Arts & Entertainment

Rescuing Colombia’s life-giving river from its violent past

Honda, Colombia, Aug 18 (EFE).- At dawn every morning, the fishermen of Honda in central Colombia head out in search of the day’s catch along the banks of the Magdalena, the country’s main river.

But the history of the waterway, which is the source of so many Colombians’ livelihoods, hopes and dreams, is muddied by decades of armed conflict.

During Colombia’s civil war, the country’s bloodiest period, the dismembered bodies of more than 300 victims of forced disappearance floated down the Magdalena, which flows northwards across the country.

Today, the residents of Honda have made their peace with the river.

“I fish in a seasonal shoal and I can get four or six million pesos (between $1,030 and $1,540),” Henry Salcedo, who was a fisherman for 35 years, tells Efe.

“You can save that for the rest of the year. We fishermen thank the Magdalena River for everything,” he added.

The 1,500-km long waterway, however, has been a large mass grave since the 1980s, as paramilitary groups, among others, dumped at least 320 dead bodies into it, according to the National Center for Historical Memory’s tally.

Victims and witnesses of these atrocities have inspired the works of the Magdalena River Contemporary Museum, which six years ago saw historians, anthropologists and researchers venture to transform the country’s relationship with the river.

The museum aims “to re-establish the river’s bond with every citizen, a river that has often been despised, seen like a pig, a violent, poor area,” Germán Ferro, the museum director Germán Ferro tells Efe.

“We wanted to rewrite the story (…) The river is a total experience of cultural life, of the civilizing process, and before thinking about the problems, we must know the river, we must get excited,” he added.

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