EXHIBITIONS




In 2006, I first visited the cemetery of Puerto Berrío on the banks of the Magdalena River. In this cemetery many tombs marked NN (No Name) hold corpses rescued from the river. Most are victims of drug war massacres. Many are mutilated and simply discarded to feed the fish and vultures, to make the victim disappear. But in this town, people save the nameless bodies from the waters and bury them in their cemetery. A ritual follows that I have not found in any other Colombian cemetery. An NN can be "escogido"—chosen—by a person who agrees to care for his or her tomb in exchange for favors from the victim's soul. The blessed one adopts the NN, decorates the tomb with flowers and often places a marble slate saying, "Thank you NN for the favors received." Some caretakers even name their NN, often granting them their own family name, inscribing the given name on the marble.

On one level, the living make a business-like proposition with the dead: In return for a favor, I will keep up your tomb, decorate it, paint it, bring you flowers, bring a glass of water so your soul will not be thirsty, I will give you a name.

But collectively and perhaps unconsciously, the people of Puerto Berrio are saying: we won't let the violence erase you, we snatch you away from those who want you to disappear, we take care of you, we baptized you in death, you become part of us. The pact with the dead resists the violence and reconstructs the social fabric.

I have made many journeys to document the changing tombs. Among the death and destruction of more than 50 years of violence in Colombia, the NN tombs of Puerto Berrío are a unique gesture of humanity.

Juan Manuel Echavarría
2010



Éstas son tumbas de los NN; de cuerpos que en su mayoria bajan por el río Magdalena. Estos cuerpos, o pedazos de cuerpo, son rescatados y enterrados en el cementerio de Puerto Berrío, Antioquia, y la gente los "escoge" para pedirles favores a sus ánimas. A cambio de los favores recibidos, la persona se compromete a cuidar la tumba, a ponerle flores, incluso a bautizar y a darle un nombre al NN, en ciertos casos, con su propio apellido. En la muerte, el NN vuelve a ser humanizado.

En lo colectivo, pienso cómo este ritual cumple otra función: la gente de Puerto Berrío no permite, quizás inconscientemente, que los perpetradores de la violencia desaparezcan a sus víctimas. Mediante este rito es como si ellos les dijeran a los victimarios: "Aquí nosotros rescatamos a los NN, creemos en sus almas, y nos hacen milagros; además, los adoptamos como si fueran nuestros".

En múltiples viajes por el Magdalena Medio he visitado otros cementerios como los de Puerto Triunfo, Puerto Boyacá, La Dorada, Puerto Nare, La Sierra, entre otros. En todos ellos hay NN enterrados, pero en ninguno otro encontré este rito tan particular del cementerio de Puerto Berrío, a orillas de río Magdalena.

Juan Manuel Echavarría
2010