In 2016, Colombia sent a love letter to the world in the form of a movie titled “The Embrace of the Serpent,” a tale of two men, a white explorer named Evan searching the Amazon for the magic yakruna flower, and Karamakate, the last man of his tribe and the only one who knew where to find the flower. The film was shot in the Chiribiquete National Park, Colombia’s largest park and the largest tropical rainforest national park in the world. Because the park is closed to the public, the pristine nature of the region is preserved, including the people who live there, some of whom still do not know of the modern world.
In the film, Karamakate was played by an extraordinary actor, Antonio Bolivar Salvador known as Tiapuyama among his people -- the Ocaina tribe with only about 60 remaining. At the age of 75, Tiapuyama died of Covid-19 on April 30, 2020 in his hometown of Leticia where Colombia, Peru, and Brazil meet. He was a storyteller to his people and keeper of vital wisdom including botanically based medicines, ways of hunting and planting, and creation stories.
Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the indigenous people have been dying in disproportionate numbers due to the virus and with their passing, much of their knowledge is being lost, as well. From loggers, miners and missionaries to the policies of the current Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, the indigenous people of the rainforest have been losing their clansmen, land and culture at an alarming rate. Now, the virus is accelerating their extinction.
There is so much we don’t know and won’t ever know about these people. That’s sad because they enriched our world in so many ways. Here is an excerpt from the obituary for Antonio Bolivar in the May 30, 2020 edition of The Economist that gives a glimpse into the stories this precious man passed on to vanishing generations:
“Father-God when he walked on Earth had left footprints there, handprints there, and huge rocks carved like seats. When humans appeared, some of the great beings who had come before them remained as animals and hence as gods. The stars, too, had once been living beings inside the Earth (some were still there, as diamonds or emeralds), but with evolution over thousands of years had moved up to the sky.”
Rest in peace, Tiapuyama. You are greatly missed.
June 22, 2020