Juanito has died. His little body lies stretched out as if he were just asleep, listening to a lullaby, perhaps dreaming like children his age (five years) do, but he is not; Juanito, in fact, died in agony for the last hours of his life. Before burying him, his family organized a funeral as humble as his way of life: prayers, wind music and a little of rum during the last night of his physical body between them.
In Colombia, there are around half a million children under the age of five who suffer from chronic malnutrition and around fifteen thousand with acute malnutrition, according to the latest National Survey of the Nutritional Situation of Colombia. In indigenous communities, such as Nabusimake, thirty out of every hundred minors present this pathology.
Nabusimake is the capital of the Ika or Arhuaca culture, one of the oldest and most forgotten indigenous communities in Colombia and Latin America; They are direct descendants of the Tayronas, one of the most important pre-Columbian cultures in the South of the continent. Located in a small valley surrounded by the mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, this small natural paradise protects a way of life and worldview very different from the rest of the country, where the trace of Spanish colonialism dominates most of the social strata.
To reach the so-called “capital of the Arhuaco people”, the people who inhabit the deep mountains have to travel for hours through winding paths to seek help in a medicine that not many of them believe in, but has become the last of their hopes when traditional medicine and spiritual practices are not enough to cure any disease.
In the midst of these two opposing worldviews, people like Juanito often struggle between life and death. For Yesi, a “mamo” from the area, who was the last to inspect Juanito when he was already dying, this difference in beliefs and knowledge is a long debate that possibly has neither end nor exit in the logic of both positions.
For the family that raised Juanito, his spirit was doomed from the time he was born; this bad omen was the sentence that marked his life: he was almost always ill and with little energy to live. For those in charge of the small clinic in Nabusimake, and for some neighbors, Juanito’s death is the result of a chain of chronic and systemic problems that, year after year, girls and boys from this and other communities in Colombia face: corruption, poverty, hunger, diseases summed up in one word: malnutrition.
Lullaby is a photographic work that documents not only the death or the mortuary ritual of a minor in Ika-Arhuaco territory, but it is also a window to the way one of the least known people’s lives and that has best preserved its traditions and beliefs in America.