‘There are no words’: As coronavirus kills Indigenous elders, endangered languages face extinction

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Aritana, 71, a chief of the Yawalapiti people in the Amazon, was known for fighting to protect the world's biggest rainforest [File: Ueslei Marcelino/ Reuters]

RIO DE JANEIRO — The old man knew he was dying. The disease he had been warning of for weeks had taken hold, and it wouldn’t be long now. He looked to his son, who would soon be the leader of what remained of their people.

The old man was fluent in five languages, but the one he chose to speak now was one that virtually no one else in the world could understand.

“Awiri nuhã,” Aritana Yawalapiti, 71, said in the language of the Yawalapiti, an Indigenous tribe in the Amazon rainforest. “Take care of the people. Take care of the land. Take care of the forest.”

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