An American missionary who was arrested earlier this month is currently being questioned by Brazilian authorities after he attempted to make contact with a remote tribe in the region. It is illegal to make contact with the tribe called Hi-Merima, because any interaction with the outside world is extremely risky. Experts say that uncontacted tribes are at risk of being completely wiped out by diseases to which they have no immunity.
“Fundamentalist Christian American missionaries must be stopped from this primitive urge to contact previously uncontacted tribes. It may lead to the martyrdom they seek, but it always ends up killing tribes people,” said Stephen Corry, director of Survival International.
Steve Campbell, a missionary from Greene Baptist Church in Maine, passed through Hi-Merima last month where he was detained by FUNAI, the Brazilian government’s Indigenous Affairs Department. Some reports indicate that Campbell may be tried for genocide depending upon specific details of the case.
According to a statement from Brazil’s Indigenous Affairs Department:
“It’s a case of rights violation and exposure to risk of death to isolated indigenous population. Even if direct contact has not occurred, the probability of transmission of diseases to the isolated is high.”
Campbell was reportedly led through the territory by a local guide whom he paid. Campbell has claimed he was in search of a different tribe, only passing through Hi-Merima because there was no other way for him to reach his destination. Campbell said that he was teaching the nearby Jamamadi tribe how to use Global Positioning System (GPS) technology and that the Jamamadi tribe’s territory is surrounded by the Hi-Merima.
Bruno Pereira, general coordinator at FUNAI, told Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo:
“The Hi-Merima is one of a few dozen isolated communities in Brazil that have had almost no contact with the outside world and have limited immunity to outside diseases. As a result, Campbell is accused of putting the ancient tribe in grave danger by making contact with them after being led to their area by his GPS. He reportedly entered the area by mistake while teaching Indians from the neighboring Jamamadi tribe to use the device. If it is established in the investigation that there was an interest in making contact, using his relationship with other [tribespeople] to approach the isolated [Hi-Merima tribe], he could be charged with the crime of genocide by deliberately exposing the safety and life of the Merimas.“
The Hi-Merima people live along the Piranhas River, between the Juruá and Purus Rivers, in the Brazilian state of Amazonas. There has not been an estimation of the tribe’s population size since 1943, when it was guessed that there were over 1,000 members.
This incident comes just two months after John Allen Chau, another missionary, was killed by members of the Sentinelese tribe, an uncontacted group living on an island in the Indian Ocean. The day before Chau was thought to have died, the fishermen tasked with bringing him to the island reported that he had arrow injuries and that his, canoe used to travel from their boat to the island, had been broken. The following day Chau did not return to the fishermen’s boat as planned and the fishermen claim to have witnessed tribespeople burying his body on the beach.
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