Fany Kuiru, is an amazonian native, a member of the Witoto Tribe from the area between Peru and Colombia in the region around the Putumayo River. Over a 100 years ago the rubber barons enslaved, tortured, raped and killed over 30,000 indigenous amazonian natives.
Fany recently discovered some old photographs of some of her ancestors including one of Omarino and Ricudo (above). Fany found that her 2 ancestors were rubber slaves during the rubber boom and were taken to England and never returned.
Latex rubber was very much in demand during the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th. Then the American company Goodyear discovered a process called vulcanization which made rubber harder and more useful in the manufacture of car tyres. After this prices of raw latex rubber skyrocketed. Thousands of natives were rounded up and forced to work collecting the raw latex from the jungle. The rubber barons or caucheros did not like to get their hands dirty so they imported black west natives from Trinidad and Jamaica to capture the local natives and force them to work. These West Natives were known as muchachos. They were heavily armed and ruthless in their objective to bring in more and more rubber.
During the latter part of the Rubber Boom the British Government sent Roger Casement to the Amazon to investigate the exploitation of the indigenous tribes and the atrocities carried out against them. Casement was well qualified for the job as his previous assignment was in the Belgian Congo investigating abuses against the indigenous people there. In 1910 the now British Consul Roger Casement was presented to two rubber slaves who were both Witoto indians named Omarino and Ricudo. These were Fany’s long lost ancestors. Casement exchanged Omarino for an old pair of trousers and then he won the younger Ricudo in a game of cards. One year later in 1911 Roger Casement returned to England with Omarino and Ricudo . He wanted to show the world the horrors he had discovered in the Amazon. The two bewildered indians found themselves in cold London as museum objects and people lined up to stare at them. The English national newspaper at that time The Daily News coveted them. The two boys were taken from venue to venue and were the talk of the town. Through an interpreter Omarino told the Daily News that they were sent deep into the jungle to get the rubber, and if they failed to bring enough back they would be tortured or even shot. It is estimated that over a short 12 year period over 30,000 indigenous amazon indians were enslaved, tortured, raped or killed just to satisfy the hunger for rubber for the emerging motor car industry in Europe and North America. It is also claimed that to this day there are uncontacted indians in the Amazon rainforest who are the descendants of the survivors of the rubber boom slaves who ran away to escape the atrocities and epidemics that were wiping out the indian tribes.
When Fany saw the photographs of Omarino and Ricudo she said, “Every nation did its best to exterminate indigenous people. Peru was the mastermind accomplice to this holocaust and Colombia neglected the victims. England financed it, Brazil forcibly moved indians to work in the rainforest collecting the rubber and the United States government actually paid Brazil $100 for every slave captured”.
No one knows what happened to the two slaves but Omarino said “London is very wonderful, but the great river and the forest where the birds fly, is much more beautiful. One day we shall go home”. It is not known if either of them made it back home to the Amazon.
When interviewed in 2011 Survival International Director Stephen Corry said ‘The rubber boom may seem like remote history, but its effect is still with us today. When the West began its marriage to the motor car, its love letters were written in indigenous indian blood. It provoked a gross crime against humanity which was perpetrated by a British company in the Putumayo area. The parallel should not be exaggerated, but today there are still British companies, such as Vendanta Resources who are planning the theft of tribal land, this time in India. It’s time to put a stop to these crimes and start treating tribal people like human beings.”
Now its just over a 100 years since the Daily News first introduced Fany’s ancestors Omarino and Ricudo to the British public. Fany Kuiru, a Witoto Indian now living in Colombia, is appealing to the outside world to help us uncover the fate of our indigenous brothers “…so that our ancestors’ spirits can rest in peace”.