Massacre Survivors Face Their Final Days


Kare was resting inside the round hut, listening for the sounds of the jungle. Only the wind whispered in the treetops. It was unnervingly quiet.

He swung out of his hammock, picked up a club and stepped outside.

And screamed.

An old man, Marima, snapped awake, grabbed his spear and scrambled outside. A jaguar had Kare by the neck, thrashing the muscled young Juma Indian around like a cat with a mouse.

Marima plunged his spear into the jaguar again and again until its air-shaking howls ceased and it lay still in the mud.

Once, the Juma tribe numbered in the thousands, an ancient civilization of warriors and hunters, mystics and poets, romantics and philosophers ruling a swath of a great wilderness.

The tribe was down to eight people: two old men, two old women, three young girls and Kare, the last Juma warrior, bleeding at their feet.

Without Kare, who would father the next generation of Juma?

What would become of a tiny band lost in a nameless corner of the world's biggest rain forest?


The Juma, who told their story to a reporter at their jungle home last year, aren't the only Indians facing extinction. Already, in this century alone, 87 Amazon tribes have vanished from the Earth.

No one knows how many native people lived in Brazil when Portuguese navigator Pedro Cabral came ashore in 1500; estimates vary from 1 million to 11 million. Only about 320,000 remain.

Like the Indians of North America, native Brazilians have perished in war, in slavery, by starvation, and from diseases brought by invaders. About 170 tribes survive. Fifty-four, including the Juma, live beyond the reach of modern society in unexplored pockets of the Amazon.

But not for much longer.

Gold miners, loggers and poachers are pressing into uncharted areas of the rain forest, endangering the last tribes that cleave to the cultures of their Stone Age ancestors.

"What's happening to the Juma is what's in store for isolated tribes across the Amazon if the government doesn't act to keep settlers away," said Sydney Possuelo, director of the Federal Indian Bureau's Department of Isolated Indians. His sertanistas--frontiers-men--seek out isolated tribes and prepare them for the arrival of outsiders.

Without protection, he said, "90% of these isolated tribes will disappear within a generation."

Some Brazilians don't see anything wrong with that. "Why keep the Indians in a time bubble?" asks Gilberto Mestrinho, a former three-time governor of Amazonas state.

Reilli Franciscato, a sertanista in Labrea, a hamlet on the Purus River 500 miles southwest of the jungle city of Manaus, poses a different question: "Why do we have this need to wipe out this diversity of humankind, to become clones of one another?"


Kare was losing a lot of blood.

Aroka, the Juma headman, knew there was only one thing to do: Take the young warrior to the enemy. Perhaps the white men had a magic cure.

The Juma carried Kare more than 30 miles on their backs, moving quietly through the dense foliage, thigh-deep swamps, chest-high rivers. The black sky was splintering into shards of crimson and violet when they came upon a wide, muddy trail.

It was a scar left in the forest long ago by an abandoned highway project. There was no name for this place; it was not on any map or chart. The Juma didn't know where else to look for white men, so they set up camp and waited.

Aroka made a fire and the old woman, Inte, knelt before it and began the ancient Juma sobbing ritual. The Juma believe weeping allows them to communicate with each other, to see flashes of the past, to make contact with the forces of nature, to speak with the spirits of the dead.

They wept as the wind carried off the day, and the skin of the last Juma warrior turned cold.


Anthropologists believe the Juma were once part of the Tupi-Kawahib, a people who migrated to the Madeira River region of the Amazon in the 17th century.

Within a generation or two, about 3,000 tribesmen split off from the Tupi-Kawahib to form their own tribe. They called themselves Juma, which means "fierce." Their neighbors called them "giant people with big feet."

The first official record of the Juma appears in the 1880 ledger of Antonio Rodrigues Labre, an army colonel ordered to clear the jungle of "hostile savages" at the start of the rubber boom. They "fight fiercely for their freedom," the colonel wrote.

The Juma, their spears and arrows no match for firearms, fled into the forest. When the Amazon rubber trade collapsed after World War I, the attacks paused. But in 1953, the world found them again.

Rubber tappers, nut gatherers and hunters pressed into Juma territory between the Mucuim, Jacare and Ipixuma rivers. The Juma responded by attacking a barge loaded with cashew nuts on the Punicici River, slitting the throats of five whites. The barge owner paid gunmen to kill two Juma families as they slept. Shortly afterward, a settler was found floating, headless, in the Mucuim River.

In early 1964, Orlando Franca, a judge in Labrea who owned a cashew business, offered a cash prize to the man who delivered the highest number of Juma ears. That year, 35 men calling themselves the "revenge battalion" marched on the last Juma settlement.

Juma women were raped, then hacked to death. Warriors were shot, then castrated. Children were tossed into the air and impaled on machetes. The killers left more than 70 earless corpses strewn among burning huts. Only twelve Juma escaped.

"Massacres like that one broke many tribes," said Gunter Kroemer, a Roman Catholic priest and author of four books on Amazonian tribes. "But not the Juma."

No Brazilian was ever arrested in the killings. The massacre never made the evening news.

And out there in the jungle, a civilization was fighting for survival.


Kare had been dead a month by the time a rubber tapper stumbled across the last seven Juma in November 1993. He listened to their tale and went to find the one official who might be able to help.

"They're asking for you," the tapper told Adolfo Killian Kesselring, head of the Federal Indian Bureau's outpost in Labrea. "They say they're Jumas. They want you to help them."

Killian had heard stories that Juma once lived in the forests north of the Mucuim River. But no one had seen a Juma for close to 30 years.

"Where are they?"

The trip took Killian two days by motorboat. He and his two scouts were moving slowly along the banks of a waterway smooth as a mirror when a stone hit water in front of them, sending out ripples. On the banks, a brown face appeared in the foliage. It was Aroka.

The headman wore traditional Juma dress for greeting visitors: A cummerbund of reeds and feathered armbands. Killian thought he looked like something out of a history book.

Aroka spoke no Portuguese, the language of Brazil. So they communicated with gestures and drawings in the dirt.

Aroka gave Killian the first account of the 1964 massacre from the Jumas' point of view. Since that terrible night, seven of the 12 survivors had died, from snakebites and malaria. But Aroka's wife, Boreha, had given birth to four girls. The eldest died of malaria.

Their second daughter was to marry a warrior named Kare. When did they marry? Aroka would not answer, standing up and walking away.

On the third morning, Aroka led Killian to the Juma maloca--a communal hut the shape of an upside-down canoe. Aroka held up the jaguar's skin. He stood at the spot where it had struck Kare and demonstrated how Marima had stabbed the jaguar's back and throat. Then he pointed to his daughters.

Mbaita was a stocky girl of about 14; Mandei was a tall, gangly girl of about 11; Irita, a shy girl with round eyes that shone like black pearls, had the giggle of a child younger than 10.

Aroka pretended to cradle a baby. The two older women did the same.

Weeks later, Killian told a Brazilian newspaperman the tale. The Juma were seeking suitors for their three young girls. "They'll accept anyone?" the reporter asked. It seemed so, he replied.

The story appeared on the front pages of Brazil's biggest dailies, and Associated Press sent a brief report to newspapers around the world.

There was no shortage of volunteers. Convicts, college students, men of all ages in the United States, Canada and Europe called and wrote the news agency and the Indian Bureau, offering to help "repopulate" the tribe.

That's not what the Juma had in mind. They didn't want just anyone; they wanted young men from related neighboring tribes.

So the Indian Bureau directed Franciscato, the backwoodsman, to find three suitable volunteers. Franciscato found Purai, a 28-year-old chief of the Urueu-Wau-Wau, a tribe with similar language and a history of resisting acculturation.

Purai and Mbaita wed in the jungle, a three-day ceremony attended by Franciscato and two other sertanistas. But Purai wanted to take the Juma to live with his tribe. That would have been the end of the Juma as a people. The marriage lasted only nine weeks.

Franciscato had heard that a few Kawahib--the big tribe the Juma had split from centuries earlier--were alive somewhere in the rain forest. It turned out that only two were left.

It took the backwoodsman months, but he tracked them down: two warriors, both healthy, in their 20s, with a language and traditions similar to the Juma. They were alone and scared, he said. "They also wanted to have large families."

It was a perfect match. It didn't happen. Headquarters told Franciscato there was no more money to help the Juma. No more money even for gasoline to go back for the Kawahib warriors and bring them to the Juma.

Franciscato was disgusted. "The Juma are in this position because of the Brazilian government's inertia," he said.

No one speaks for the Juma, said Isaac Albuquerque, another sertanista, "so the bosses forget them."

It is others who have the power--the loggers, miners and settlers who have their sights on the Juma's 32,000-square-mile territory. According to Brazil's constitution, that land should have been protected by now. The constitution mandated the demarcation of all Indian reservations by 1993. But half the native lands, including that of the Juma, have yet to be protected.

"Without a reservation, the Juma are dead," said Kroemer, the priest and anthropologist. "They've never adapted to the outside world."

They may not get the chance.

In May 1996, Boreha, the mother of the three girls, died of a stomach infection. In the last month of her life, she lay in agony in her hammock, refusing to go to the white man's world for treatment.

The last six Juma buried her in the forest she would not leave.


Franciscato and a reporter found the Juma once more, seven months ago, and Franciscato saw them one last time in the fall.

Marima could not get out of his hammock. Infection had swollen his right foot as big as a cantaloupe. His wife, Inte, had a bad cough and a skin fungus all over her body. The day-and-night scratching had turned her flaking skin white.

Aroka complained of fever and dizzy spells. He was spending most of the morning in his hammock, unable to fish or hunt. Franciscato opened Aroka's parched lips and placed two chloroquine pills in his mouth for malaria.

The girls had taken over the cooking. On Franciscato's visit, they were making "gonga"--worms--with cashews, rice and manioc flour. It's nutritious, but growing girls need more to eat. The Juma have had no meat or fish since Aroka killed a deer before the last moon.

Gaping holes in the maloca's thatched roof allowed the rain in, and woodpeckers had thinned the supports. The firewood pile was low. The cashew trees had yet to be picked. The bananas would soon be too ripe to harvest.

With the elders sick, the Juma could no longer hide from interlopers. "They come with guns," Mandei told Guari, a Urueu-Wau-Wau Indian who had come along to translate. Her little sister, Irita, stared at the ground.

"They stay at our hut without asking. They take our food. Then they start to put their hands on our bodies, all over our bodies." Irita started to cry.

"Once," Mandei continued in a little voice, "they beat my mother when she saw what they were doing to us. They beat her when she yelled."

They gave the names of 12 men. Franciscato jotted them in a notebook, but he knew that no Brazilians have been convicted of raping Indian women.

"We need men to protect us," said Mbaita, the bird-like timbre of her voice hardening. "We're afraid to continue alone here. What if another of the elders dies? What will we do?"

Later that night, the Juma rested in their hammocks. Three campfires crackled, rain tapped on the roof, a breeze shook fat droplets from tree leaves.

And then came Mbaita's sobbing, a soft, penetrating weeping that woke the younger girls. They crowded into her hammock and tried to comfort her. But Mbaita, promised bride of the last Juma warrior, could not be comforted.

Her face rested against the edge of the hammock, the streaks of her tears orange in the firelight.

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