Forbidden Embrace

by | Jan 5, 2021

Photographs by Alessandro Falco received an honorable mention in the digital exhibition, “Documenting the Impact of Covid-19 through Photography: Collective Isolation in Latin America,” sponsored by ReVista and the Art, Culture, and Film program at Harvard’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS.)

The exhibition, based on an Open Call for Photography launched in July 2020,  aims to create a critical visual record of our unprecedented times so they can be remembered by future generations.

Diakara, 45, a shaman of the Dessana indigenous group, collects leaves of a medicinal plant on the outskirts of Manaus, the capital of Amazonas. He uses the plant, known as saratudo, to treat tribal members with symptoms of COVID-19. Hospitals and cemeteries in the city have been overwhelmed with victims of the pandemic. With the scarcity of medicines, many indigenous people living in Manaus have relied on traditional medicine to calm the symptoms of COVID-19. According to COIAB (Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of Brazilian Amazon), more than 2642 people from 72 tribes have contracted the new COVID-19, resulting in more than 218 deaths. Photo from “Documenting the Impact of Covid-19 through Photography: Collective Isolation in Latin America.”

In 2020, the pandemic crisis has hit the Brazilian Amazon hard.

Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 and its severe consequences, due to historical and socio-economic factors  aggravated by the persistence of colonial practices in their native territories.

Those indigenous people who live in urban areas, mostly in precarious conditions, have found themselves as primary targets, vulnerable to contract the disease.

In more  isolated communities, the transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome has been introduced by infected health professionals and land invaders.

According to the Brazil’s Indigenous People Articulation, more than 40,340 Indigenous people have been infected with Covid-19, and 881 have died from the disease.

The death I have documented occured inside an informal settlement of 160 displaced Indigenous refugees from Venezuela, the Warao peoples, original inhabitants of Orinoco Delta now struggling to survive on the outskirts of Belém do Pará.

The man’s body lies on the bare floor, next to his hammock; his head raised on a dog food sack.

Dozens of people were dangerously crowded in front of one of the small shacks, watching over the body of José Alirio, 45, through a window.

Alirio refused medical assistance and died of Covid-19 complications a few hours earlier, revealing the sincere fear of Waraos to be divided from their family and group.

In few minutes the situation degenerates, and the body disappears covered by mourning relatives while a funeral chant was intoned by Warao women.

For Warao peoples family boundaries and funeral rituals seems stronger than the fear of coronavirus, whose risks are not fully understood, and for this FAO is calling for governments actions to avoid communication breakdowns that may aggravate the spread of the disease.

Five members of this community have already died from Covid-19 in the past weeks, including three children.

Alessandro Falco is a photojournalist and documentary photographer whose research focuses primarily on environmental and humanitarian issues affecting the Amazon rainforest. In 2016, his article on a severe drought in Brazilian North East was showcased by United Nations at the 1st World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. Falco lives in Belem do Pará, the gateway to the Amazon river. www.alessandrofalco.com

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