As Brazil’s confirmed overall death toll from Covid-19 passes 50,000, the virus is scything through the country’s indigenous communities, killing chiefs, elders and traditional healers – and raising fears that alongside the toll of human lives, the pandemic may inflict irreparable damage on tribal knowledge of history, culture and natural medicine.
The Munduruku people alone have lost 10 sábios, or wise ones. “We always say they are living libraries,” said Alessandra Munduruku, a tribal leader. “It’s been very painful.”
The victims include prominent figures such as Paulinho Paiakan, a Kayapó leader who fought alongside rock star Sting against the Belo Monte dam.
The indigenous organisation Apib has logged at least 332 Covid-19 deaths, and 7,208 coronavirus cases across 110 communities. “We are facing extermination,” said its executive coordinator, Dinamam Tuxá.
Indigenous leaders such as Tuxá say the government of the far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, is failing to protect the country’s 900,000 indigenous people – many of whom live in small communities, where dozens often share the same house.