El San Juan


I look at you, River, and I imagine your past.

Clear water flowing through lush forest,

Cachama swimming through your depths,

Ocelots wandering by your banks at night

Where monkeys swing and sloths move languidly through the trees.

You, River, feed the land.

From your mountain source you travel

Connecting, shaping the land

Until you run through the mangroves into the sea

As you have for perhaps millions of years.


And at some point we, humans, arrived.

Wounaan people building homes along your banks,

Fishing from hand-carved wooden canoes,

Planting yuca and corn, until

The Spanish colonizers arrived.


And they came with the African people they enslaved.

Forced to work in minas de oro,*

Extracting gold from the dirt and rocks you leave behind.

And they resisted, and formed palenques.**

And you remained as the colony became Colombia.


Today, people still live along your banks,

Still rely on you for sustenance and transportation.

Yet through greed some have mined your depths with dredges,

Filling the water with poisoned mud,

Killing the fish and polluting the river with our trash.


Armed conflict brings extortion and fear to the river.

Violence brings trauma and death to your banks.

Illegal mining and a changing climate cause flooding.

You rise, taking with your waters our belongings, our memories.

Livestock and crops are washed away.

And yet, the people of the river resist oppressions and violence, 

With protests fighting for respect, 

And small actions of resiliency. 

You carry with you our history, our pain, our joys. 

You, River, shape us, and we shape you.


Our past, our present, our future

We shape, together.

We create, together.

We imagine



*Gold mines

**Communities set up by escaped African slaves


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