WEbuilding

Putumayo (not the record label)

At WEbuilding one of our goals is to contribute in the development of rural population through education and essential infrastructure that creates opportunities for young people. We are pairing with Catalina Muñoz Foundation to build two new school buildings needed at the public school “Centro Educativo Madre Laura“, located in the Santiago municipality of the Putumayo department in southern Colombia.

This is a vast and multi-faceted region and its name derives from the Putumayo River, which is born east of the city of Pasto; and as it pours into Brazil it is called Içá. The Putumayo is a tributary of the Amazon River, and it has been written about in fiction and non-fiction accounts for at least a couple of centuries. The area called Putumayo in these writings does not obey however to strict departmental boundaries, but to looser and expansive limits regarding the Amazon region of Colombia, and even beyond political frontiers.

Perhaps the most well-known narrative about this region in Colombia is The Vortex, a novel published in 1924 by José Eustasio Rivera, a frontier fiction which has also been classified as Latin American Regionalism or “earth novel”. In it, the Putumayo River and the jungle become a set in which the author represents many subjects, like the fluidity of borders, the diversity of identities, culture, and people in Colombia and South America, the importance of local and ancestral knowledge, and the internalized colonization which governments and companies kept imposing on indigenous groups after political independence from European countries.

In one of W.G. Sebald’s most popular novels, The Rings of Saturn, he talks about Roger Casement, a British Foreign Office diplomat who in the early twentieth century set out to the Putumayo River to investigate allegations against the Peruvian Amazon Company (PAC)—of British-Peruvian ownership. All these allegations included but where not limited to enslaving, torture, starvation, murder, and other atrocities towards Putumayo’s indigenous communities and foreign workers, as retold in Casement’s private journal and testimonies he compiled. Both “The Vortex” and Casement’s accounts are unbelievable, the first fiction inspired by truth, and the second truth suitable for fiction.

A bit to the southeast, yet still in the realm of these natural borderlands, is the series Green Frontier. A thriller about a detective investigating a strange murder in a port town between Colombia and Brazil. With a nonlinear narrative the story unfolds a wealth of imagery and conflict regarding the region. It is centered on a secret that preserves the jungle, hence the world. This series set in current times takes us back to older representations of the Amazon written by foreign and national “explorers” as either an Eden or a Green Hell; researched in Lesley Wylie´s Colombia’s Forgotten Frontier: a literary geography of the Putumayo.

Although this river and region are far away from Bogota, the capital city of Colombia, and even further from the social imagery linked to this country, they have played an influential role in its history and culture and produced powerful texts.