Despair in Brazil's Amazon as tribe loses chief to coronavirus

Video Credit: Reuters Studio
Published on May 15, 2020 - Duration: 02:21s

Despair in Brazil's Amazon as tribe loses chief to coronavirus

Members of the indigenous Kokama tribe in Brazil's Amazon gathered on Thursday to pay their respects to Chief Messias Kokama, a staunch indigenous rights activist who lost his life to the coronavirus.

Gloria Tso reports.

Despair in Brazil's Amazon as tribe loses chief to coronavirus

Song and dance is how Chief Messias Kokama wished to be sent off.

And at his funeral in Brazil's Parque das Tribos, or Tribes' Park, on Thursday (May 14), members of the indigenous Kokama tribe gathered to do just that.

Wearing masks that read "indigenous lives matter," people like nurse Vanderlecia Ortega dos Santos paid their respects to a man who fought endlessly to protect the lives of indigenous tribes of the Amazon -- only to lose his own to the novel coronavirus.

His simple wooden coffin -- placed in the unfinished school he fought hard to have built, but never got to see inaugurated.

"It is thanks to the fight of Chief Messias that we have our sacred place within the city of Manaus.

It is the Tribes' Park and it is representative of the struggle and the bravery that he had -- to face down the great lions of society.

We are always fighting against the state because of this marginalization of indigenous citizens." Many members of the Kokama tribe, including the late chief himself 22 years ago, traveled down to the Manaus region in search of a better life.

Chief Messias helped create Tribes' Park here, a ramshackle settlement where 3,000 people from over 30 different Amazon tribes now reside.

But for the most part they have continued living in poverty on the city's outskirts.

With little access to public healthcare, Nurse dos Santos is one of the only frontline volunteers caring for her tribal community during the pandemic.

She was also the one who took the late chief to the hospital.

"Here in the Tribes' Park we still have this dream of quality education and health, because we have not yet been provided with assistance during the pandemic.

The Chief's death is also representative of what's lacking, a lack of health, what's missing for the indigenous who live in the city." Brazil's some 850,000 indigenous people now find themselves particularly at risk.

The country has over 200,000 coronavirus cases and counting, overwhelming hospitals and resulting in around 14,000 deaths.

Many being buried without being granted a proper send-off, and even coffins in vertical cemeteries -- being stacked on top of one another like bricks in a wall.

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