Indigenous teens in Vaupés, a region in eastern Colombia, are committing suicide in increasing numbers. While the suicide rate in Bogotá is 4.9 per 100 000 inhabitants, in Vaupés it is 38. The phenomenon has been dubbed the “rope epidemic”. Investigations into the issue have turned up a mix of folklore and the influences of Western society.
The suicides have also been blamed on the various church groups that have been working in the area since 2014. The church wants the people to desist from rituals involving a plant with hallucinogenic properties, called yagé (also known as ayahuasca) and from drinking alcohol, a common addiction.
The indigenous people of this area also resist the boarding school system the government created to educate indigenous children, who are removed from their homes and families for months or even years.
A graduate of this system, Orlando Rodriguez, says that the schooling system “taught us that progress is studying more. It convinced us, as it still does, that the best thing is to go out into the world and leave Vaupés.”
Numa reports that the youth of Vaupés increasingly choose to reject cultivating crops in favour of work as, for example, commercial bike riders in the city of Mitú. Living in two worlds, says Numa, “provokes a highly complex conflict in their community, with their parents and with themselves, which explodes when alcohol appears. Then you have the suicides.”
Category: Summer 2016