NIAWI – BURIED ALIVE AT THE AGE OF 5

When Niawi was buried alive, I couldn't move away from his grave. I stayed there for a long time, hearing him cry from inside his grave, I felt so much anger.
Muwaji Suruwaha

Niawi was the son of one of the best hunters in the village and was also one of four handsome brothers. He was the fourth. This made his family a very special family – 4 sons, who would grow up and hunt and kill many tapirs to feed the people, just like their father did.

But to the sadness of the family, he didn’t grow as a normal boy. At three years, he could neither walk nor talk. In spite of being a chubby and beautiful boy, everyone noticed that there was something wrong. The family felt more and more embarrassed and unhappy.

Several medical teams had been in the village and had seen the state of the child, but felt that nothing could be done, after all, the Suruwaha people were semi-isolated indians and the official bodies felt that any type of interference should be avoided. And to take him out of the tribe would be considered a serious cultural interference.

The pressure mounted and the displeasure of the parents became so unbearable that they ended up committing suicide when Niawi was 5 years old. The whole community grieved the loss of the great hunter and his wife. There were long days of mourning and of ritual chants. When the funeral rituals were finished, Niawi’s oldest brother gave Niawi several blows to the head, until he passed out. After this, according to the reports of his relatives, Niawi was buried, still alive, in a shallow pit, close to the hut where the tribe lived.

Some of the young women from the tribe, shocked, but unable to do anything, stood still around the makeshift grave. They stood there hearing the muffled cry of the boy until a deep silence came. A silence that continues until today.

My name is Edson Bakairi, and I am a survivor.

No child is guilty of being born; all children have the right to life. With every child that dies, the dreams and hopes of somebody who could be important for their community, capable of making changes and rebuilding their people’s history, also die.

When the moment arrived for my mother to give birth to me, she felt the pains and went off to be alone in the jungle far from the village with the intention of killing me. As soon as I’d been born, she tried to suffocate me, but because she was very weak, she couldn’t do it. She then tried to hang me up with vines, but didn’t manage to do it and ended up abandoning me in the forest.

Arriving at home, she told my older sisters, who at the time would have been between 9 and 11 years old, to go and bury the child that was in the forest. She said that if the child was alive, to kill and bury it so my father wouldn’t have to know of the birth. They left in the direction that my mother pointed to. When they arrived at the place, they found me covered in blood and mud and there were insects flying around me. There were even insects in my mouth and nose, but I was still moving.

My sisters were panic-stricken and confused. Lúcia, the oldest, was determined to kill and bury me for fear of her father’s reaction, but Maria, my other sister, was compassionate and didn’t allow it and convinced Lúcia with the argument that as a boy, I could be useful. So, they lifted me up and took me home; there, they cut the umbilical cord with sewing scissors, cleaned me up, cut their skirts and clothed me, they crushed up rice with a pestle and mortar to make rice-milk and they fed me. After, they took me to my mother and told her that when they found me, I was still moving and they felt pity and didn’t have the courage to kill me, and so they decided to hide me in the forest and take care of me, even putting their own lives at risk. They stood up to my father’s madness and fought so that he didn’t take my life. Much later, my mother became very fond of me. The son that she had tried to kill became her favorite child and was the center of her attention.
(Edson Bakairi, indigenous leader from Mato Grosso)

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