Brazil scrambles to contain coronavirus in largest indigenous territory

By Alba Santandreu

Amajari, Brazil, Jul 1 (efe-epa).- Coronavirus has spread to the largest indigenous community in Brazil, threatening the historical guardians of the Amazon.

After centuries of fighting for their right to continue with their traditional way of life, the Yanomami people now face a silent enemy that has already killed at least four members of the ethnic group, including three babies.

Their villages are located in the bowels of the Amazon jungle, an area of ??nine million hectares which is similar in size to Austria and home to 28,000 people.

They are protected by a blanket of dense vegetation and span the states of Roraima, on the border with Venezuela, and Amazonas.

But this remote location has not stopped the arrival of Covid-19, which has killed almost 60,000 people and infected 1.4 million others across Brazil.

The villages of Waikás and Auaris are two of those that have been affected by the deadly outbreak.

Around 450 Yekuana and Yanomami Sanumã live there, as the ancestors of these native warrior peoples have done for centuries.

They live in houses with mud walls and thatched roofs, cook over a wood fire and hunt and fish for food.

One of the community’s leaders Mauricio Yekuana told Efe: “We are afraid. The community is suspicious of contracting this new coronavirus disease.

“Since there is no cure we are trying to prevent the disease.

“Half of the inhabitants have gone to the forests in fear, mainly the elderly.”

Older members of the tribe are considered sentinels of ancient wisdom.

Fear has increased among the community after four people, including three babies, died in recent weeks after contracting the virus, which threatens to spread throughout the whole territory.The infants, two of whom had severe heart disease, died in hospital in Boa Vista, the capital of Roraima, and were buried in the town’s cemetery which goes against Yanomami culture.

Their families are waiting for authorization to exhume the bodies and bring them back to their villages so they can be cremated.

According to their beliefs, a cremation ritual is the only way to allow loved ones to end a life of torment and leave the earthly plane.

It is unknown how the virus reached Yanomami territory but one theory is that illegal miners could have brought the contagion as more than 100 have been infected in the area, which is around 15 days by boat or an hour and a half by plane from Boa Vista.

The communal way of living in these communities has meant infections have quickly spread through the territory, sparking concerns among leaders and various organizations.

There are around 900,000 registered indigenous people in Brazil, of whom almost 60 percent live in protected areas.

More than 6,400 cases and 150 deaths have been confirmed in these communities, according to the Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health, whose data excludes infections of indigenous people living in urban areas.

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