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Discourse, experiences and resistance of traditional populations and people living in city outskirts on the dystopic world of covid-19 in Brazil

November 5, 2020


by Matula Laboratory, a group of researchers in Anthropology. Its objective is to understand how peripheral areas apprehend sickness. The stories gathered by the Matula Laboratory can be read in Portuguese on their Instagram account.



For indigenous peoples and Maroons[1] of contemporary Brazil, colonization is the foundational element of a dystopia that since is evidenced by a series of violations into their lives and their living space. But the will to live gives rise to, in contrast, a transformative movement that manifests itself first within traditional territories, political archipelagos[2] that assert themselves in opposition to capital and countries. With the Covid-19 pandemic, these strives for re-existence are what the Matula Laboratory is seeking to bring to light, by emphasizing the contradictory speeches of traditional populations and the people living in city outskirts, as opposed to official statistics that are deliberately under reporting the infections and deaths of the most vulnerable populations. Our group is composed of professors, master's and doctoral students, as well as representatives of indigenous communities and quilombolas




Covid-19 has hit these communities at a time when the federal government is openly trying to cut back these groups' fought-for rights and advance a political agenda to absorb them in the national society with little regard for the multiculturalism embedded in the 1988 Constitution. Already besieged by the illegal mining of gold, wood and property speculation, the traditional territories are dealing with the shutdown of the Universal Health System's (SUS)[3] public policies by the federal government who shows disdain for the scientific information on the gravity of Covid-19 and blocks the creation of measures to prevent disease and promote health. This government is also not using the full potential of the Basic First Aid (ABS)[4] to deal with the spread of the disease within the Brazilian population. This serious situation shows the government's total lack of assistance toward the most vulnerable workers and populations, what some call "necropolitics". On this issue, the government clearly stated its position on indigenous, quilombola and traditional populations by putting its veto on 22 articles of the 1142/2020 legislative proposal which planned to put in place an emergency plan to stop the spread of Covid-19 within these communities.

Sanöma/Yanomami kids Silvia Guimarães, 2018. 3 Sanöma/Yanomami babies who died at Boa Vista hospital after contracting Covid-19 were buried without the mother's consent. For the Yanomami, the funeral ceremony is essential to enter into the spiritual world
Sanöma/Yanomami kids Silvia Guimarães, 2018. 3 Sanöma/Yanomami babies who died at Boa Vista hospital after contracting Covid-19 were buried without the mother's consent. For the Yanomami, the funeral ceremony is essential to enter into the spiritual world

Among these groups, the arrival of Covid-19 has also revived the memories of colonial epidemics[5]. One of the most devastating consequence for the indigenous peoples and quilombolas was the deaths of community leaders, guardians of the knowledge and traditions. At the other end of the generational spectrum, the disappearance of Yanomami babies' bodies, supposedly contaminated with Covid-19, illustrates another aspect of the medical violence against the traditional populations of Brazil, taken care of in extremely uncertain conditions by the public health services and already weakened by the presence of other diseases, such as pneumonia, tubercolosis and malaria.


So, the Covid-19 pandemic highlights one of Brazil's most violent aspects: social inequalities and negligence toward indigenous, quilombola, traditional, Black and peripheral lives. To better account for the dynamic of the disease in the territories, the main organizations representing the indigenous peoples and quilombolas, the APIB and the CONAQ[6], put two independent observatories in place (a platform tracking Covid-19 among the indigenous peoples and quilombola populations), in partnership with the NGO ISA. According to their data, 38,338 cases have been confirmed among the indigenous people, with 474 deaths (10/31/20) and among the quilombolas, 4,604 cases with 167 deaths (10/17/20) -therefore exposing the increasing vulnerability of the quilombolas in the Brazilian population.


It should be noted that this "crisis" is not a fatality as stated by the Brazilian technocrates. On the contrary, it reveals a genocidal agenda which is accomplished by first paralyzing historic rights given to these groups and also denying access to primary care.




To cope, these groups have put internal procedures in place to control the pandemic. The best example of this is certainly the case of the Kuikuro ethnic group (Mato Grosso state) that was able to gather funds to hire a doctor, improvise a rural hospital and a isolation ward. In most of the communities, the measures are less spectacular, but show a capacity for self-management and an early awareness of the seriousness of the situation for these territories. Ana Mumbuca, of the quilombo Mumbuca (Tocantins), says that by "March 17, day of the first death in Brazil, the community got together in an Extraordinary General Meeting, and published its own decree closing the quilombo to tourist visits until further notice". Among other measures, in Mumbuca as elsewhere: group self-isolation within communities, gates at the entrance of territories, food distribution, remote sales of local goods, translation of Covid-19 news in native languages and also the use of traditional medicine. "And so life continues, we've increased the crops, lots of families have come back from the cities, others are isolating by staying in the fields."[7]


Along with these actions, the local and national organizations are also condemning the federal government. For example, on October 6, 2020 the APIB submitted a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH), accusing the federal government of being the main vector of the spread of Covid-19 among the indigenous populations by not providing care and by openly encouraging actions that had harmful repercussions on these territories.


These groups also demand that Native Sciences, historically scorned, be taken into account at the same level as the other epistemologies in confronting global challenges such as this pandemic and climate change. One of the gains of Native Sciences is due to the amicable relationship it maintains between visible and invisible beings, human and non-human, and which is revealed in their own way of managing forests, crops, hunting and fishing. In these views of the world, reciprocal relationships in health and solidarity between species is essential. If they are not maintained, sickness and lack of food can be seen as self-defense acts. For some populations, Covid-19 illustrates this human abuse situation: anthropologist Jósimo Puyanawa says that, for the elders of his people, the pandemic is a manifestation of invisible "venimous snake-souls" that are scattered thoughout the world.




Indigenous peoples, quilombolas, and all peripheral communities are leading us away from the urgent need to emancipate ourselves from the genocidal discourse and authoritarian and selective control on people toward, eventually, a future more predisposed to indigenous epistemologies, of maroon and peripheral populations, open to the idea of a life strengthened by healthcare community networks. 

[1] Called “quilombolas” in Brazilian Portuguese. 

[2] Using Gladyz Tzul Tzul's formula, Archipiélagos y Voluntad de Vida. 17 de abril de 2020. TEOR/éTica DOCUMENTOS Buchaca Generosa – Ed.02

[3] Sistema Único de Saúde (SUS) is the public healthcare system created by the 1988 Constitution.

[4] Atenção Básica à Saúde (ABS), also called "basic attention": it is a basic service given by the public healthcare system for the Brazilian population. It consists in a first analysis of the case and the pinpointing of appropriate services.

[5] For more details on this aspect, see: DIAS, Barbara do Nascimento; GUIMARÃES,  Sílvia. Povos indígenas no Brasil e a pandemia da COVID-19, In: DUARTE, Aldira Guimarães; AVILA, Carlos F. Dominguez (Orgs)  A COVID-19 no Brasil: ciência, inovação tecnológica e políticas públicas. Curitiba: Editora CRV, 2020, p. 257-270

[6] APIB: Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (APIB); CONAQ: Coordenação Nacional de Articulação das Comunidades Negras Rurais Quilombolas.

[7] MUMBUCA, Ana. 2020. Voo das abelhas na terra. Caderno de leituras no117. Série intempestiva. 

Matula Laboratory: Aisha – A. L. Diéne, Bárbara do Nascimento Dias, Braulina Aurora, Carlos Alexandre Barboza Plínio dos Santos, Cristiane de Assis Portela, Iury da Costa Felipe, Jéssica Zaramella, Jheniffer Benedito de Oliveira Pêgo, Joaquim Pedro Vasconcelos, Maria Gabriela Pinheiro, Mariana Pereira da Silva, Maryelle Ferreira, Rosânia do Nascimento, Sílvia Guimarães, Stéphanie Nasuti, Valdelice Veron, Welitânia Oliveira Rocha, Yazmin Safatle.


Our objective is to understand how sickness is understood among the peripheral territories. We analyse perceptions of the disease, but also of health services and policies, working on the assumption that sickness is both a motor and a manifestation of social suffering. We also observe how health networks create strategies of resistance. Beyond local experiences, gathering these stories helps us define which epidemiological data is important in the minds of these populations and how they organize them. The stories gathered by the Matula Laboratory can be read in Portuguese on their Instagram account


Laboratório MATULA. Manifeste #LibérezL’avenir #Liberteofuturo #Freethefuture