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Tribes from around the world compete at Brazil 'Indigenous Olympics'

Athletes from all over the world gathered in Brazil for a sport contest between indigenous peoples. The participants are set to compete in archery, tug-of-war, spear throwing, and other traditional disciplines.

Representatives of 24 Brazilian ethnic groups lead the flame lightning ceremony at sunset Thursday, in the remote city of Palmas.

About 1,800 competitors from 23 countries were expected to take part, with tribes coming from as far away as Ethiopia and Mongolia. The organizers also expect between 10,000 to 30,000 spectators a day for a ten-day event.

"It's my first time outside of the Philippines and I took five planes to get here," said Julius of the Philippines' Igorot people.

"I never thought I would see so many indigenous peoples together. We're very similar and very different at the same time," he added.

Tribes took turns dancing around the fire until dark, ahead of the official opening ceremony scheduled for Friday.

The competitors also met for the first sporting events on Thursday night. Alongside several mainstream sports such as football, the tribes will test their mettle in archery, spear throwing, running with logs, and tug-of-war.

'Cover-up'

Earlier in the day, a group of about a dozen protesters decried what they saw as poor organization and the games' $14 million (12.6 million euro) price tag.

"The government is using the event to cover our eyes and say everything is all right here," said Werreria, a state government employee from the Karaja tribe, whose lands are near Palmas. "But everything is not all right."

Brazil's indigenous tribes often struggle against discrimination and poverty, facing off against

farmers and illegal miners who try to push them out

of their lands.

Nature's 'warrior'

This is the first time that Brazil has opened its traditional indigenous games to athletes from other countries.

"We can show the whole world, the whole country, what a real Brazilian is -- a warrior fighting even now to

preserve our culture

and to survive the massacres, the discrimination, the rape of our women," said Ubiranan Pataxo, of Brazil's Pataxo people.

Pataxo, as many other athletes, turned up to the flame lighting ceremony bear-chested, wearing a traditional garb and tribal paint.

"This is the moment to celebrate, but also to make our demands so that the government hears us and notices what's happening to our planet, what's happening to our forests, and to our rivers."

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff is expected to attend the official opening ceremony on Friday.

dj/bw (AFP, AP)

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