Search
Close this search box.

A ‘miracle’ in the Amazon

This article was first published in the September/October 2023 issue of IQ, the exclusive magazine for British Mensa members. Find out more about becoming a Mensa member here.

 

In the early hours of 1 May 2023, a light plane carrying six passengers was flying over Colombia when its engine failed, causing the plane to crash deep in the Amazon rainforest. Four children, who had been travelling with their mother, were the only survivors of the tragic crash. 

The four siblings, aged between 13 and just 11 months, were found by search and rescue teams 40 days later. They were weak, emaciated and covered in insect bites – but they were alive.  

Over their almost six-week-long ordeal, the children had endured intense rainstorms and evaded harm from predators. The eldest, Lesly, built makeshift shelters using tree branches, which she held together with her hair ties. They ate fariña, a type of cassava flour, recovered from the plane wreckage. When that ran out, they survived on seeds and fruits rich in oil and sugar.  

But while much of the world’s media hailed the children’s survival as nothing short of a miracle, it came as less of a surprise to their community and those familiar with the lives of indigenous peoples in the Amazon region. 

The children belong to the Huitoto people of southern Colombia. Many have attributed the children’s survival to the indigenous education that equipped them with the knowledge, skills and resilience to survive the dangers and harsh conditions of the jungle.  

John Moreno, leader of the Guanano group in the south-eastern part of Colombia, where the children were brought up, said that the children were raised by their grandmother, a widely respected indigenous elder who provided them with life-saving education. “They used what they learned in the community,” he said. “They relied on their ancestral knowledge in order to survive.”  

The children’s aunt recounted that the family would often play “survival games”, which would become vital preparation for their experience. 

Writing in The Conversation, anthropologist Eliran Arazi explained that Amazonian children learn from an early age how to navigate through dense vegetation and climb trees; how to find potable water and identify edible and non-edible fruits; how to build rain shelters and set animal traps; and how to avoid predators, such as snakes and jaguars.  

“Even before starting elementary school,” he wrote, “children in this area accompany their parents and elder relatives in various activities, such as gardening, fishing, navigating rivers, hunting and gathering honey and wild fruits. 

“Activities that most western children would be shielded from – handling, skinning and butchering game animals, for example – provide invaluable zoology lessons and arguably foster emotional resilience.” 

The story shines a light on the invaluable knowledge and traditions, passed down the generations, that have allowed Amazonian communities to thrive for millennia. Like the rainforest itself, the peoples and culture of Amazonia are increasingly under threat from unsustainable agribusiness, mining and other outside intervention.  

“Preserving this invaluable knowledge and the skills that bring miracles to life is imperative,” writes Arazi. “We must not allow them to wither away.” 

A ‘miracle’ in the Amazon

This article was first published in the September/October 2023 issue of IQ, the exclusive magazine for British Mensa members. Find out more about becoming a Mensa member here.

 

In the early hours of 1 May 2023, a light plane carrying six passengers was flying over Colombia when its engine failed, causing the plane to crash deep in the Amazon rainforest. Four children, who had been travelling with their mother, were the only survivors of the tragic crash. 

The four siblings, aged between 13 and just 11 months, were found by search and rescue teams 40 days later. They were weak, emaciated and covered in insect bites – but they were alive.  

Over their almost six-week-long ordeal, the children had endured intense rainstorms and evaded harm from predators. The eldest, Lesly, built makeshift shelters using tree branches, which she held together with her hair ties. They ate fariña, a type of cassava flour, recovered from the plane wreckage. When that ran out, they survived on seeds and fruits rich in oil and sugar.  

But while much of the world’s media hailed the children’s survival as nothing short of a miracle, it came as less of a surprise to their community and those familiar with the lives of indigenous peoples in the Amazon region. 

The children belong to the Huitoto people of southern Colombia. Many have attributed the children’s survival to the indigenous education that equipped them with the knowledge, skills and resilience to survive the dangers and harsh conditions of the jungle.  

John Moreno, leader of the Guanano group in the south-eastern part of Colombia, where the children were brought up, said that the children were raised by their grandmother, a widely respected indigenous elder who provided them with life-saving education. “They used what they learned in the community,” he said. “They relied on their ancestral knowledge in order to survive.”  

The children’s aunt recounted that the family would often play “survival games”, which would become vital preparation for their experience. 

Writing in The Conversation, anthropologist Eliran Arazi explained that Amazonian children learn from an early age how to navigate through dense vegetation and climb trees; how to find potable water and identify edible and non-edible fruits; how to build rain shelters and set animal traps; and how to avoid predators, such as snakes and jaguars.  

“Even before starting elementary school,” he wrote, “children in this area accompany their parents and elder relatives in various activities, such as gardening, fishing, navigating rivers, hunting and gathering honey and wild fruits. 

“Activities that most western children would be shielded from – handling, skinning and butchering game animals, for example – provide invaluable zoology lessons and arguably foster emotional resilience.” 

The story shines a light on the invaluable knowledge and traditions, passed down the generations, that have allowed Amazonian communities to thrive for millennia. Like the rainforest itself, the peoples and culture of Amazonia are increasingly under threat from unsustainable agribusiness, mining and other outside intervention.  

“Preserving this invaluable knowledge and the skills that bring miracles to life is imperative,” writes Arazi. “We must not allow them to wither away.” 

Related Resources

Got What it Takes

Take the Mensa IQ Test to see if you have what it takes to join the world’s highest IQ society.

Share this online