Friday, October 12, 2012

Memorializing the Horrors of El Caucho

Chained indigenous rubber workers. 
Rubber king Arana.
A rubber industry workhouse. 
Colombia's indigenous people of the Amazon are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the horrific rubber boom at the beginning of the last century, when tens of thousands of indigenous people were enslaved and worked to death by a Peruvian company exporting its production to English industries in this early example of globalization.

Sir Roger Casemont, an Englishman
who investigated the rubber industry's
Today, Pres. Santos sent the indigenous communities a message "asking for forgiveness for your dead, your orphans and your victims" sacrificed "for a supposed 'progress' which didn't understand the importance of safeguarding every person and every indigenous culture."

La Voragine, a classic novel
about the rubber industry's abuses.
(Some would argue that those words could also apply to the development 'locomotives' being promoted by Santos' government today, most of which consist of digging up and exporting the nation's natural resources, at great cost to its biodiversity and indigenous cultures.)

The horrors of the rubber, or caucho, exploitation were immortalized by Colombian writer José Eustasio Rivera in his 1924 novel El Voragine.

Almost all of the rubber production was done in the Putumayo region by a Peruvian company named La Casa Arana, which exported most of its rubber to England, altho the United States' automobile boom also drove the demand for rubber.

A sign today on Plaza Bolivar says that native
peoples have nothing to celebrate.
The English carried out several investigations, led by Irishman Sir. Roger Casemont, which reported the horrors of slavery, torture and mass murder in the rubber production. But the industry only declined after the English exported seeds and planted rubber in Africa and Malaysia, where production and transport were cheaper.

The story has a dramatic postscript. Casemont, who had also investigated atrocities by Belgium in the African Congo, went on to fight for Irish independence - by conspiring with Germany during World War I. However, he was captured by the British and hanged in 1916. Mario Vargas Llosa wrote Casemont's story in his recent historical novel  'The Dream of the Celt.'

An indigenous woman and child begging on a sidewalk in downtown Bogotá. Indigenous people from the Amazon have had a particularly difficult time integrating into western culture. 

Indigenous women street merchants. Indigenous people from mountain and desert regions, particularly Quechua speakers from Ecuador, seem to succeed relatively well commercially. 

An indigenous woman wheels her wares past a street mural saying 'Mucho Indio.'

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


mauricio forero l said...

You see Miguel, I'm so proud of you this time, amazing post, intelligent informative...

Bravo Miguel.


Have you read the novel LA VORAGINE??

Miguel said...

Thanks Mauricio. I'm glad that you like the post. No, I haven't read La Voragine, but hope to.

Best, Mike

amanda said...

Hi Mike, I went on your bike tour a couple of years ago and subscribe to you blog. I really appreciated this post. I am doing doctoral research on La Vorágine (and other jungle novels) and may be coming down to Colombia next year for research. I was wondering if you had an email where we could correspond. I wanted to ask you a couple of logistical/contact questions, since you seem to be so well connected in Bogotá. You can contact me at amanda(dot)mignonne(at)gmail(dot)com