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In a foreign policy blog, I read about a little Brazilian girl - named Hakani who had one of the

Posted: Jun 14th, 2018 - 5:53 am In Reply to: I saw a movie about Irina Sendler several years ago. - She was a saint and

most traumatizing childhoods imaginable. She was born in 1995 in Brazil as part of the Suruwaha tribe.

At the age of 2, she had not yet learned to walk or talk. Tribal custom in this case was clear. The tribal elders declared that she had no soul and that she should be killed. Her parents killed themselves, rather than follow through on the tribe’s custom. Her 15-year-old brother tried to bury her alive. But she kept crying, and someone dug her up. The task then fell to her grandfather. He shot her with an arrow. He was so distressed by the experience that he too committed suicide.

Yet Hakani survived. So the tribe abandoned her in the forest. She was left to live like an animal for three years, staying alive only because one of her brothers smuggled her food. Her arrow wound became infected. She grew incredibly thin. She still couldn’t walk. Then her brother brought her to Edson and Marcia Suzuki, a missionary couple working in the area. They rescued her, cared for her, and got her medical help. Within a year she was walking and talking. Soon she was able to attend school.

The Suzukis took Hakani back to her Suruwaha tribe to show them disabled children did not need to be killed, but they could not find anyone in the tribe to look after her, so the Suzukis adopted her.

The Brazilian public prosecutor’s office decided to take action, but not against those who tried to murder Hakani. Instead they attacked the actions of people like the Suzukis. The prosecutor recommended that all non-natives be banned from the lands of Suruwaha tribe so that it would be impossible for people like the Suzukis to rescue another child.

Should we allow indigenous tribes to murder children? Believe it or not, the answer to this question is controversial.

Around 20 tribes are believed to follow this practice. Victims of these killings include the disabled, children born to single mothers, and twins.

In 2007, Brazilian legislators introduced a bill to end child killings in tribal communities. It was called Muwaji’s Law, named after an indigenous mother who would not kill her disabled daughter in 2005. The law would require the government to look out for and protect vulnerable babies.

As Foreign Policy wrote, “It immediately created tensions between those who champion universal human rights, which prioritize the individual, and those who support cultural relativism, which favors the freedom of communities to organize themselves according to their own moral codes.”

It took eight years to get the bill through the lower house of the legislature. It still has not passed the upper house.

That anyone could justify such practices is astonishing. But they do. Foreign Policy paraphrased an anonymous government anthropologist saying that “child killing among indigenous peoples must be understood in the context of the Amazon’s incredibly harsh environment.”

So government departments want to sweep it under the rug. Brazil’s National Indian Foundation says that even talking about child killing “is in many cases an attempt to incriminate and express prejudice against indigenous peoples.”

Brazil’s Folha de S. Paulo wrote that some anthropologists argue that “the death of babies is part of the cultural identity of these indigenous populations, and white people don’t have to understand it.”

By saving Hakani, the Suzukis “stood in the way of the realization of a cultural practice filled with meaning,” according to one anthropologist who also accused the Suzukis of making a “big mistake” and doing irreparable damage to the tribe’s way of life. Because they tried to convince the tribe that murdering children was wrong.

But thanks to the Suzukis, others have been saved. In 2005, after the Suzukis’ “big mistake,” two Suruwaha families decided not to kill their children.

I think people like the Suzukis deserve a peace prize.



LINK/URL: In a foreign policy blog, I read about a little Brazilian girl

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