40 Days, 4 Children, and Their Survival Story in the Amazon Forest

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Indigenous children survival in Amazon

Four Indigenous children who survived a small plane crash in the Colombian Amazon captivated the world by enduring 40 days in the jungle. Their survival was attributed to their knowledge of edible seeds, roots, and plants, passed down through their upbringing. The local expertise of Indigenous adults, working alongside Colombian troops, played a significant role in ultimately locating the children alive.

According to the National Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Colombia (OPIAC), the survival of these children showcases their profound understanding and connection with the natural environment, which is instilled in them from their earliest moments in the mother’s womb.

Tragically, on May 1, the plane crash claimed the lives of the children’s mother, the pilot, and another adult. The surviving siblings relied on the hope that their familiarity with the jungle would sustain them. Their grandfather affectionately referred to them as the “children of the bush.”

During their time in the wilderness, the children survived by consuming yucca flour from the plane and foraging edible items from relief parcels dropped by search helicopters. Their upbringing in the Amazon region enabled them to identify and consume various seeds, fruits, roots, and plants necessary for sustenance, as shared by Luis Acosta of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC).

Acosta, who participated in the search operations, observed that the children possessed a spiritual force that contributed to their survival. Indigenous leaders also shared this perception and arranged for a guardian to spiritually accompany the children outside the military hospital where they received medical care.

Javier Betancourt, an ONIC leader, emphasized the importance of the unique relationship with nature that Indigenous communities possess. Betancourt believes that such a connection is crucial for those who live in and care for the jungle, stressing the significance of fostering this bond in the wider world.

During the search efforts, soldiers and Indigenous trackers collaborated for 20 days. President Gustavo Petro commended the integration of Indigenous and military knowledge, highlighting the respect shown toward the jungle. Army helicopters broadcasted recordings of the children’s grandmother urging them to stay in one spot until rescuers arrived, using the Indigenous Huitoto language.

More than 80 volunteers from Indigenous territories joined forces with around 100 soldiers in what was known as “Operation Hope.” This unique alliance united different groups to work together, despite tensions between Indigenous communities and the armed forces in other parts of Colombia.

While soldiers planned operational strategies, Indigenous searchers performed rituals to connect with jungle spirits, using traditional substances such as mambe (a coca leaf and ash paste) and chirrinchi (a fermented drink). Rescuers cleared paths and marked trees with spray paint, employing their machetes to guide the children.

Indigenous medicinal knowledge proved invaluable in adapting to the challenging jungle conditions, treating injuries, exhaustion, and pain caused by scratches, insect bites, and other physical ailments.

The Indigenous people worked tirelessly, overcoming adverse weather conditions and difficult situations with unwavering hope and spiritual faith that the children would be found. Finally, an Indigenous tracker discovered the siblings in an unexplored area, marking the end of their incredible survival journey.

The remarkable survival of four Indigenous children in the Colombian Amazon after enduring a plane crash and spending 40 days in the jungle highlights their deep connection with nature and their resourcefulness. The collaboration between Indigenous adults and Colombian troops, coupled with Indigenous wisdom and rituals, played a crucial role in locating the children alive. Their incredible story stands as a testament to human resilience and the enduring bond between Indigenous communities and their natural environment.