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‘Best a human can be’: indigenous Amazonian Karapiru dies of Covid | Indigenous peoples

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He survived a massacre that killed most of his family in the Brazilian Amazon and lived for 10 years alone in the forest, but Karapiru Awá Guajá could not escape the pandemic.

Karapiru, one of the last of the hunter-gatherer nomadic Awá of Maranhão state, died of Covid-19 earlier this month. With only 300 Awá thought to remain, they have been called the “earth’s most threatened tribe”.

In the 1970s, Karapiru lost almost everyone he knew in a genocidal attack on his tribe by settlers. His wife, daughter, siblings and other family members were killed, and he was shot in the back. But his resilience became a source of inspiration for activists working to protect indigenous and uncontacted peoples.

Pictures capture his broad smile, but not the scale of troubles he had in life.

Survival International, a group working for the rights of indigenous people, describes Karapiru’s “extraordinary warmth and kindness”.

Awá villagers on a road built illegally by loggers through indigenous land in Maranhão state.
Awá villagers on a road built illegally by loggers through indigenous land in Maranhão state. Photograph: AP

Awá lands have been under attack since the discovery of iron ore in the late 1960s. The 2km long trains on a 900km railway built through the forest in the 1980s pass just metres from Awá territory on their way to one of the world’s largest iron ore mines. The scale of the mining development gouged from the Amazon is such that it can be seen from space.

Skilled archers, the Awá live scattered in family groups over a large area, and travel at night using torches made from tree resin. Many have had no contact with the outside world.

Karapiru was estimated to be 75 when he died. The Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI), a Catholic NGO working with indigenous peoples, reported his death as “a victim of Covid-19”, despite him having had the Covid vaccine.

He died in a hospital in Santa Inês in Maranhão and was buried in the municipality of Zé Doca, against the wishes of his friends, who wanted to bury him on Awá land.

Marina Magalhães, a linguist studying the Awá language, became friends with Karapiru after they met in 2001.

Magalhães says Karapiru’s relatives told her he had gone to another village in the months before his death to visit his son, Tamata. When he returned to Tiracambu, the village was protesting against a government bill that limited the demarcation of new indigenous land. Villagers believed it was safe to meet during the protests, including with people from other ethnicities, because they had been vaccinated. In Tiracambu alone, at least 12 Awás tested positive for Covid after the protests.

“He was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. He liked to hug people, which is not a common Awá attitude towards non-indigenous people, and he often watched my work with other Awá from a distance, always smiling when I looked at him,” says Magalhães.

“Karapiru, in my view, represents the best that a human being can become, due to his friendliness and tranquility. Also, an example of how resilient we can be in the most extreme situations.”

A crossing in a forest near an Awá village. Their survival has been threatened by logging, mining and a 900km railway running close to their land.
The Awá rely on the forest. Their survival has been threatened by logging, mining and a 900km railway running close to their land. Photograph: Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post/Getty

Fiona Watson, research director at Survival International, first met Karapiru in 1992.

“I just thought I cannot believe this man survived on his own for 10 years, not speaking to anybody,” she says. “He spoke so quietly, he whispered, that really struck me because I thought, of course, he’s had to become invisible in order to survive.

“He started talking and smiling, and I thought how is he not more traumatised? He knew I wasn’t [an enemy], he had no rancour, no bitterness. That astounded me. That magnanimity. What an extraordinary human being, to be able to sort of forgive people in a way and to be able to carry on your life.”

Karapiru’s life was the subject of an award-winning documentary in 2006, by the Italian-born director Andrea Tonacci, called Serras da Desordem.

Madalena Borges from CIMI also knew him well. “Karapiru was full of peace, without malice, smiling, very friendly, receptive to everyone, soft-spoken. A great sage of ancestral knowledge about Awá. Very skilled in the art of hunting and fishing, he went out daily in search of food for his family,” she says.

Karapiru spent 10 years alone in the forest after a massacre that killed most of his family. Eventually his was reunited with his son and returned to an Awá community.
Karapiru spent 10 years alone in the forest after a massacre that killed most of his family. Eventually he was reunited with his son and returned to an Awá community. Photograph: Fiona Watson/Survival International

Since the iron ore infrastructure opened up forests to loggers and farmers, the Awá people have seen their forests shrink as land is cleared for cattle. The noise of chainsaws and trucks has emptied the forest of monkeys, peccaries and tapirs.

“To the settlers, the Awá were an obstacle, a primitive nuisance, and they killed the Awá in large numbers,” according to Survival International. On one occasion poisoned flour was left for Awá to eat.

After the massacre, Karapiru spent 10 years alone, eating honey, small birds and sleeping in the boughs of copaiba trees and among the orchids.

“I hid in the forest and escaped from the white people. They killed my mother, my brothers and sisters and my wife,” he told Survival International.

An aerial picture of forest fires in 2015 in Arariboia, Maranhão state.
Forest fires in 2015 in Arariboia, Maranhão state. Arariboia is home to about 80 Awá and 12,000 Guajajaras, another indigenous people. Photograph: Marizilda Cruppe/AFP/Getty

“When I was shot during the massacre, I suffered a great deal because I couldn’t put any medicine on my back. I couldn’t see the wound: it was amazing that I escaped – it was through the Tupã [spirit]. I spent a long time in the forest, hungry and being chased by ranchers. I was always running away, on my own. I had no family to help me, to talk to. So I went deeper and deeper into the forest.”

He walked 400 miles to Bahia state where he was given shelter by a farmer despite not being able to communicate with him.

Karapiru and his wife Marimia and their baby in 2000.
Karapiru with his wife Marimia and their baby in 2000. Photograph: Fiona Watson/Survival International

Living on the farm he tried manioc, rice, flour and coffee for the first time. “It was tasty. I had more and more – it is good,” he later said.

Authorities and anthropologists tried various ways to speak with him but to no avail. However when a young Awá man called Xiramuku was brought in to see if he could communicate with him, it turned out he was Karapiru’s son, who had also survived the massacre.

The pair moved to Tiracambu, a mountain village in Maranhão, home to an Awá community.

Karapiru remarried and began fighting for the rights of his people, opposing the anti-indigenous policies of Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, appearing at demonstrations with his bow and arrows, vulture and toucan feathers.

In an interview, Karapiru said: “There are times when I don’t like to remember all that happened to me. I hope the same things that happened to me won’t happen to my daughter. I hope she will eat lots of game, lots of fish, and grow up to be healthy. I hope it won’t be like in my time.”

Watson took a picture of him and his new wife, Marimia, with their baby daughter in 2000.

“I thought he has hope, he had this incredible positivity, he had a lot of charisma. I thought it was wonderful that he was planning his future, marrying again, and not just surviving but wanting to live well,” she says.

In 2014, the Brazilian government sent helicopters and squads of police to remove illegal settlers. But farmers and loggers are back, emboldened by Bolsonaro’s policies.

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‘They see it in corridors, in bathrooms, on the bus’: UK schools’ porn crisis | Pornography

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Barnardo’s works directly with children who are victims of abuse or display signs of harmful or risky sexual behaviour. In 2020-21, they worked with 382,872 children, young people, parents and carers.

In a recent survey of their frontline workers across England and Wales, staff reported a rise in the number of children participating in acts they have seen in pornographic videos, despite feeling uncomfortable or scared. They describe porn as having a “corrosive” effect on child wellbeing.

Child sexual abuse expert Sarah works with children who are displaying signs of inappropriate sexual behaviour. She also trains other professionals who work with children

“I started out as a primary school teacher eight years ago, and I’ve been worried about children seeing porn ever since. Children don’t have to be able to type to see porn – it can be sent to them or shown to them on someone else’s phone. They see it at school, in the corridors, in the bathrooms, on the bus. There is just no censor on any of it – one video leads to another. If you can imagine it, it exists as porn, and children are seeing it.

“I am working with a teenager who was sexually abused by a family member. This young person had been exposed to porn and it was perpetuating what the abuser told them – that this is normal, that it’s not abuse.”

She is particularly concerned, as are her colleagues, about the increasingly extreme nature of the porn freely available on mainstream sites.

“A common role play theme on porn sites is intra-familial abuse – on mainstream sites you will see fetishisation of grandad and granddaughter sex, or stepfathers and stepdaughters. This may lead to a young person not disclosing or getting the support they need. From both angles it is dangerous; it puts the child at risk and encourages the perpetrator.

“The impact of porn shows in children harming others or themselves because they either don’t understand or are so ashamed of sexual urges. Shame is very prevalent and is often hidden.

“We are working with a seven-year-old who has been exposed to porn and is now displaying sexualised behaviour. They had free rein on a device, and someone hadn’t deleted a browser history. Once a young person sees porn, they may feel a need to come back again and again – porn is designed to meet a need. That is a form of sexual abuse against that child.”

Brian* is a senior social worker who has worked with children for over 30 years

“Unfortunately, porn is a feature for the majority of the children who come into our service. The children we support are very damaged. They would be likely to have experienced multiple forms of abuse – sexual, physical and domestic. Porn in and of itself is not the cause of their behaviour but it becomes a compounding factor when it hits that history of vulnerability.

Adult sex offenders can give children a distorted rationalisation for their behaviour, and the messages that are given through porn then fit with that distortion.

Lucy* has worked within the field of child sexual abuse for 16 years.

“We know children find porn distressing – they are telling us that themselves. We have done research with children in schools so that we have a cohort to compare our vulnerable children to, and they are saying the same thing.

“This is not what could be described as erotic or soft porn. They may start on porn sites and quickly begin to see very hardcore material. Or [extreme material] lands in their social media feeds, and they can then feel compelled to go back and look again.

“Children are less able to manage sexual arousal, and this material is designed to be arousing. Lots of children can feel guilty and distressed by what they see. We have 14-year-olds telling us they have to watch it as soon as they wake up. They describe being preoccupied with accessing porn to an extent that impacts upon their day-to-day life.

“We also regularly work with children with learning disabilities, another group vulnerable to the harm of porn. They may be shielded from sexual information and then reach 13 or 14 and take away the wrong learning from porn. They may learn that no means yes, that if you persist, women will enjoy forced sex. These messages are harmful for any child but for children with learning needs or who have developed unhealthy beliefs around sex as a result of abuse, it’s particularly bad.

“After lockdown, we began to get more calls from parents where there is no other obvious trauma, just the exposure to porn. I’ve been doing this 16 years, and children have far more access to porn now.”

* Names and some details have been changed to protect identities

In the UK, the NSPCC offers support to children on 0800 1111, and adults concerned about a child on 0808 800 5000. The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac) offers support for adult survivors on 0808 801 0331. In the US, call or text the Childhelp abuse hotline on 800-422-4453. In Australia, children, young adults, parents and teachers can contact the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or Bravehearts on 1800 272 831, and adult survivors can contact Blue Knot Foundation on 1300 657 380. Other sources of help can be found at Child Helplines International

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French centre-right tilts toward Pécresse

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Valérie Pécresse, a moderate conservative who has likened herself to former British and German leaders Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel, has emerged as a front-runner in primaries in France’s centre-right Les Républicains party, Reuters reports. “I won’t flinch. I have a project for a clean break, a project for the unashamed right,” she said Thursday, ahead of elections against liberal incumbent Emmanuel Macron and far-right contenders in spring.

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Poland plans to set up register of pregnancies to report miscarriages | Poland

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Poland is planning to introduce a centralised register of pregnancies that would oblige doctors to report all pregnancies and miscarriages to the government.

The proposed register would come into effect in January 2022, a year after Poland introduced a near-total ban on abortion.

This has raised serious concerns among women’s rights activists, who believe that in light of the abortion ban, the register could be used to cause legal difficulties for women who have self-administered abortions.

The draft legislation is part of a wide-ranging project to update the medical information system in Poland.

“It’s about control, it’s about making sure that pregnancies end with birth,” Natalia Broniarczyk, an activist from Aborcyjny Dream Team told the Polish weekly Gazeta Wyborcza.

The plan prompted online protests. A social media initiative titled “I’d like to politely report that I am not pregnant” encouraged Polish women to email photos of their used sanitary pads, tampons and underwear to the Polish ministry of health.

The ministry has strongly denied the project amounts to a centralised pregnancy register, with a spokesperson saying the changes are simply part of wide-ranging digitalisation project that will update the way data about a multitude of conditions, including allergies, is stored.

The spokesperson said doctors always had information on pregnancies, but before it was stored on paper by hospitals, rather than centrally by the government.

The concerns of activists about the register grew considerably after a bill proposed by the government that would establish an “institute of family and demographics” passed first reading in the Polish parliament by one vote on Thursday.

The institute would aim to monitor family policy, pass opinion on legislation and educate citizens on the “vital role of family to the social order” and the importance of “cultural-social reproduction” in the context of marriage. The institute would have access to citizens’ personal data and prosecutorial powers in the realm of family law, prompting worries it could be used to enforce the country’s strict abortion law.

The project has drawn widespread criticism from Polish academics and civil rights advocates.

“Maybe just call it the ‘Red Center of Rachel and Leah’,” a feminist organisation from Łódź said in an Instagram post, referencing Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale. In the novel the Rachel and Leah Center is a training facility for women designated to be “breeders” by the authoritarian regime.

The committee of demographic researchers at the Polish Academy of Sciences has issued a statement expressing concerns that the “pro-natalist propaganda” would take precedent over scientific research at the institute.

“The project aims exclusively to promote traditional model of family,” Adam Bodnar, Poland’s former ombudsman for citizen rights, told the Polish news website Oko.press. “It could also become a tool against those who fall outside this model, for example those who do not conform to heteronormative norms.”



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