April 14, 2020

Coronavirus Brings Back Memories: Indigenous priest reflects on the global pandemic [excerpt]

Justino Sarmento Rezende, a Salesian priest of the Tuyuka indigenous people from the upper Rio Negro in Brazil, reflects on the coronavirus pandemic from the perspective of his people’s history. Excerpted from the interview published by Chacruna.net.

“I was born far from the city, at ‘Jaguar-Creek’.

“Whenever my father heard that a dangerous disease was coming, he took us to an even more isolated place. There, we waited until the latest news finally reached us: ‘the disease has passed’.

Justino Sarmento Rezende.
Photo: Luis Miguel Modino.

“We had no doctors or nurses to take care of us. But we were watched over constantly by our sage grandparents who performed protective ceremonies using white pitch incense to fumigate the environment, the people and their pets.

“Every day the sages smoked their cigars and talked about what they had seen in their dreams, what protective prayers they had composed in their nighttime meditations...

..."They protected our lives within rays of sunlight, within the clouds.

"They protected our lives within rays of sunlight..."
Photo: G.H. Shepard Jr.

“This current time with its current viruses, with their own proper names, it takes me back to the past and reminds me of the wisdom of my grandparents who helped to defend life.

“It reminds me of our defensive technique: fleeing from the enemy, not exposing oneself, retreating to a safe place until the disease passes.”


Interview conducted by Luis Miguel Modino for Instituto Humanitas Unisinos, translated to the English by Glenn H. Shepard Jr. and excerpted for "Notes from the Ethnoground." Read the full interview at Chacruna.net.

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