The last living man of the Juma people in Brazil has died from Covid-19.
Aruká Juma saw his Amazon tribe dwindle to just a handful of individuals during his lifetime.
Numbering an estimated 15,000 in the 18th century, his people were ravaged by disease and successive massacres by rubber tappers, loggers and miners. An estimated 100 remained in 1943; a massacre in 1964 left only six, including him.
In 1999, with the death of his brother-in-law, Mr. Juma, who like many Indigenous Brazilians used his tribe’s name as his surname, became the last remaining Juma male. The tribe’s extinction was assured.
Mr. Juma died on Feb. 17 in a hospital in Pôrto Velho, the capital of the Brazilian state of Rondônia. He was believed to have been between 86 and 90 years old. The cause was Covid-19, his grandson Puré Juma Uru Eu Wau Wau said.
As the last fluent speaker of the tribe’s language, Mr. Juma’s death means that many of the tribe’s traditions and rituals will be forever lost.
In 1998, under murky circumstances, federal officials removed Mr. Juma and his family from their land and brought them to Rondônia in hopes that they would marry into the related Uru Eu Wau Wau tribe as a way to partially preserve their culture.
But Mr. Juma suspected the move was intended to deprive his relatives of their land and sued to be returned, a process that dragged on for 14 years.
In the meantime, all three of Mr. Juma’s daughters married Uru Eu Wau Wau men. Mr. Juma also had a daughter with a member of that tribe, Boropo Uru Eu Wau Wau, from whom he separated in 2007. Mr. Juma’s first wife, Mborehá, died in 1996.
The Juma returned to their land in 2012. Mr. Juma was pleased, but some of his daughters’ husbands balked at living there. The grandchildren, who speak only Portuguese, had to return to Rondônia to attend school. Mr. Juma, who spoke no Portuguese, expressed frustration about being unable to communicate with his grandchildren and teach them the Juma traditions.
“These days, I feel alone and think a lot about back when there were many of us,” he told the photographer Gabriel Uchida, who spent time living among and photographing the Juma in 2016 for an article on the culture and lifestyle website Riscafaca.com. “We were many before the rubber tappers and the prospectors came to kill all the Juma people. Back then, the Juma were happy. Now there is only me.”
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