You may have heard the story of the four children who survived a plane crash in the Amazonian jungle in Columbia and were found after 40 days.
When the story first filtered through the news it was hailed as a triumph of the Columbian armed forces and the indigenous people working together. If you read more closely you can hear it as a story about the differences between an indigenous and western way of solving an almost impossible problem.
There were seven people onboard the plane and when it had engine failure and went down in the jungle. The adults — the children’s mother and two pilots were found perished in the wreckage and there were signs that the four children from the indigenous Huitoto tribe, aged 13, nine, five, and one, had survived. But they were in such a deep part of the jungle it was nearly impossible for search crews to find them. The Columbian government deployed more than 100 soldiers but it was so dense and the conditions so difficult that many of them dropped out of the search.
Meanwhile the eldest girl was taking care of her two younger sisters and younger brother. At 13 years old she had already been given the knowledge of how to live in the jungle. She had taken the baby and built a hammock in the trees for her where she was safe and happy. They knew which fruits could be eaten and they were eating cassava flour saved from the plane.
After many days of searching one of the indigenous elders did a ceremony to dialogue with the spirit of the jungle about their predicament. They were in such a deep place where “no human was ever meant to go,” that the elder offered to the jungle his own life in exchange for the children. After a deal was made, he gave the Indigenous guard on the search team specific instructions on what to do when the children would be found the very next day, as they were.
In his account of the search, Columbian activist Manual Rozental emphasizes that it was not technology or the armed forces that found them, but the indigenous knowledge and in particular women’s knowledge.