Gold Fever, COVID-19 and the Genocide of the Yanomami

What I’ve been dreading since the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Brazil on February 25th has happened. After testing positive for coronavirus, a 15 year old Yanomami boy died on April 10th in the hospital in Roraima, the Brazilian state where most of the Yanomami reserve is located. The teenager complained of chest pains, difficulty breathing, a sore throat and a fever. Reportedly, his community had to threaten the health team after his transportation request was denied in order to have him taken to the General Hospital of Roraima. When he arrived at the hospital, he was sent to the intensive care unit and intubated. The boy was from a community on the Uraricoera river which has long been plagued by gold miners.

photo montage: Yanomami boy targeted – Barbara Crane Navarro

As of December 31st, there are over 1600 confirmed cases of Covid-19 among the Yanomami and too many have died. Gold miners are vectors of the disease. They also bring violence; two Yanomami from the Xaruna community in Parima were murdered by gold miners.

For many decades, Yanomami territory has been invaded by tens of thousands of gold miners. Previously, gold miners propagated influenza and measles which have historically been deadly for the Yanomami. Indigenous peoples lack resistance to external diseases and living all together in communal dwellings makes social distancing impossible to achieve. If an indigenous person is infected with the coronavirus, their entire village could be decimated.

Yanomami leaders say that wildcat gold miners are responsible for bringing coronavirus into their communities. They are very concerned because over 25,000 gold miners are now operating in their preserve, polluting the rivers with mercury and contaminating the fish. As the virus spreads throughout Brazil, the gold rush in the Amazon continues unabated, confirming the potential for devastation among the 850,000 indigenous people in the country. 

Yanomami territory, Uraricoera river, January 2016 above and August 2019 below, satellite photo:

Meanwhile, the exhibition “The Yanomami Struggle” organized by the Cartier Foundation, with its deceptive museum-like façade, includes this description: “Representing a people whose very existence is in jeopardy, Davi Kopenawa paints an unforgettable picture of Yanomami culture, past and present, in the heart of the rainforest–a world where ancient indigenous knowledge and shamanic traditions cope with the global geopolitics of an insatiable natural resources extraction industry.” 


The exhibition publicity continues with this statement: “The situation further deteriorated in the 1980s when Yanomami lands are invaded by 40,000 GOLD MINERS. More than 15% of the population dies from malaria and infectious diseases.”

Claudia Andujar, La Lutte Yanomami, 2020, Fondation Cartier, Paris. LUC BOEGLY 2020

Now, this Cartier exhibition is being shown at the Triennale Milano in Italy while Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, proposes allowing commercial gold mining in indigenous areas and is contemptuous of ecological efforts and indigenous interests. He also minimizes the serious health disaster that coronavirus represents.

What can we do about this intolerable situation? We obviously would never accept contamination to our drinking water supply, nor mining destruction in our gardens or our own towns.

photo montage: Swept under the red carpet – series “Pas de Cartier” – Barbara Navarro with ad for Cartier and photo João Laet/The Guardian

If you are planning to wear gold jewelry or offer gold items as a gift, please reconsider. The Yanomami and all indigenous peoples whose lands are being ravaged to extract gold and diamonds as well as other minerals are worth more, far more than ostentatious adornments. 

Please stop buying and wearing gold and diamond jewelry and instead help defend the world against the predatory madness of Cartier and other businesses that promote the idea of “luxury”  as the accumulation of useless baubles.

Real luxury is living and thriving in a healthy and unpolluted world. Let’s support, encourage and promote that vision of the future.

“When you cut down the trees you assault the spirits of our ancestors. When you dig for minerals you impale the heart of the Earth. And when you pour poisons on the land and into the rivers – chemicals from agriculture and mercury from gold mines – you weaken the spirits, the plants, the animals and the land itself. When you weaken the land like that, it starts to die. If the land dies, if our Earth dies, then none of us will be able to live, and we too will all die.” – cacique Raoni Metuktire

About Barbara Crane Navarro - Rainforest Art Project

I'm a French artist living near Paris. From 1968 to 1973 I studied at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island, then at the San Francisco Art Institute in San Francisco, California, for my BFA. My work for many decades has been informed and inspired by time spent with indigenous communities. Various study trips devoted to the exploration of techniques and natural pigments took me originally to the Dogon of Mali, West Africa, and subsequently to Yanomami communities in Venezuela and Brazil. Over many years, during the winters, I studied the techniques of traditional Bogolan painting. Hand woven fabric is dyed with boiled bark from the Wolo tree or crushed leaves from other trees, then painted with mud from the Niger river which oxidizes in contact with the dye. Through the Dogon and the Yanomami, my interest in the multiplicity of techniques and supports for aesthetic expression influenced my artistic practice. The voyages to the Amazon Rainforest have informed several series of paintings created while living among the Yanomami. The support used is roughly woven canvas prepared with acrylic medium then textured with a mixture of sand from the river bank and lava. This supple canvas is then rolled and transported on expeditions into the forest. They are then painted using a mixture of acrylic colors and Achiote and Genipap, the vegetal pigments used by the Yanomami for their ritual body paintings and on practical and shamanic implements. My concern for the ongoing devastation of the Amazon Rainforest has inspired my films and installation projects. Since 2005, I've created a perfomance and film project - Fire Sculpture - to bring urgent attention to Rainforest issues. To protest against the continuing destruction, I've publicly set fire to my totemic sculptures. These burning sculptures symbolize the degradation of nature and the annihilation of indigenous cultures that depend on the forest for their survival.
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10 Responses to Gold Fever, COVID-19 and the Genocide of the Yanomami

  1. czls says:

    Yes. It is tragic what is happening to the Yanomami with the ravages of gold miners. What we value and the way we consume will require, of course, a drastic revision.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Now that a Yanomami boy has died from coronavirus transmitted by gold miners, the exclusively virtual exhibition at the Cartier Foundation shocks with this description: “Representing a people whose very existence is in jeopardy, Davi Kopenawa paints an unforgettable picture of Yanomami culture, past and present, in the heart of the rainforest–a world where ancient indigenous knowledge and shamanic traditions cope with the global geopolitics of an INSATIABLE NATURAL RESOURCES EXTRACTION INDUSTRY”, indeed, the very GOLD extraction industry represented by Cartier!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Sandy says:

    Hi Barbara, I read about the death of that Yanomami boy in the Swedish newspaper DN. I thought immediately of you and whether or not you knew him personally. It’s horrible what greed is doing to earth and all her creatures.
    Stephanie told me about your blog. Stay safe!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Barbara Navarro - Rainforest Art Project says:

    Hi Sandy, What’s happening to indigenous peoples all over the Amazon region is devastating. I don’t know the boy who died personally, but I worry about the Yanomami I do know as well as those I haven’t met. The out-of-control gold mining in their territory has been bringing diseases that are ordinary for us and deadly for them, but now with COVID-19, they are all in mortal danger!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sandy says:

      Hi Barbara! What can I do to help? I donate to saving the rainforest projects, and have signed petitions against Bolsonaro but, I fear the rich and greedy will win out in the end.
      Have you stayed healthy? I had the virus, or without being tested, I’m fairly sure I did. I’m on the mend now! Michelle and Sebastian have also been sick.
      Big virtual hug!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Barbara Navarro - Rainforest Art Project says:

        Hi Sandy, It would be fabulous if you could amplify the message about the death and devastation caused by gold mining and, by association, the luxury watch and jewelry industry that is using dirty blood gold in their expensive products.
        No one really needs a gold watch to tell time nor gold jewelry to impress. I think people in Sweden who are already prepared to fly less to mitigate damage to the climate would be ready to repudiate gold trinkets in order to help indigenous people and the rainforests!
        I’m glad to hear your health is improving after an ordeal with coronavirus! Stay well, ll of you! XXOO!!

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Gold is, of itself, a disease of the human mind. For years, the hundreds of illegal gold mining camps throughout Yanomami territory in Brazil and Venezuela have been polluting the rivers with mercury and destroying the forest. The gold miners have historically spread disease, now COVID-19. If this gold folly isn’t stopped now, the Yanomami, other indigenous people and, ultimately, all of the Amazon will be destroyed.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Reblogged this on Barbara Crane Navarro and commented:

    As of June 22nd, there are at least 168 cases of COVID-19 in Yanomami communities; five deaths and three more suspected deaths from the virus. Gold miners are vectors of the disease. They also bring violence; two Yanomami from the Xaruna community in Parima were murdered by gold miners this week.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: The Blinding sorcery of Gold | Barbara Crane Navarro

  8. Pingback: « They were standing in our way. If we had not taken over their forest, we would have no gold. »  | Barbara Crane Navarro

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