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Story Publication logo September 18, 2023

Indigenous Suicide: An Epidemic in Murutinga (Spanish)


a house on the amazon at night

Indigenous medicinal practices in the Amazon may hold the clues to overcoming an epidemic of...

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Multiple Authors

This story excerpt was translated from Spanish. To read the original story in full, visit El País. You may also view the original story on the Rainforest Journalism Fund website. Our website is available in EnglishSpanishbahasa IndonesiaFrench, and Portuguese.

Editor's note: This project discusses themes of suicide and self-harm that may be upsetting to some people.

Sunset in the Amazon jungle, on the outskirts of Murutinga, an Indigenous town in Vaupés. Image by Miguel Winograd. Colombia, 2023.

Indigenous community successfully curbs suicide, but faces new risk factors

Let's start this story with a map. One glance is enough to understand it.

The green triangles symbolize family homes. The yellow circles above these homes indicate that there were members there who attempted suicide. The blue ones indicate that there were people with suicidal ideations, and the red ones indicate that someone took his or her own life. This means that of the 34 houses that make up this "neighborhood," suicide has been around in half of them.

The map is of an Indigenous community called Murutinga, about two hours by road from Mitú, the capital of Vaupés. When Camila Rodríguez and several of her colleagues drew it up in 2013, together with the inhabitants of that place, she was shocked. "We couldn't believe what we were seeing," she recalls. "It was very strong. We weren't very clear about what we had to do, and it was the first time Murutinga had faced that situation."

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As a physician and member of the NGO Sinergias, Rodríguez, who holds a master's degree in Public Health from the University of Washington and specializes in care in intercultural contexts, has been traveling through Vaupés for some 10 years. He knows well its river paths and the twists and turns of the jungle. When she arrived that time in Murutinga to do another maternal health campaign, the leaders surprised her. The epidemic of suicides that, they believed, came down from Yavaraté, on the border with Brazil, had knocked on their doors, and they needed help because they did not understand what was happening. Suicide was already a frequent topic of conversation in that department, but in Murutinga it was getting out of hand.

Video courtesy of El País.

The starry sky over the home of Javier Gómez, captain of Murutinga. In his ethnography of the communities of the region. Image by Miguel Winograd. Colombia, 2023.

The graph shows the suicide rate in Vaupés in the last seven years. The difference with Colombia is notable (the data for 2020 and 2021 are distorted by the pandemic). Graphic by El País.

The second graph shows the groups where most cases of suicide have occurred. The majority are young people between 19 and 26 years of age; there is also a good percentage of minors. Graphic by El País.

Gregorio López, 58 years old, is a Bará expert. He laments that he is one of the last to know traditional culture. Image by Miguel Winograd. Colombia, 2023.

Lucélida Betancourt, survivor of a suicide attempt outside her home in Murutinga. Image by Miguel Winograd. Colombia, 2023.