wearing Jr. Pac-Man, who exists in mazes that are wider than the game’s screen, so that it scrolls from side to side.

·       “Pac-Man Fever”
The 1981 hit song by Buckner & Garcia capitalized on the game’s craze.

·       Google Doodle
In 2010 Google created a playable game out of its logo to celebrate the game’s 30th anniversary.

·       Pac-Man the Cartoon
Hanna-Barbera created a Saturday morning animated television show in the 1980s that followed the adventures of Pac-Man and his family in Pac-Land.


Pac-Man also came up in more recent pop cultural offerings like the animated sitcom “Family Guy,” which showed Pac-Man despondent after a breakup with Ms. Pac-Man; the film “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (2010), in which the title character, played by Michael Cera, uses the history of Pac-Man’s name as an ineffective icebreaker; and Ernest Cline’s best-selling science fiction novel “Ready Player One,” in which the protagonist plays a perfect, and very consequential, game. Billy Mitchell is widely credited with actually playing the first perfect game, in 1999.

In the decades since Pac-Man’s release, video games have grown increasingly violent and complicated, but Pac-Man remains child-friendly, accessible and challenging. Versions of Pac-Man or one of its spinoffs exist on different gaming platforms and are readily available online. Millions of work hours were squandered after Google released a playable version of the game on its home page in 2010.

In the 36 years since its release, it is estimated to have been played more than 10 billion times. The Smithsonian Institution and the Museum of Modern Art have Pac-Man machines in their collections.

Mr. Nakamura was not a game designer. But unlike his rival and contemporary Hiroshi Yamauchi, the longtime president of Nintendo, who was said never to play video games, Mr. Nakamura tested Namco’s products intensively. Employees said he would play for up to 23 hours a day before a game’s introduction.

Despite that habit — or perhaps because of it — he warned against what today would be called screen addiction.

“I am a little concerned about the way some young people play it so much,” he said at the height of the Pac-Man craze. “Once it goes beyond a certain level, it is not good for young people.”

Namco continued to develop video games, though none could top Pac-Man’s success. The company expanded into other businesses, including a chain of food-themed amusement parks in Japan, most of which have closed or been sold off. In 1993, it bought the bankrupt Japanese film studio Nikkatsu, known for output like samurai epics and soft-core pornography.

Mr. Nakamura led Namco until 2002, when he took on a more ceremonial role. When Namco merged with a rival toy and game maker, Bandai, in 2005, public tax records indicated that Mr. Nakamura was Japan’s 68th-richest person.

Born in Yokohama, Japan, on Dec. 24, 1925, Mr. Nakamura attended what is now Yokohama National University. He studied shipbuilding, according to a short résumé provided by Bandai Namco.

The company did not release information on survivors, citing what it said was his family’s wish for privacy.

Follow Jonathan Soble on Twitter @jonathan_soble.

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on January 31, 2017, on Page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: Masaya Nakamura, Whose Company Created World of Pac-Man, Dies at 91.


Original article: Masaya Nakamura, Whose Company Created Pac-Man, Dies at 91

Ancient Toy Inspires Low-Cost Medical Diagnostic Tool

By Jaclyn Jansen, Live Science Contributor | January 10, 2017 02:55pm ET

Modern medicine often feels like magic: A technician pricks your skin, draws a drop of blood and whisks it away into another room. Oftentimes, this gives the doctor enough information to make a diagnosis and prescribe a treatment. But for people in developing countries, these kinds of diagnostics can be more science fiction than reality.

Modern medicine relies heavily on technology, like centrifuges, that are costly, bulky and require electricity. In many places around the world, this kind of equipment can be hard to come by. But in a new study published online today (Jan. 10) in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, researchers described an inexpensive, hand-powered centrifuge that’s based on an ancient toy and could help doctors working in developing countries.

The centrifuge is the workhorse of modern medical laboratories. The device spins samples at high speeds to separate particles or cells based on size and density, effectively concentrating specific components. Most diagnostics “are like looking for a needle in a haystack,” said Manu Prakash, lead researcher on the new study and an assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University. A centrifuge, Prakash said, puts all the needles in one place, making them easier to find. [10 Technologies That Will Transform Your Life]

Unfortunately, even the simplest modern centrifuges are burdensome for doctors in the field. Prakash, who won a 2016 MacArthur “genius” award, is a leader in the so-called frugal science movement, which aims to devise low-cost solutions for complex technologies. Prakash is best known for developing the Foldscope, an origami-like paper microscope that costs about $1.50.

In the past, researchers explored common household items, such as egg beaters and salad spinners, as alternatives to the centrifuge, but these devices gave poorer results than modern diagnostic tests. A simple blood test using these tools required more than 10 minutes to separate cells, compared with 2 minutes for commercial centrifuges. So instead of using these items, Prakash and his colleagues focused on spinning toys.

“We tested many toys, like the top and yo-yo,” study lead author M. Saad Bhamla, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University, told Live Science. “We wanted to find the most effective way of converting physical energy into rotational energy.”

The researchers found that a toy known most commonly as the whirligig had the greatest potential as a centrifuge. By tweaking the basic design, they were able to achieve speeds of up to 125,000 revolutions per minute (RPM), the fastest speeds reported for a hand-powered device, the researchers said. (They have submitted an application to the Guinness World Records, they wrote.)

Also known as a button spinner, buzzer or spinning disk, the whirligig is one of the most ancient toys and can be found all over the world. It is a simplistic child’s toy, with a button or disk threaded through two strings that are affixed to handles. A child begins by winding the strings and then pulling on the handles to make the threads unwind and the button spin. Pulling and relaxing the strings repeatedly makes the button spin faster. [The Cool Physics of 7 Classic Toys]

Using a paper disk and fishing wire, the researchers modified the whirligig, turning it into a hand-powered centrifuge that costs about 20 cents to make. They called their device a “paperfuge” and tested it against modern centrifuges to measure red blood cell counts. To do so, Prakash and his team loaded a finger prick of blood into a capillary tube and placed that into a sealed plastic straw that was mounted onto the paper disk.

“With a conventional centrifuge, the [blood test] will take about 2 minutes and that [centrifuge] will cost about $1,000,” Bhamla said. “And in a minute and a half, we can achieve the exact same result — at a cost of $0.20 without electricity.” The researchers’ results were similar in tests for malaria parasites.

To better understand how the paperfuge works and how to optimize it for different types of diagnostics, Prakash and his colleagues generated a mathematical model for the movement of the disk.

“It is quite an unconventional centrifuge,” Prakash said. “It’s an oscillatory centrifuge, so it flips direction.” Most centrifuges spin in only one direction but the paperfuge reverses during its spin, which may limit the volume of liquid that it can separate, he added.

Prakash and Bhamla also found that the toy is essentially self-winding. The spinning disk has inertia that causes the strings to twist. When a person adds force by pulling on the handles, the strings become supercoiled, with twists looping back on themselves, Prakash said. “These supertwists give torque and result in twisting of the disk,” he said. “It is amazing how little force it takes.”

Prakash and his team are now taking the paperfuge out into the field. “Our current work has put about 100 paperfuges into the hands of clinical partners and health care workers in Madagascar,” Prakash said, “in the front line of developing countries where almost nothing is available.”

At the same time, the researchers are testing other versions of the paperfuge, using 3D-printed plastics and different designs in hopes of applying the technology to other diagnostic tests, Prakash said.


Original article: Ancient Toy Inspires Low-Cost Medical Diagnostic Tool

U Ko Ni: In His Own Words

[Jakarta, LttW] Living as a minority in a society that openly opposes your existence is already an achievement by itself. U Ko Ni did more. Not only was he a Muslim legal adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy Party (NLD), he was also a prominent voice for Muslim rights in Myanmar, a Southeast Asian country also known as Burma.

On January 29th, 2017, Mr. Ko Ni, 65, was gunned down at Rangoon International Airport after returning from an official trip to Indonesia to discuss democracy and conflict resolution.

The following quotes draw a picture of Mr. Ko Ni’s stance and personality.


By THE IRRAWADDY, 30 January 2017

On Article 59(f), which bans anyone with a foreign spouse or children from becoming president:

“There is an informal way [to amend the constitution] in which we have to enact a special law to temporarily suspend the provision in 59(f). This law can be enacted by 51 percent of votes at the Union Parliament.” (Reuters, February 2, 2016). U Ko Ni made this comment before the NLD government came into office and before the new position of State Counselor was created in April 2016.

On controlling hate speech:

“Given the current circumstances in our country, it is very necessary to enact a law to see effective action on hate speech and discrimination.” (DVB, July 22, 2016)

On rescinding the repressive 1975 State Protection Law:

“Such a law is absolutely unnecessary for the current government’s multi-party democratic system.” (The Irrawaddy, 28 April, 2016).

On calls for reform of the centralized civil service under the ministry of Home Affairs:

“The control of General Administration Department on all the government procedures is contrary to the federal system and should be abolished.” (Myanmar Now, February 1, 2016).

On proposals to enact laws restricting interfaith marriage:

“The law seems to favor the protection of Buddhist women’s rights. What about women of other faiths? A law should cover everyone, and now it seems to totally neglect women from other religions living in the same country.” (The Irrawaddy, September 2, 2015)

On a proposal for an interfaith law that would promote the equal rights of all religions:

“There are two main purposes – one is to promote the aspect of living harmoniously among religions, and the second is to take effective action against those who try to disturb the status of harmony.”

“The government has the duty to act in the interest of all religions. They should not pay attention only to Buddhists but also to other religions, as the constitution says everyone has the right to religious freedom.” (Myanmar Times, May 20, 2016)

On avoiding discrimination in citizenship laws:

“If someone is born in Burma and lives there all their lives, we have to regard them as a citizen of Burma… It is harmful if people are divided into ‘classes.’” (The Irrawaddy, 12 May 2016)

On calls to ban the formation of a Myanmar Muslim Lawyers’ Association:

“I don’t understand why people criticize us when they hear the term ‘Muslim’. We don’t cause any trouble to others. We just want to give assistance to our Muslim minority people who have long suffered under military rule.” (Myanmar Times, 21 June 2016)

On bribery and corruption

“The problem is that corruption is still rampant in Myanmar despite the Anti-Corruption Law. There is corruption at each level of the [government] hierarchy. But punitive actions are rarely taken.” (The Irrawaddy, 9 April 2016)

Topics: Crime, Murder, National League for Democracy (NLD), Police


Original article: U Ko Ni: In His Own Words

Sir John Hurt obituary

Versatile actor who starred in the television film The Naked Civil Servant, the 1980 classic The Elephant Man and the BBC TV series I, Claudius

Few British actors of recent years have been held in as much affection as Sir John Hurt, who has died aged 77. That affection is not just because of his unruly lifestyle – he was a hell-raising chum of Oliver Reed, Peter O’Toole and Richard Harris, and was married four times – or even his string of performances as damaged, frail or vulnerable characters, though that was certainly a factor. There was something about his innocence, open-heartedness and his beautiful speaking voice that made him instantly attractive.

As he aged, his face developed more creases and folds than the old map of the Indies, inviting comparisons with the famous “lived-in” faces of WH Auden and Samuel Beckett, in whose reminiscent Krapp’s Last Tape he gave a definitive solo performance towards the end of his career. One critic said he could pack a whole emotional universe into the twitch of an eyebrow, a sardonic slackening of the mouth. Hurt himself said: “What I am now, the man, the actor, is a blend of all that has happened.”

For theatregoers of my generation, his pulverising, hysterically funny performance as Malcolm Scrawdyke, leader of the Party of Dynamic Erection at a Yorkshire art college, in David Halliwell’s Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs, was a totemic performance of the mid-1960s; another was David Warner’s Hamlet, and both actors appeared in the 1974 film version of Little Malcolm. The play lasted only two weeks at the Garrick Theatre (I saw the final Saturday matinée), but Hurt’s performance was already a minor cult, and one collected by the Beatles and Laurence Olivier.

He became an overnight sensation with the public at large as Quentin Crisp – the self-confessed “stately homo of England” – in the 1975 television film The Naked Civil Servant, directed by Jack Gold, playing the outrageous, original and defiant aesthete whom Hurt had first encountered as a nude model in his painting classes at St Martin’s School of Art, before he trained as an actor.

Crisp called Hurt “my representative here on Earth”, ironically claiming a divinity at odds with his low-life louche-ness and poverty. But Hurt, a radiant vision of ginger quiffs and curls, with a voice kippered in gin and as studiously inflected as a deadpan mix of Noël Coward, Coral Browne and Julian Clary, in a way propelled Crisp to the stars, and certainly to his transatlantic fame, a journey summarised when Hurt recapped Crisp’s life in An Englishman in New York (2009), 10 years after his death.

Hurt said some people had advised him that playing Crisp would end his career. Instead, it made everything possible. Within five years he had appeared in four of the most extraordinary films of the late 1970s: Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), the brilliantly acted sci-fi horror movie in which Hurt – from whose stomach the creature exploded – was the first victim; Alan Parker’s Midnight Express, for which he won his first Bafta award as a drug-addicted convict in a Turkish torture prison; Michael Cimino’s controversial western Heaven’s Gate (1980), now a cult classic in its fully restored format; and David Lynch’s The Elephant Man (1980), with Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft.

In the last-named, as John Merrick, the deformed circus attraction who becomes a celebrity in Victorian society and medicine, Hurt won a second Bafta award and Lynch’s opinion that he was “the greatest actor in the world”. He infused a hideous outer appearance – there were 27 moving pieces in his face mask; he spent nine hours a day in make-up – with a deeply moving, humane quality. He followed up with a small role – Jesus – in Mel Brooks’s History of the World: Part 1 (1981), the movie where the waiter at the Last Supper says, “Are you all together, or is it separate checks?”

Hurt was an actor freed of all convention in his choice of roles, and he lived his life accordingly. Born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, he was the youngest of three children of a Church of England vicar and mathematician, the Reverend Arnould Herbert Hurt, and his wife, Phyllis (née Massey), an engineer with an enthusiasm for amateur dramatics.

After a miserable schooling at St Michael’s in Sevenoaks, Kent (where he said he was sexually abused), and the Lincoln grammar school (where he played Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest), he rebelled as an art student, first at the Grimsby art school where, in 1959, he won a scholarship to St Martin’s, before training at Rada for two years from 1960.

He made a stage debut that same year with the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Arts, playing a semi-psychotic teenage thug in Fred Watson’s Infanticide in the House of Fred Ginger and then joined the cast of Arnold Wesker’s national service play, Chips With Everything, at the Vaudeville. Still at the Arts, he was Len in Harold Pinter’s The Dwarfs (1963) before playing the title role in John Wilson’s Hamp (1964) at the Edinburgh Festival, where the critic Caryl Brahms noted his unusual ability and “blessed quality of simplicity”.

This was a more relaxed, free-spirited time in the theatre. Hurt recalled rehearsing with Pinter when silver salvers stacked with gins and tonics, ice and lemon, would arrive at 11.30 each morning as part of the stage management routine. On receiving a rude notice from the distinguished Daily Mail critic Peter Lewis, he wrote, “Dear Mr Lewis, Whooooops! Yours sincerely, John Hurt” and received the reply, “Dear Mr Hurt, Thank you for short but tedious letter. Yours sincerely, Peter Lewis.”

After Little Malcolm, he played leading roles with the RSC at the Aldwych – notably in David Mercer’s Belcher’s Luck (1966) and as the madcap dadaist Tristan Tzara in Tom Stoppard’s Travesties (1974) – as well as Octavius in Shaw’s Man and Superman in Dublin in 1969 and an important 1972 revival of Pinter’s The Caretaker at the Mermaid. But his stage work over the next 10 years was virtually non-existent as he followed The Naked Civil Servant with another pyrotechnical television performance as Caligula in I, Claudius; Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and the Fool to Olivier’s King Lear in Michael Elliott’s 1983 television film.

His first big movie had been Fred Zinnemann’s A Man for All Seasons (1966) with Paul Scofield (Hurt played Richard Rich), but his first big screen performance was an unforgettable Timothy Evans, the innocent framed victim in Richard Fleischer’s 10 Rillington Place (1970), with Richard Attenborough as the sinister landlord and killer John Christie. He claimed to have made 150 movies and persisted in playing those he called “the unloved … people like us, the inside-out people, who live their lives as an experiment, not as a formula”. Even his Ben Gunn-like professor in Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) fitted into this category, though not as resoundingly, perhaps, as his quivering Winston Smith in Michael Radford’s terrific Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984); or as a prissy weakling, Stephen Ward, in Michael Caton-Jones’s Scandal (1989), about the Profumo affair; or again as the lonely writer Giles De’Ath in Richard Kwietniowski’s Love and Death on Long Island.

His later, sporadic theatre performances included a wonderful Trigorin in Chekhov’s The Seagull at the Lyric, Hammersmith, in 1985 (with Natasha Richardson as Nina); Turgenev’s incandescent idler Rakitin in a 1994 West End production by Bill Bryden of A Month in the Country, playing a superb duet with Helen Mirren’s Natalya Petrovna; and another memorable match with Penelope Wilton in Brian Friel’s exquisite 70-minute doodle Afterplay (2002), in which two lonely Chekhov characters – Andrei from Three Sisters, Sonya from Uncle Vanya – find mutual consolation in a Moscow café in the 1920s. The play originated, as did that late Krapp’s Last Tape, at the Gate theatre in Dublin.

His last screen work included, in the Harry Potter franchise, the first, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001), and last two, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts One and Two (2010, 2011), as the kindly wand-maker Mr Ollivander; Roland Joffé’s 1960s remake of Brighton Rock (2010); and the 50th anniversary television edition of Dr Who (2013), playing a forgotten incarnation of the title character.

Because of his distinctive, virtuosic vocal attributes – was that what a brandy-injected fruitcake sounds like, or peanut butter spread thickly with a serrated knife? – he was always in demand for voiceover gigs in animated movies: the heroic rabbit leader, Hazel, in Watership Down (1978), Aragorn/Strider in Lord of the Rings (1978) and the Narrator in Lars von Trier’s Dogville (2004). In 2015 he took the Peter O’Toole stage role in Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell for BBC Radio 4. He had foresworn alcohol for a few years – not for health reasons, he said, but because he was bored with it.

Hurt’s sister was a teacher in Australia, his brother a convert to Roman Catholicism and a monk and writer. After his first marriage to the actor Annette Robinson (1960, divorced 1962) he lived for 15 years in London with the French model Marie-Lise Volpeliere Pierrot. She died in a riding accident in 1983.

In 1984 he married, secondly, a Texan, Donna Peacock, living with her for a time in Nairobi until the relationship came under strain from his drinking: they divorced in 1990. With his third wife, Jo Dalton, whom he married in the same year, he had two sons, Nick and Alexander (“Sasha”); they divorced in 1995. In 2005 he married the actor and producer Anwen Rees-Myers, with whom he lived in Cromer, Norfolk. Hurt was made CBE in 2004, given a Bafta lifetime achievement award in 2012 and knighted in the New Year’s honours list of 2015.

He is survived by Anwen and his sons.

  • John Vincent Hurt, actor, born 22 January 1940; died 27 January 2017

Original article was published by The Guardian on Saturday, 28 January 2017, here: Sir John Hurt obituary

Amazon culture clash over Brazil’s dams

A battle is under way in the Amazon region of Brazil between indigenous groups and river dwellers on the one hand and big corporations on the other as the latter go ahead with their plans to build huge dams to meet Brazil’s energy needs. The BBC’s South America correspondent Wyre Davies has been to see what is set to become the world’s fourth largest dam, already under construction, and the indigenous area next in line for development.

BBC, January 10, 2017

From the heart of the planet’s greatest rainforest one of the world’s biggest civil engineering projects is emerging.

The Belo Monte hydroelectric dam is a monolithic monument to progress.

When its 18 huge turbines are fully operational, its electricity-generating capacity will make it the world’s fourth largest dam, capable of generating 11,000 MW of energy.

At an estimated cost of $18bn (£15bn) the huge structure has been mired in controversy amid evidence of corruption and collusion between some of Brazil’s biggest construction companies and the government.

_93213224_amazon_tributary_dam_624map

The complex, which consists of the main generating plant and a huge separate barrage, partially blocks the Xingu River, a major Amazon tributary.

It also required the building of a new canal, to redirect and channel the flow of water, and has flooded thousands of acres of rainforest.

Human cost

There is a human cost too. The traditional local fishing industry has been decimated and thousands of riverside dwellers, called ribeirinhos, have lost their land and their livelihoods.

Many of these people, who are not members of indigenous tribes but Portuguese-speaking river dwellers, have now been forced into a completely alien urban environment.

Many we spoke to said they were not even recognised or compensated by the government and the consortium that is building Belo Monte.

“It makes us angry,” says Gilmar Gomes, showing us his now worthless fishing licence.

“We see these big corporations making millions from what used to be ours and we can’t even use the river anymore,” he says.

Building the dam brought hundreds of temporary jobs to the riverside town of Altamira but it also led to increasing deforestation and the permanent loss of many low-lying islands.

Previously shallow parts of the river, that ebbed and flowed with the rainy and dry seasons, are now 20m (66ft) to 30m under a permanent lake.

Supporters of hydro power admit mistakes were made and that in the commissioning and building of Belo Monte the government and the consortium at times rode roughshod over people’s concerns.

‘For the greater good’

But their position is that the rivers and their energy are there to be harnessed for the greater good of Brazil.

Low-lying land has been flooded
Low-lying land has been flooded (BBC.Doc)

Luiz Augusto Barroso is the President of EPE, the Brazilian government’s energy planning agency.

He advocates a mixed energy “matrix” and points out that Brazil has never been as dependent on fossil fuels as other developing countries like China or India have.

“I would definitely defend [hydroelectricity]. I think it makes sense for the country and it’s a resource that benefits society and we should be properly informed about the alternatives before we consider not going ahead with these projects,” says Mr Barroso.

“Let’s not forget that in the developed world almost 70% of the hydro potential has already been exploited, whereas here in Brazil, 70% of our hydro has not been explored yet,” he adds.

Those living at the river's edge fear for their future (BBC.Doc)
Those living at the river’s edge fear for their future (BBC.Doc)

Successive Brazilian governments, both on the left and the right of the political spectrum, have claimed to be fully committed to cutting their carbon footprints as part of the Paris Agreements on Climate Change.

That includes a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 37% by 2025.

But environmentalists say that Brazil’s heavy reliance on hydroelectric power means the sector has a far greater carbon impact, through rotting vegetation, flooded forests and the physical impact of dam construction, than the government cares to admit.

Next in line?

Mr Barroso is cautious about giving the number of dams that might eventually be built in the Amazon, especially big costly mega-projects like Belo Monte.

But as many as 100 hydroelectric projects were envisaged in the government’s National Energy Plan.

While going a long way to meeting Brazil’s future energy needs, the construction of so many structures on the world’s greatest river system would have a huge impact on the environment and its people.

Next in line for development is the Tapajos, described as the most beautiful river in the Amazon region and home to the Munduruku indigenous people.

_93258662_munduruku_region_624map

A plan to build several dams along its length would transform this wide shallow river into a navigable water highway.

That would allow large vessels to transport huge cargoes of soya and other bulk commercial goods all the way from southern and central Brazil up to the Amazon and on to the Atlantic for export.

Such a dramatic transformation of the Tapajos would flood forests and islands that have been used by the Munduruku for centuries.

New battleground

Tribal chiefs say the land is legally theirs and they will forcefully resist any attempts to build dams on the river.

“I’ve seen these so-called developments, the dams and the barrages. They don’t bring any benefits to the people, that why we’re against them,” Cacique (Chief) Juarez Munduruku tells me.

The chief, in a red-feathered tribal headdress, had taken me to the edge of the tribe’s territory, the latest battleground between the would-be developers and Brazil’s indigenous people.

“The government always comes here with its lies. There’s not one place where a dam has been built that has turned out good for locals and for our tribes, there’s only misery and complaints.”

A recent decision by Brazil’s main environmental protection agency, Ibama, to cancel a licence for one of the main Tapajos dams was seen as a major victory for the Munduruku and their supporters.

It was a vindication of their meticulous campaign to prove that land which would have been flooded by the proposed Sao Luis dam legally belonged to the tribe and could not be developed under federal laws protecting indigenous territory.

Backlash

But these painted and tattooed warriors of the Amazon are taking on powerful business and political interests.

Legislation is already being debated in the Brazilian congress which would weaken existing environmental laws and to slash funding for environmental protection agencies including Ibama.

It would also make it easier in future to force through controversial development projects and overturn those that had been denied or held up on grounds of environmental concern.

Brazil’s political and economic crisis may have temporarily put the brakes on the country’s race to exploit its hydro potential.

Given the high cost of construction and the physical impact of building such giant structures, experts are saying that a country with so much untapped solar and wind energy potential should reassess its future energy strategy.

Historical records and the accounts of early explorers describe the Munduruku as some of the fiercest and “mightiest headhunters in all of Amazonia”.

The tribe is still regarded as one of the most united and uncompromised in the entire region. Men and women still refer to themselves as “warriors”.

Several of the proposed new dams along the Tapajos and its tributaries, including the Teles Pires, are already under construction and the Munduruku say that, yet again, their people are fighting to save their way of life and their identity.

As the sun sets over the upper Tapajos, its mid-river islands and the villages of its native people, a decisive battle is under way over whether to exploit or to protect this unique piece of the Amazon.


Videos from the original article are omitted on purpose due to our inability to embed the video player