Antonio Bolívar as seen in Embrace of the Serpent

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”.