A girl named Smile
More than 20 years of working with the Suruwahara Indians in the Amazon Basin of Brazil have made an impact on our lives. We have not only learned their language and culture, but have come to a point where we are as much a part of their lives and history as they are of ours. We have eaten monkey brains with them, and they have painted our bodies with their beautiful paintings. We have also shared their joys and sorrows by welcoming their newborn children into the world and by helping bury their dead.
Over these years we have cried a lot. We have cried with the mothers that were forced by cultural tradition to abandon their children in the jungle. We have cried with the young single girls who got pregnant and had to watch their fathers kill the babies with bow an arrow. We mourned the death of a mother and father who preferred to commit suicide instead of killing their two sick children. We then learned that one of this couple’s children, a five year old boy, was buried alive by an older brother. He was killed because he was not able to walk or talk.
But we were also given a most wonderful gift by the Suruwaha – our little daughter Hakani. She was rescued from the tribe after being abandoned by everyone she knew because she could not walk or talk. Her parents committed suicide because they could not bring themselves to kill her. This meant that Hakani was not only alone, but it also meant that she suffered all kinds of physical and emotional abuse for more than three years. It was at that time we finally received permission to bring her out of the tribe. She god medical treatment, and learned not only how to walk and talk, but also how to read and write. She is now a beautiful and happy girl, and a fine little artist.
Hakani’s name means smile. She has inspired her own people to take a stand against their ancient tribal tradition of infanticide. In turn, the courage of these Indians has inspired my husband and me to launch a national movement in Brazil called ATNI – VOICE FOR LIFE, dedicated to saving precious Indigenous children who are at risk of being killed for cultural reasons.