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What Brazil Owes Its Indigenous Aikewara

A Brazilian Justice Ministry committee has officially apologized and offered reparations to the Aikewara, decimated in the early 1970s by army soldiers. But one more step is still needed.

A file photo of Aikewara
A file photo of Aikewara
Ywynuhu Surui*

-OpEd-

BELÉM — We, the Aikewara, a Tupi-Guarani group also known as "the Suruí do Pará," are writing this article so that everybody knows why on Sept. 19 we became the first indigenous people of Brazil to receive an official government apology, and to be granted reparations for our suffering. This was a historic day for us and for all the indigenous people of this country.

For 40 years, we waited for the Brazilian state to acknowledge the violence we endured during the era of military rule. We suffered both in our homeland and outside, without knowing why these men in uniforms came to our village to "hunt people down." Our grandfathers and fathers asked themselves "Why?" as the military killed their people.

Between 1971 and 1973, the Aikewara lived in fear, trembling at the first sound of a car or plane, immediately fearing they would be killed. Many had insomnia: They couldn't sleep because they were constantly threatened by Brazilian army soldiers.

The women were panic-stricken when the few among them who could speak a little Portuguese translated what the soldiers were saying, that the children needed to keep quiet or else they'd be killed. The adult men had all been taken away, forced to serve as guides for the soldiers in the forest, which we are very familiar with because it is our land.

For days and days the men walked through the forest. They didn't eat properly and were forced to carry heavy loads on their backs while being pushed, screamed at and threatened, sleeping outside in the forest, falling ill.

Regardless of the reparations we obtain, the Aikewara people will never forget these scenes of terror and torture, which everyone in the village witnessed and was subjected to. While the army tried to crackdown on the Araguaia guerrilla, the Aikewara were prisoners in their own homes, locked inside. Children, the elderly and women starved because they were stripped of the right to come and go on their own land.

As children, all of us heard the stories that our grandparents told for years and years. Today we are ourselves parents and some even grandparents. Now we understand why they shared these memories so often, and why we must keep telling our children and grandchildren the story of the Aikewara people.

That, however, is not how we would like to be remembered in our country’s history.

It is a sad thing that we had to fight and lose so many lives to live in a democracy. For freedom, we lost real heroes who can never be forgotten, whose efforts were cut short by violence and death. It is thanks to the bravery of these people that we can now demonstrate for our rights.

Now that our suffering has been legally acknowledged by the Justice Ministry's Brazilian Amnesty Commission, we await the most important reparation of all: the restitution of the indigenous land of Tuwa Apekuokawera, which is part of our territory and was taken away 40 years ago. Only when our territory has been returned to us and protected will we be able to go back to living in peace.

*Ywynuhu Surui is an Aikewara and headmaster of the Moroneikó Indigenous School in the northern state of Pará.

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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