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Last surviving male member of exterminated Brazilian indigenous group dies of Covid

Aruká Juma's death comes amid a failure to protect native communities from the pandemic.

Source: The Telegraph
There are fears that health workers may have inadvertently spread the virus to indigenous communities CREDIT: Tarso SARRAF/AFP via Getty Images

The last surviving man of an exterminated Brazilian indigenous group has died from complications linked to Covid-19.

Aruká Juma, who died on Wednesday aged between 86 and 90, was the last Juma man left from a tribe that once numbered 15,000. Repeated massacres in the 20th century meant that by 2002, just five Juma people were left – Mr. Juma, his three daughters, and a grandchild.

Brazil’s indigenous groups are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 because of their isolation, communal way of life, and poor healthcare provisions.

At the beginning of the pandemic, many indigenous groups sought to cut themselves off from the outside world by closing roads and turning away visitors. Those efforts failed, however, and the virus is now widespread among indigenous communities, with almost 49,000 cases and 969 deaths, and 162 tribes affected, according to Government figures.

Part of the blame may lie with the federal indigenous health service, known as Sesai. According to the Emergencia Indigena campaign, in at least three regions the virus was introduced by infected Sesai workers, while a New York Times investigation last year uncovered over a thousand infections among Sesai officials who were forced to work without adequate protective equipment or access to enough tests.

Indigenous groups, many of whom remain officially “uncontacted”, also face threats from the encroachment of miners and agricultural businesses, which have grown worse under the populist, Right-wing government of president Jair Bolsonaro.

As a teenager in the 1960s, Mr. Juma witnessed the worst massacre of his people, when rubber tappers and tropical nut traders intruded on their land. Over 60 Juma are thought to have been killed, with just seven remaining alive.

Over subsequent decades he campaigned for federal recognition for the Jumas’ land, but the effort was complicated by the lack of other Juma men and his family’s decision to move in with another group, the Uru-eu-wau-wau, where his daughters married.

Mr. Juma’s eldest daughter, Borehá Juma, said that she intended to follow in her father's footsteps. “I want to become like him now to fight like my father. My father was a warrior. He was chief, I was chief and now the lineage is over ”, she told Amazonia Real.

The Telegraph © 2021

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