Who are the Uitoto, the ancestral people to whom the children who survived alone in the Colombian jungle for 40 days belong

It is a story that is rarely told: four children, between the ages of 13 and 12 months, survived wandering through the thick Amazon jungle for 40 days, after the accident of the plane in which they were traveling, in which three lost their lives. Adults.

The story of how the brothers survived without food, at the mercy of mosquitoes and wild animals in an inhospitable region, has not yet been told by the children.

However, for the four minors, the jungle was not a foreign place. On the contrary, is part of your home, their natural environment: the children are from the muina murui indigenous community, better known as the uitoto.

"We call ourselves muina murui, but the other communities call us uitoto as a nickname," María Kuiru, a community member, tells BBC Mundo.

The children were found after they had spent 40 days wandering through the jungle.

Kuiru, whose traditional name is Jitomakury, is the Secretary for Women, Family and Children of the Indigenous Zonal Association of Cabildos and Traditional Authorities of La Chorrera, which brings together various communities such as the Muina Murui-Uitoto,

The muina murui, which translates as "sons of tobacco, coca and sweet yucca," are one of the largest indigenous communities inhabiting the Amazon rainforest. In addition to Colombia, they also have a presence in Peru and Brazil.

And they know very well the area where the accident occurred and the rescue operation.

The children were being sought after the disappearance of the plane in which they were traveling with their mother was reported, last May 1st.

In fact, several members of this community, which has some 8,000 members and represents 0.5% of the indigenous population in Colombia, were part of the operations that finally allowed them to be found.

“We inhabit the Predio Putumayo indigenous reservation, our ancestral territory, which is one of the best-preserved forests in the Amazon,” notes Kuiru.

She adds that the jungle is a wild and inhospitable place, but that Thanks to its ecological calendar, it is also the main source of food for those who inhabit it and know how to “read” it.

“We, thanks to our traditional practices, balance our daily survival in the jungle. And that is taught to children from the earliest years. That played a part in the fact that the four children survived 40 days, ”she says.

Sacred herbs: coca and tobacco

Very little is known about the presence of the muina murui or uitoto in Colombian territory before the beginning of the 20th century.

Its economy is based mainly on hunting and fishing, in addition to the collection of sweet cassava, a product that is cultivated especially in this area of ​​the country.


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Grandparents or older people have a fundamental role in the rituals and processes of the community.

“Every day he goes out into the forest, with the families, to look for something. We live in the jungle all our lives. And in that day to day, we learn what is eaten and what is not eaten”, she points out.

One of the main traditions of the muina murui is the use of coca leaves and tobacco for ceremonies and rites.

While the men are engaged in physical tasks such as hunting and fishing, the women are in charge of carrying out the rituals in the maloca, or in the house where they congregate in each of their communities.

“For us, coca leaves and tobacco are sacred leaves. So they are the ones that are used the most”, says María Kuiru.

The origin of the use of coca leaf and tobacco has to do with the healing powers of both, which gives it its holy character.

"These sacred leaves were given to us by our creator for the spiritual management of the world," he adds.

However, not only these two leaves are essential for community culture, but also the sweet yucca leaf, which is widely available in the jungle.

“The mambeo of this leaf is done especially by women, who are the sweet yucca. We turn it into a drink to drink it in our traditional dances, ”she recounts.


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The Uitoto have a special relationship with the Amazon jungle.

"That drink serves to cleanse the heart, to cleanse the hearts that come unloaded to our dances."

Another consumer product among the muina murui is bitter cassava or fariña, which is believed to be what the children ate during the days they were in the jungle.

The rubber boom

For centuries, the Uitoto managed to stay out of touch with the great processes of conquest and colonization that were taking place on the continent.

However, it was the call “rubber boom” at the beginning of the 20th century which not only meant their first contact with mestizo peoples, but also brought the community almost to the brink of extinction: the founding of Casa Arana, a famous Peruvian trading house that operated mainly along the Putumayo River in Colombia, he used the uitotos as slaves for the exploitation of that coveted material.

About 40 thousand of us died due to that exploitation. We are the descendants of the few who managed to survive,” says Kuiru.

Chained indigenous Uitoto

The indigenous people of the Amazon were enslaved during the “rubber boom” at the beginning of the 20th century.

The genocide carried out by the owner of the Arana house, Julio César Arana, who was portrayed in such well-known novels as La Vorágine, caused the Uitoto population to disperse.

This was followed by the war between Colombia and Peru in 1932, which put the indigenous population to live with soldiers and military for the first time and led to members of the community being enslaved to work in the rubber plantations.

  • "The Leticia conflict": how was the war between Peru and Colombia for a small territory (and who won)
  • “Many towns and clans, like the one of the Sun, disappeared due to that genocide. But little by little we re-occupied our ancestral territories with a lot of resilience”, says Kuiru.

    But in recent years they have experienced a phenomenon difficult to overcome: coca leaf crops coveted for drug trafficking.

    “We use the coca leaf to heal ourselves, for our rituals, not to sell it. That exploitation of something that is sacred to us has deeply affected us as a community,” she concludes.

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