It’s no secret that Colombia is still feeling the effects of a bloody civil war, which has claimed the lives of some 250,000 people in almost half a century. Though the conflict has technically been a battle between the government, left-wing rebels and right-wing paramilitaries, the ones who have suffered the most are the nation’s citizens. All of the parties involved have been criticized for many human rights violations.
Some estimates show that close to 5 million Colombians have been internally displaced over the years, forced to flee their homes and struggle to survive in big cities. And while we see the beginning of a peace process between the government the FARC rebel group, it’s important to keep the public conscious of its history and educate it about how we got to this point. That’s why a new upcoming project like 4-Rios could be a vital tool to recount the personal stories of those who have lived through the war by visually tattooing the image of history in our minds.
The major purpose of the endeavor is the creation of “historical memory” through the use of an interactive audiovisual motion comic book. It gives internet users the power to follow a semi-fictional narrative based on real facts about Colombians who have experienced the fear of violence on their native lands.
Like many educational projects, 4-Rios or “4 Rivers” promotes a social consciousness. Having already gotten the support of Javeriana University and the Ministry of Culture, its creator Manuel Tobar has put together a 10-person team to produce something very extensive. He wanted to make a visual creation that provided facts to everyday citizens while freeing them from their own lack of awareness of the conflict.
“I noticed that throughout the years, many common people couldn’t relate to the war just out of ignorance,” he says. “I felt the need to go out and tell society what was really happening. If it’s true that we need to move on, that’s fine. But it’s also important to be able to look back and recognize our history.”
Specifically, 4-Rios’ comic involves using a narrative strategy. It tells the war through 4 separate stories, shown from the perspective of an indigenous person, a child, a woman and an actual attacker. Even though the accounts are considered “fictional,” they are strongly based around a factual framework. For example, one story takes place during the 2001 paramilitary onslaught in the district of Naya, Cauca that left 120 people dead and more than 4,000 displaced. Users can uncover more information about this violent incident by clicking on specific areas of the comic to view its “documentary” sections. These areas have content like research, photography, news articles and even eye-witness testimonials.
“This project helps to create a space of reflection about the war and the problems that we’re living in this country,” says Floresmiro Rodriguez, an actor in the comic and a member of the Jalcón indigenous community in Huila. “It feels like we’re contributing to this nation, especially to young people who don’t have a clear prospective of what is going on.”
Remembering a painful past
The age component is vital to this project. Covering subject matter that highlights some of Colombia’s estimated 3,500 massacres can be challenging. But it’s essential for children and teenagers to recognize what happened and avoid closing themselves off from reality. Critics of the government have pointed out that many aspects of the country’s dark recent past are not taught in many educational institutions.
Some 20 years ago, the subject of Colombian History was removed from the curriculum. Instead, students have been taught a broader social science. Many allege that this change has robbed Colombians of their historical identities and have put young people inside a bubble of ignorance about where they came from.
For this reason, 4-Rios aims to fill that void. “It is important because it makes the conflict ‘visible’ to all people,” says Willington Andoke, the comic’s protagonist and member of the Andoque Indian tribe in the Amazonas. “Although several other projects have been done, this one has an interface which allows the viewer to have the power.”
Still, the goal of the new interactive comic is to rescue victims’ voices from silence, bring them out in the open and help other people reflect on the past so that history will not repeat itself. “We want to rescue historical memory through the testimonies of war that haven’t been heard yet,” says Manuel Tobar. “They can cause others to open their eyes and really pay attention to them. “