The national park’s name translates to the Sheets of Maranhão, an homage to the billowing white sand dunes that form the 600 square miles of Lençois do Maranhão National Park in northeastern Brazil. And in the middle of all these sheets of sand, the small community of Queimada dos Britos makes its bed.

The village is named after Manoel Brito, who first wandered into the dunes when drought hit his home state of Ceará. His descendants continue to live and intermarry here, a five-hour walk over the sand from the nearest village. They live off of fishing in the ocean, which is two hours away. In the winter they breed fish in the lagoons that fill the creases of the sand with blue and green waters after the rains. They also raise cattle and goats, which run free on the dunes.

But even in this remoteness, the modern world creeps in. Travellers on foot (and the extra income they bring) are welcome, but more and more agencies from nearby cities are bringing tourists into the park on motor vehicles, which villagers say is disrupting the local ecosystem. On the other side, the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA) is planning to remove the villagers entirely since they live in a national park. The residents refuse to move, since many of them were born there and lived all their lives in the Queimada. Rather than a threat, they say, they are a source of protection to the Sheets of Maranhão.

One of the Lençois do Maranhão lagoons during the winter season.
Aldemir Brito, 39, fishing with his son Adriel, 13, in one of the lagoons close to his home in Queimada dos Britos. The art of living in the dunes has been passed from father to son for generations.
Aldemir Brito, 39, fishing in one of the lagoons close to his house in Queimada dos Britos.
Aurideia prepares the fish that Aldemir fished earlier while talking to a family friend, Eduardo, who lives most of the year with them. The diet of the people at the Queimada dos Britos consists of fish and some meat from the cattle they raise on the dunes.
One of the Lençois do Maranhão lagoons during the winter season. The sand filters the water from the rain and creates clear water lagoons.
Raimundo Brito, 61, the oldest member of the Queimada dos Britos community, says “I will never leave the island even if they offer me a truck full of money”. He was born in the oasis, lived all his life there and buried his father in the local cemetery.
Aldemir Brito goes back home through the dunes after fishing with his son Adriel in one of the lagoons close to his house in Queimada dos Britos.
The home of Aldemir and Aurideia Brito. Usually, the only access is by a few hours’ walk. No one knows when the village was founded, but legend has it that the founder Manoel Brito settled in the only non-sandy portion of the Lençois after leaving his home due to drought.
Joana Malheiro, 60, wife of Raimundo Brito, leads mass in the community shack of the village. Every weekend a few members of the community get together for the Sunday prayer.
Bicudo is the main fish that the people of Queimada dos Britos breed in the lagoons during the winter season. They breed them all year round in the only lagoon that exists during the dry season and then move them to closer lagoons when the rain creates lagoons nearer to home.
Aurideia Brito feeds her nephew while Aldemir looks on in their house in the Queimada dos Britos. Around 60 people live in this small oasis, where everybody is a relative, with cousins intermarrying frequently.
Aldemir Brito, 39, drinks coffee early in the morning in his house at Queimada dos Britos.
Eloi Ferreira, 58, rests in a hammock as his cousin visits, while his granddaughters play in the backyard of his house. During the afternoons the children are free to walk around the oasis and the dunes and adults tend to visit each other and socialize.
The cemetery of the Queimada dos Britos. It is one of the reasons why the locals don’t want to leave the oasis.
Auriela Brito has dinner with her sons, Tico and Adriel Brito. There’s no electricity in Queimada dos Britos, so during the evening people relax and eat around kerosene lamps.
Adriel Brito, 13, points to the place where once was the house of his uncle. After he lost the house to the dunes he decided to move to the nearby city of Santo Amaro. During the summer, the lack of water and the strong winds make the dunes advance and take over parts of the oasis.
Debris left behind when the dunes claimed one of the houses in Queimado dos Britos. After the resident lost the house, he decided to move to the nearby city of Santo Amaro.
Eduardo, one of the temporary residents that come and go from Queimada dos Britos, crosses a lagoon on his 4-hour walk to the closest village of Sucuruju. He is going to pick up medicine from a Brito family friend.
Rogerio Brito (left), 9, Adriel Brito (center), 13 and Luziulene Brito, (right), 9, during a school lesson. They are taught by their family member Joina Brito in a shack built to serve as a school.
Children watch a jeep with tourists pass through the community into the park.