What Really Saved The Kids In The Colombian Jungle? Maybe It Was Faith
Much has been said about how the children's local culture helped them survive 40 days stranded. But there are indigenous people in Colombia who believe "natural spirits" watched over them, keeping them safe until it was time for them to be found.
BOGOTÁ — "Miracle, Miracle, Miracle!" were the first words Colombian soldiers said after finding 13-year-old Lesly Mucutuy and her younger siblings, Soleiny Mucutuy, 9, Tien Noriel Ronoque Mucutuy, 4, and Cristin Neriman Ranoque Mucutuy, 1. The indigenous children had been lost for 40 days in the dark, dank forest of the southern Colombian department of Guaviare.
The children were on a plane which crashed on May 1; they weren't found until June 9. Their mother died soon after the crash.
A miracle — first, because finding them alive seemed so unlikely. They had survived a plane crash, and weeks in the jungle alongside panthers, snakes and insects, under relentless rain. But the soldiers also felt divine intervention had helped them find the children. It was metaphysics then, not their equipment.
The children's grandfather, Fidencio Valencia, said "Thank you to all the people who prayed, who gave faith and ... all the love to see the children again, alive and well." He meant the "metaphysical strength" that comes from prayer, regardless of any particular religion, as an intangible act of human solidarity.
The children's grandmother, Fátima, told Lesly, the 13-year-old, that she had "a fighter's spirit." Fabián Mulcue, a member of the Indigenous guard that took part in the search operations, told BBC correspondent Daniel Pardo that "What the community elders were saying ... is that the spirit was hiding them." This spirit, he said, "can be represented in a person or animal. It can be anything."
Álex Rufino, a member of the Ticuna nation, which spans Colombia, Peru and Brazil, told the BBC that seeing the discovery of the children as a 'miracle,' a rescue or a heroic feat of the army made no sense, according to their worldview. "We do not speak of miracles, but of spiritual connection with nature. The children were in their natural setting, in the care of the jungle and the wisdom of years of contact between native populations and nature."
Dairo Mucutuy, the uncle of the surviving children, speaks during a press conference in Bogota.
Evidently, for the white or mixed-race population here, the jungle was and remains an adversary, a mysterious and incomprehensible place that could have swallowed the children in its depths. The survival of the children depended, crucially, on their ability to live with the forest another way, in harmony and symbiosis.
Spiritual practices are frequently dismissed in the modern world.
"We don't see it with a fearful perspective or in terms of danger, but with respect," Ruffino says. "Every centimeter of the forest has an inescapable spirituality. Every movement implies dialogue with the shaman, with space," Ruffino was speaking of the spiritual dimension of this incident, which seems to be the common thread in all versions.
Spiritual practices are frequently dismissed in the modern world, as irrational, banal and incidental. And yet, I cannot help thinking, in spite of so many differences and the improbability of an alliance between the army and the Indigenous guard, how the spiritual practices of all those searching for the children would have helped preserve hope and build a sense of community, bringing sense to the inexplicable. Colombia's Vice-President Francia Márquez has said that "When we place knowledge and institutions side by side to work steadily in the people's service, we can find solutions, save lives and build hope collectively."
That collective construction of hope won't happen without understanding and harmonizing the immense political power of connecting people with life — which we sometimes call spirit.
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