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Story Publication logo June 25, 2020

A Community’s Struggle to Protect Itself From Land Mines in the Colombian Amazon

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Siona: Amazon’s Defenders Under Threat. Image by Tom Laffay. Colombia, undated.
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Siona: Amazon's Defenders Under Threat is a short documentary film commissioned by The New Yorker...

Siona: Amazon’s Defenders Under Threat. Image by Tom Laffay. Colombia, 2020.
Siona: Amazon’s Defenders Under Threat. Image by Tom Laffay. Colombia, 2020.

In late 2018, Adiela Jinet Mera, a soft-spoken member of the Siona indigenous group, who has lived her whole life in the western corner of the Amazon rain forest, decided it was time to "heal the territory" where she grew up, and which her ancestors have inhabited for millennia. The Siona territory and its surroundings had been marred with land mines planted during the Colombian civil war of the past half century. She joined the Colombian Campaign to Ban Landmines; her task would be to identify explosive devices that rebel groups planted in two indigenous reservations. "I know this is not an easy path," she said in a recent speech to her community about the group's mission. "But it's not impossible."

Tom Laffay's documentary "Siona" offers a ten-minute closeup look into the courageous demining work that Mera and her group are undertaking for the well-being of the Siona people. "Our elders say that our territory is our food, our medicine, our life," Mera says while one of those elders performs a spiritual cleansing ritual to protect her. He is blowing tobacco and an herbal liquid behind her head. Laffay, who is also working on a feature-length film with the Siona, recently followed Mera and ten other deminers on a mission to clear nine land mines from a thirty-one-square-foot area. "As Siona people, we cultivate the jungle, and now, unfortunately, our land is contaminated," Mera explains. Clearing the mines makes these areas of the forest once again safe to use. With enough demining, the group hopes to bring back some of the population who have left Siona territory over the years.

Read the full text by Camila Osorio on The New Yorker website