The rapid spread of COVID-19 represents a risk for the complex system of knowledge and practices of the 64 Indigenous Ethnic Groups of the Colombian Amazon — which rests in elders. The older men -sabedores- communicate with the spiritual owners of the territory to balance the energy flow between nature and humans. Simultaneously, the older women -sabedoras- pass on their knowledge to younger women about work in the chagras—traditional agroforestry plots—and the exchange of seeds necessary to maintain the Amazon Indigenous Food Systems (SAIA).
If the indigenous peoples are at risk, the Amazon is also under threat. Recent data from the RAISG (Amazon Georeferenced and Socio-Environmental Information Network) shows that, out of the 1,4 million hectares of forest that the Colombian Amazon lost in the last three decades, only 0,19% took place in Indigenous Territories. These peoples have ensured for millennia the conservation of the world's lung. Without them, the forest and its environmental services hang by a thread.
Nevertheless, and thanks to the strength of their knowledge systems and traditional practices, they have managed to maintain COVID-19’s death rate low in their territories. A first encounter between Gaia Amazonas Foundation advising team and the Indigenous Governments of the territories of Bajo Río Caquetá, Mirití Paraná, and Yaigojé Apaporis, in Amazonas, confirmed it. The indigenous told how the most effective measures and decisions have been guided by sabedores and sabedoras, also known as tradicionales.
In addition to isolating from the urban centers and people outside their communities, the measures taken by the Indigenous Governments included the use of different types of incense to purify the air, as well sweeping the Malokas to expel all the negativity that arrives to the territory.
On the other hand, collective rituals, like dances, were maintained along the main rivers and its tributaries where the distance of two meters and the use of face masks were not implemented. Though incompatible with social distancing guidelines advised by the non-indigenous system, these rituals are deemed essential to contain and weaken the disease.
The pandemic and its lessons, which start to become evident, reopen the debate about the need to implement an intercultural healthcare system. One that does not seek to include indigenous peoples into an existing and foreign system, but rather advocates for the recovery and complementary use of traditional knowledge and specialties. Likewise, this intercultural system would complement the valuable and effective indigenous system, with key non-indigenous practices that are necessary to treat diseases that arise from interaction with people outside their communities.