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Piaroa Suffer from Untreated Diseases


Kapé Kapé, a Venezuelan indigenous research and advocacy organization, has conducted a thorough study of the health needs of the Piaroa and the results, announced last week, are grim. Perhaps the most surprising finding, as described in a Venezuelan news report, is that the illegal mining activities that are rampant in the region appear to be responsible for the explosion of cases of malaria. This is a particularly serious situation for the Piaroa and their neighboring indigenous peoples because of their lack of good health care.

People in Atabapo municipality of Amazonas state

People in Atabapo municipality of Amazonas state (Photo by Veronidae in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

The research effort conducted by Kapé Kapé, with Luis Betancourt serving as principal investigator, began in January 2018 in the State of Amazonas and particularly in Atabapo municipality. The researchers began to collect data about the health conditions of the inhabitants, many of whom are Piaroa.

In announcing the results of the investigation, Betancourt stated that research conducted by the Central University of Venezuela’s Institute of Tropical Medicine indicates that the growing number of malaria cases originates primarily in the mining camps. He added that the state government tacitly allows the mining camps to exist, which complicates addressing the malaria issue. Further confusing the situation is that the Piaroa territories affected are hard to get to, which makes both keeping track of the diseases and their treatment difficult.

Yanomami young people in Alto Orinoco municipality, Amazonas state

Yanomami young people in Alto Orinoco municipality, Amazonas state (Photographer unknown but presumed by Wikipedia to have a Creative Commons license)

The figures presented by the research must be considered to be unofficial since they have not been approved by the state, but they are alarming nonetheless. In the municipality of Alto Orinoco, located to the east of Atabapo, out of about 11,000 inhabitants, the study identified 396 cases of malaria, at least five of which were Yanomami people. Those five reportedly died of the disease. In Manapiare municipality, the Environmental Health Directorate of the Ministry of Health reported 797 cases of malaria in the first three months of 2018.

In Atures, the municipality at the northern tip of the state that includes the capital city of Puerto Ayacucho, the report indicated there were 4,562 cases of the disease among just the indigenous inhabitants. The large number is due to the population of the municipality—180,000 people.

The Kape Kape report

The Kape Kape report

Betancourt pointed out that because Atures contains the state capital, it has the resources to cope with the disease problem. The other six more rural municipalities they studied lack access to methods of preventing malaria and they do not have good programs for controlling and treating it. Other diseases are also inadequately handled in rural Amazonas. The researcher said that in much of the state, the indigenous people die when they are exposed to dangerous illnesses.

As an example, he cited a one-year old Piaroa girl who died in June due to malaria in the Parhuaza sector of Bolivar state. Her death went unreported because there is no mechanism in her area for preventing dangerous diseases. Wilmer Pérez, a social worker in that sector, explained that the indigenous people suffer not only from malaria but also from child malnutrition.

Betania de Topocho, a Piaroa, reports from communities north of Puerto Ayacucho that between October 2017 and April 2018 there were 326 cases of malaria. Many were repeated incidents of the disease. The full, 12-page report is available as a PDF on the Kapé Kapé website.


Victims of Amish Sexual Abuse


A new organization called the Amish Heritage Foundation, formed mainly by Ms. Torah Bontrager, held its first conference at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA, three weeks ago. The conference, titled “Disrupting History: Reclaiming Our Amish Story,” focused on ex-Amish people and their reasons for leaving their communities. It was held on September 28 – 29 and a report about it by a participant was published last week by the Mennonite World Review.

Ms. Bontrager’s story of fleeing from an abusive Michigan Amish family in the dark of the night at age 15 was apparently one of the attention-getting aspects of the conference. She tells her story in a recent autobiography, An Amish Girl in Manhattan. In her various reports, she describes being repeatedly abused and raped by members of her own family, her resentment about being denied the benefits of an education, her determination to get an Ivy League college degree, her graduation from Columbia University, and, most recently, her determination to help the Amish correct the wrongs that have grown up in their society.

According to the recent article about the conference, she is devoting herself to decrying the culture of rape that she claims exists among the Amish. She is also speaking out about what she sees as an oppressive patriarchy that is an integral aspect of traditional Amish society. She advocates for other people who have fled from Amish communities, as she did.

School children playing next to a Lancaster County schoolhouse

Amish school children playing next to a Lancaster County schoolhouse (Photo by Mark Goebel on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Ms. Bontrager and Elam Zook, the co-founder of the organization, organized the symposium to address what they see as harmful forces that are afflicting the Amish of today. One theme they chose for the event was the limited education the Amish will allow for their children, a right that they won with the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision Wisconsin v. Yoder, which affirmed that the Amish could exempt their children from laws that require compulsory schooling.

Many scholars have celebrated that decision as a victory for religious liberty but a speaker at the conference, Prof. Marcie Hamilton from the University of Pennsylvania, described it as permitting a type of child abuse. She decried the lack of education allowed for Amish kids as a violation of their human rights while other speakers suggested that restricting the Amish from getting the educations they need to thrive in the contemporary world violates the basic Anabaptist tradition of voluntary baptism.

Two young Amish women in Lancaster County

Two young Amish women in Lancaster County (Photo by Utente in Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)

Mr. Zook and Michael Billig, an anthropology professor at Franklin & Marshall, argued that scholars can be implicated in helping to foster some of problems of the Amish, especially the abuse and oppression of women. Those two pointed out that scholarship about the Amish romanticizes their lives as “idyllic, orderly and peaceful.” That scholarship has rationalized or ignored the oppressive and dysfunctional aspects of Amish society, the speakers maintained. One of the major purposes of the conference was to counter that narrative by providing a forum for people who have fled the communities.

Another facet of the conference was to provide a forum for disaffected members of other groups, such as ultra-orthodox Jewish and Muslim people, so they could tell their stories and share their experiences of fleeing oppression. The recent report mentions several of their presentations before concluding with a brief analysis of the claims of the Amish Heritage Foundation and its founders. The reporter, John D. Roth, disputes some of the arguments presented during the sessions. He questions, for instance, the foundation’s claims that the Amish are at risk of going extinct because of their resistance to change. Mr. Roth rebuts that argument by mentioning scholarship that points out they are one of the fastest growing religious bodies in the U.S.

Mr. Roth, who is the Director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism at Goshen College, continues by disputing the critique of current Amish scholarship. He argues that recent studies have shown that Amish society in general is quite dynamic, adapting well to changes in the culture and economic forces of the surrounding, larger society. He also mentions that scholars—he does not name them—have often described the differences among the various Amish groups and more recently scholars have addressed such critical issues among the Amish as sexual abuse, mental health, and internal conflicts. Roth expresses the need for more study about the proposition that the Amish are at a disadvantage when they make the choice to leave their communities.

Ms. Bontrager hopes that this conference will be the first in an annual event and Mr. Zook hopes that it will foster more conversations about the issues it has identified.



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