Indigenous searchers seek four missing children in Colombian jungle
By Irene Escudero
San Jose del Guaviare, Colombia, May 22 (EFE).- It’s been 22 days and the location of the four Uitoto children who disappeared after a plane crash in the southern Colombian jungle remains unknown.
But Miguel Romario believes that Mother Nature has been waiting to release them until the group of indigenous people joined the search for the missing kids.
“(Mother Nature) is waiting for us because we have a connection with her. As per tradition we always ask her permission,” said Romario, a Murui tribal guard from the Liriri reservation, in Putumayo.
Starting on Sunday, about 85 members of various tribes from Colombia’s jungle areas joined the military in the search for 11-year-old Lesly Mukutuy; Soleiny Mukutuy, 9; Tien Noriel Ronoque Mukutuy, 4, and 11-month-old Cristin Neruman Ranoque.
Romario on Monday went with a group of 25 people from the Murui, Siona and Coreguaje tribes from Putumayo and Caqueta into the heart of the jungle to look for the children who have been missing since May 1, and he expressed confidence that they will locate the kids within three days.
Romario tells a story that has been repeated by members of other tribes, including by the Uitoto grandmother of the kids, that the jungle has the children trapped. When the plane went down, the story goes, they were injured and part of their spirit has separated from them.
“That’s making them wander around, they don’t stay still, because they’re unconscious,” he says.
The Colombian military has been trying everything to contact the children, broadcasting voice messages from their grandmother by loudspeaker from the air and dropping flyers across the area telling them not to move any more so that searchers can find them more easily.
In this regard, adults from tribes like the Mucui have already begun work to call forth the children’s spirit to be able to find them, “so that (the spirit) returns (to them) and they regain consciousness.”
Romario went into the jungle on Monday on a mission that will not end until the children are found. The searchers are wearing hoods so they can deal with the 16 hours of rain each day, and they are carrying with them hammocks, fariña (a cassava flour), canned food, sweets and liquids, along with “ambil” (a tobacco liquid that provides them with “concentration and strength”), mambe (coca leaf powder) and tobacco.
Before they set out, they always have to hold a ceremony to ask the jungle for permission to enter it and they know they will have to be cautious, but they say they’re not afraid because “God is with them.”
They also attended a meeting with the military who are directing so-called Operation Hope from San Jose del Guaviare, the town where the aircraft was headed and to where the children’s mother, Magdalena Mukutui, was also traveling along with indigenous leader Herman Mendoza and the pilot of the aircraft, Hernando Murcia, whose bodies have already been recovered.
“That jungle is very complicated. Sometimes I feel like we were looking for a flea in a rug that’s jumping all the time,” army Gen. Pedro Sanchez, the commander of the special forces, said.
At present, the military said using a map on a projector, they have found only seven tracks made by the kids and have marked off an area where more than 150 soldiers and seven people from the Araracuara indigenous reservation, where the family lived, are ceaselessly continuing the search.
The zone is virgin forest, in the middle of the unexplored Chiribiquete Park, in Guaviare and Caqueta provinces and bisected by the Apaporis River.
The first physical evidence that gave searchers the “hope that the children were alive” was a bottle supposedly belonging to the baby that they found on Monday. That same day they also found a passion fruit in the area that they think could have been eaten and finally, early in the morning, they found the plane.
The small Cessna 206 has dived nose-first into the jungle canopy, with the tip of the nose touching the leafy ground. The children, the military believes, survived the crash because they were traveling in the tail section, Maj. Jesus Rivera, the commander of field operations, said.
The military and Civil Aeronautics authorities marked off the area and over the next few days they found a shelter 3.6 kilometers (2.2 miles) from the aircraft where the children could have taken shelter and a few footprints. But since Friday they have found nothing else.
Neither the military nor the indigenous volunteers, who are now working shoulder to shoulder, are losing faith and Gen. Sanchez told the group that went out into the jungle on Monday “Let’s make Operation Hope into miracle.”