A Journey of Love and Loss: Remembering Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira
Last Updated: June 15, 2024By
A Journey of Love and Loss: Remembering Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira

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A Heartbreaking Reunion

Alessandra Sampaio fell to her knees, tears streaming down her face, as she stepped onto the boat’s deck. Before her lay the remote riverside clearing where her husband’s life was tragically taken. The place that changed her life forever.

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The air was filled with Sampaio’s cries, mingling with birdsong and the haunting voice of an Indigenous shaman. This was the jungle where British journalist Dom Phillips and his Brazilian colleague Bruno Pereira were brutally killed in June 2022.

“Dom and Bruno are here! Save them! Their spirits are lost here! We can’t see them but they are here!” shouted César Marubo, an 85-year-old shaman, pleading with Kana Voã, his people’s god, to guide their souls to paradise. “Take them by the hand and lift them up into heaven!” he implored, his own eyes brimming with tears.

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A Painful Visit

On the riverbank, framed by bright red Amazonian fruit, two wooden crosses marked where Phillips and Pereira were ambushed. The accused, a trio of illegal fishers, await trial in prison. “What I most want is to leave this pain behind,” Sampaio had said the evening before, preparing for her first visit to the site of Phillips’s last reporting mission.

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Marking two years since the shocking crime, Sampaio’s visit was part of her personal journey to cope with her husband’s loss. Dom Phillips, a longtime Guardian reporter, was writing a book about the Amazon when he was killed. “I’m not angry. I’ve never felt anger, I just miss him so much,” Sampaio shared, wearing his wedding ring on a necklace.

Honoring Dom’s Legacy

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But this pilgrimage wasn’t just about mourning. It was also to announce the Dom Phillips Institute, aimed at honoring his legacy through educational initiatives about the Amazon and its Indigenous peoples. “We don’t want to be frozen in pain and frustration. We want to forge ahead,” Sampaio said on the boat journey to the memorial site. “We must transform this pain into a positive movement – and give new meaning to everything that happened.”

The institute would reflect Phillips’s qualities: tenderness, a desire to listen, and respect for diversity and life. “I think that if Dom was here talking to me now he’d say: ‘Go Alê: move forwards, learn more, make contacts, help to echo this message about this incredible thing that is the Amazon and all of its beauties,’” Sampaio said.

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A Shared Struggle

Members of the search teams who had looked for Phillips and Pereira accompanied Sampaio, paying their respects. “It was such a tragedy and we are here to celebrate them,” said Binin Carlos Matis, an Indigenous activist. Orlando Possuelo, who helped coordinate the search, hoped the memorial would remind activists of the dangers they face. “We don’t want the Javari valley to be filled with crosses,” he said.

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Sampaio’s journey continued to Atalaia do Norte, visiting the headquarters of Evu, an Indigenous monitoring group. There, she learned about the ongoing threats to the Javari valley from illegal activities despite government efforts to control them. “There are 300 points of invasion,” Possuelo explained, showing a map dotted with threats.

Struggles and Hopes

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Despite the challenges, Sampaio heard uplifting stories of Evu’s increased efforts since her husband’s death. Their membership has doubled, with plans to expand their patrols. At the Univaja base, which coordinated the 2022 search, Sampaio discussed the institute’s plans and listened to local leaders’ concerns and hopes.

Teacher Nilo Marubo spoke about the exodus of young people from Indigenous villages due to lack of opportunities, leading to problems in cities. Marina Mayuruna, a 27-year-old activist, highlighted the violence against Indigenous women and girls. “Some men will tell you this doesn’t happen. But it does – and it’s the women who suffer,” she said.

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Clóvis Marubo, a 58-year-old leader, worried about the loss of traditional ways of life. “Our culture is becoming folklore,” he lamented, noting how many young people no longer knew traditional skills or languages.

A Special Place

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Listening intently, Sampaio was moved by their words, just as her husband had been. She saw the Amazonian treasures that had fascinated Phillips: the yellow-rumped cacique birds, dolphins in the water, and statues of snakes and jaguars in the town.

Sampaio even participated in a Matis whipping ritual called mariwin, enduring the lash to frighten off evil spirits. Despite the pain, she vowed to return to ensure the Dom Phillips Institute’s first project benefits this beloved place.

“I don’t want to be stuck with this [negative] image of the Javari. For me the Javari is a world waiting to be discovered,” she said, gazing across the waters her husband once explored. “This is a special place for me.”

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