We have been witnessing the end of indigenous peoples’
Aruká Juma, of the Juma tribe, died on 17 February due to complications caused by the virus in a hospital in Pôrto Velho, the capital of state of Rondônia in western Brazil.
According to reports, the coronavirus crisis has hit indigenous people in the Amazon hard, believed to have been spread by non-indigenous people entering their areas to carry out illegal activities such as logging and mining.
Mr Juma, who was believed to be aged between 86 and 90, had three daughters, all of whom married into a different tribe and will be unable to carry on his lineage as it is descended from fathers.
In the 18th century, there were an estimated 15,000 people in the Juma tribe, but the numbers shrank drastically due to disease and massacres.
By 1934, only around 100 members remained. 30 years later, a massacre left just six members of the tribe alive, including Mr Juma. After the death of his brother-in-law in 1999, he became the last living male member of the tribe
The Federal Prosecutor’s Office of Rondônia said in a statement on Mr Juma’s death: “In the mid-60s, the Juma people were almost extinct due to the massacres that other relatives suffered in the previous decades by rubber tappers, loggers and fishermen in the territory, which is on the banks of the Assuã River, in Canutama.
“Aruká was one of the survivors of his ethnicity. The indigenous man leaves three daughters, the last people of the Juma ethnic group: Mandeí Juma, Maitá Juma and Boreha Juma.”
Groups advocating for the rights of indigenous people said Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro’s denial of Covid-19 and lack of policy, coupled with geographic challenges, pose a substantial threat to the survival of indigenous populations.
A report by The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Justiça Global also pointed towards a “chronic underinvestment” in Brazil’s public health system which has led to the country’s dire situation under the shadow of the pandemic.
Brazil has suffered the second-worst number of deaths from Covid-19 in the world, with 242,000 people dead and nearly 10 million infections.
Indigenous people are especially vulnerable to disease as they live in extremely isolated communities and do not have the same immunity against pathogens compared to people who live in more urban areas.
According to the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), there have been 50,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and over 900 deaths among indigenous communities.
Raphaela Lopes, a lawyer with Justiça Global, told NBC: “We have been witnessing the end of indigenous peoples, like, literally the last members of certain indigenous communities are dying and there are no successors.”
In a joint statement, indigenous rights organisations condemned the Brazilian government for the deaths of indigenous peoples.
The statement, published by the Coordination of Indigenous Organisations of the Brazilian Amazon (Coiab), the Observatory of Human Rights of Isolated and Recent Contact Indigenous Peoples (OPI), and APIB, said: “Coiab and Apib warned that indigenous people of recent contact were at extreme risk. The last surviving man of the Juma people is dead.
“Again, the Brazillian government proved to be criminally silent and incompetent. The government murdered Aruká. Just as [it] murdered his ancestors, it is a devastating and irreparable indigenous loss.”