COVID-19 killed the last man of an indigenous Brazilian tribe

Aruká Juma is dead, reports The New York Times — and with him, the cultural knowledge of the indigenous Juma people of the Amazon.

Aruká Juma saw his Amazon tribe dwindle to just a handful of people during his lifetime.

Numbering an estimated 15,000 in the 18th century, they were ravaged over years by disease and successive massacres by rubber tappers, loggers and miners. An estimated 100 remained in 1943. A massacre in 1964 left only six, including Mr. Juma, who, like many Indigenous Brazilians, used his tribe's name as his surname.

In 1999, with the death of his brother-in-law, he became the last remaining Juma male. The tribe's extinction was assured.

Mr. Juma, the last living speaker of his tribe's native tongue, died of COVID-19 on February 17.

While the Times piece explores what's new of Mr. Juma's life, it also goes into the fascinating but heartbreaking story of his tribe, who were herded into a 100,000-acre jungle reservation by the Brazilian government, then forcibly relocated again to the state of Rondônia, where the government hoped they would intermingle with other tribes to preserve their cultures.

This did indeed happen; Mr. Juma had a daughter with a member of the Uru Eu Wau Wau tribe, and his other daughters all married Uru Eu Wau Wau men. But Mr. Juma was still mad that the government relocated them in the first place, and spent 14 years suing until he could finally return home.

Aruká Juma, Last Man of His Tribe, Is Dead [Michael Astor / The New York Times]

Image of the Juma River by Alexey Yakovlev / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Full disclosure: I also write for Wirecutter, which is part of the New York Times Company, which owns the New York Times.