In Latin America, the pandemic is killing indigenous storytellers

For indigenous communities in Latin America, COVID-19 is having an immeasurable impact on the bastions of traditional knowledge.


As the pandemic advances inexorably in Latin America, the wretched tales of loss and suffering are never-ending. And one of those tales is making the region’s indigenous communities deeply alarmed — the death of their tribal elders.

Antonio Bolívar was one of them. He was chief of the Colombian indigenous Ocaina community. Bolívar was a wise man. He was also a celebrity. He played the role of shaman “Karamakate” in the 2015 award-winning Colombian film Embrace of the Serpent. On April 30, the pandemic killed him. He was 75.

The death of indigenous elders is “tragic”, read a statement of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC). The statement said that more than 66.7% of Colombian indigenous who died from COVID-19 were over the age of 60. Those who are dying, ONIC noted, “are the elders — those who hold millennial knowledge, passed from generation to generation”.

Originally published at on August 6, 2020.

Latin American journalist and senior academic at RMIT University, Melbourne — Australia