Leidi de Jesus Garzón approached a 10-foot wall of cubby-hole crypts and placed an offering of rum and holy water at the mouth of a tomb. Inside is one of the 11,104 unidentified bodies that the government of Colombia says are scattered across the country — coughed up by more than 50 years of civil conflict.
But Garzón says she knows exactly who’s inside: a man she calls Gabriel Gomez, who has helped her find a husband, pick lottery numbers and settle a property dispute. To die alone, anonymous and far from home is among the darkest fates in many cultures. The forgotten dead are often relegated to paupers’ graves and forlorn, unmarked tombs.
But for decades, this sweltering and troubled village has revered the nameless corpses found floating in the Magdalena River or sprawled in fields. Here, where so many have had loved ones disappear, there’s fierce competition to “adopt” and care for the abandoned souls. Known as NNs, for ningún nombre, or no name, they’re re-christened, and their tombs are often lovingly decorated and peppered with gifts. In exchange, many believe the NNs will grant favors — perhaps even miracles.