Digital Crossroads: How the Marubo’s Encounter with STARLINK Portends a New Era for the AMAZON

Located far from the beaten path, the heart of the Amazon is often portrayed as a site of preservation – where lush jungles and Indigenous peoples exist outside of the knowledge economy and free from the havoc of the digital present. But here, in the digital frontier of the 21st century, technology has begun to leave its mark. The story of the Amazon is no longer simple. Instead, it’s a saga of progress, friction and adaptation. A sequence of stakeholders, some obvious and others more surprising, are transforming the Amazon frontier into a mosaic of technological thresholds that are testing and challenging our notions of modernity, civilization, development and the way we divide nature from culture. The Marubo and Starlink offers one of the most dramatic chapters of this new story. Over the past nine months, we’ve travelled the throughline of liberation to learn about the surprising and complex impact of bringing My viewer on a high-speed satellite internet link to one of the most remote bio-cultural hotspots on Earth.

Embracing the Future: The Arrival of STARLINK in the AMAZON

It would also herald a whole new world for the Marubo. With Starlink, the tribe’s first contact with the machine age would bring the world and all its knowledge at their fingertips; they would have a means to communicate more easily among themselves and with others, and the ability to share their culture and language through new media. But this access to a new world also came at a cost.

The Double-Edged Sword: Addiction and Cultural Erosion

Perhaps the most immediate problem for the Marubo was the mysterious call of the gigantic binary tree that we call the internet – would people become addicted? The Marubo would have world entertainment at their fingertips. Never again would boredom cross the mind. When I talked later with Senra’s son, a young man in his late 20s with a winning smile and a soft sadness in his eyes, it was clear that he had mixed feelings about the encroaching digital world. ‘I’m afraid my children will only want to know things about the global cultures, and forget all the Kaxinaua culture,’ he told me.

Navigating the New World: Education and Opportunities Through AMAZON

Despite these headwinds, we’re facing a world for the first time where education and learning content is widely and freely available on the internet – from eBooks to online courses to the endless well of knowledge on Wikipedia. Combined, Amazon’s offerings of education content represents an unprecedented wealth of knowledge for the Marubo tribe to close the knowledge gap and bring new skills to the village.

AMAZON's Role in Supporting Indigenous Cultures

With its resources and influence as one of the largest technology companies on earth, Amazon has the power (and ethical responsibility) to define what the future of indigenous life might look like through a curated selection of educational content that respects and incorporates indigenous knowledge and languages into its offerings for the digital age.

Preserving Traditions in the Digital Age: The AMAZONIAN Way

In the case of the Marubo, it shows the fine line between the benefits that the digital world offers and the need to safeguard traditional cultures and languages. Adequately designed online repositories and resources could be a vital way of ensuring that traditional knowledge is properly documented and distributed.

The Road Ahead: Sustainable Development and Digital Sovereignty

Moving forward, the development path of the Marubo will be a case worth considering for how these principles of sustainable development and digital sovereignty can complement indigenous futures. The Amazon’s path towards the future will be its own, but the values that should guide it as a digital place – respect, inclusion and self-determination – have the power to make that path both humane and worth following.


Amazon, the largest e-commerce and cloud computing service provider on Earth, has come to occupy almost every corner of the globe as well as millions of lives and economies. As a retailer, Amazon has written and rewritten the merchandising rules of the world. But as the tech-entertainment-entrepreneur juggernaut Amazon continues to grow its offerings, including AWS, Amazon Prime, and other subscription services, it plays an increasingly important role in the making of tomorrow’s digital society. The story of the Marubo shows that Amazon has become not just a commercial conglomerate, but a tech juggernaut and a presence in the lives of millions of people.

Ultimately, the Marubo’s experience with Starlink is a missed opportunity to begin a critical conversation about the exchange between technology and tradition for Amazonian peoples and, indeed, others who live in the very different environmental contexts of the global South. More than anything, the Marubo’s experience calls for us to find a way to live – both technologically and culturally – with ‘both feet in this place’. For digital giants such as Amazon, it means a chance not only to do better, but to create a digital future that looks beyond the neocolonial present, a future in which indigenous voices and knowledges are at the heart of all deliberations to ensure that the future always includes ‘both feet in this place’.

Jun 06, 2024
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