A Baptist missionary has found himself on the wrong side of the Brazilian government’s Indigenous Affairs Department (FUNAI). Steve Campbell made the mistake of entering an area in the jungle that is home to the Hi-Merimã. He is now being accused of exposing the isolated tribe to potentially fatal diseases.
Campbell and his wife Robin were in the state of Amazonas to proselytize. They were supposed to have been working with the Jamamadi tribe–a group they had regularly visited. Yet Campbell crossed into territory he had been forbidden to enter.
“The Hi-Merimã is one of a few dozen isolated communities in Brazil that have had almost no contact with the outside world,” The Daily Mail writes. While trying to teach the Jamamadi how to use a GPS device, he wandered into the territory of the Hi-Merimã.
The Hi-Merimã live in an area once populated by many tribes. They have not welcomed attempted contact. As such, they have not built the immunity that come from exposure.
Brazilian prosecutors have been informed of Campbell’s actions. His fate is uncertain. “Survival International, an organization advocating for tribal peoples’ rights,” Daily Mail notes, “has reported that Campbell could even be tried for ‘genocide’.”
“It’s a case of rights violation and exposure to risk of death to isolated indigenous population,” Brazil’s National Indian Foundation spokesman said in statement.
“Even if direct contact has not occurred, the probability of transmission of diseases to the isolated is high.”
The contact was reportedly a mistake. Even so, Campbell has now been arrested.
Campbell is a missionary from Greene Baptist Church in Maine. “Their work is to help with medical, mechanical and countless other ministry opportunities with the Indians and missionary families,” the Church’s website claims.
“This frees up Jon so he can focus on translating God’s word into their language.”
The Hi-Merimã live along Piranhas River, between the Juruá and Purus Rivers. There may be as many as 1,000 of them, though their true population is unknown. The group has fought with anyone who tries to contact them, even other indigenous tribes.
“Fundamentalist Christian Americans must be stopped from this primitive urge to contact previously uncontacted tribes,” Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, said.
“It may lead to the martyrdom they seek, but always ends up killing tribespeople.”