The Town which adopted the dead

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. For decades, people of Puerto Berrio, a sweltering and troubled village in central Colombia 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.


Cemetery Manager Henry Cárdenas in Puerto Berrio points to the crypt of an “NN” or “no name.” Such tombs are eagerly sought by locals who want to “adopt” the bodies.
One of the cemetery pavilions that holds “NNs” or anonymous corpses in Puerto Berrio. 
The decorated crypt of an “NN” or a “no name” in Puerto Berrio. Locals “adopt” the anonymous corpses and take care of their graves.
Blanca Nuri Bustamante visits the crypt of an “NN” or “no name” that she has adopted.
Blanca Nuri Bustamante named the unknown corpse after her eldest son who disappeared more than a decade ago. 
Hernán Montoya says he communicates with the dead and that they do his bidding. Here he displays an article about his spiritual work. 
On the Day of the Dead, Nov. 2, hundreds of inhabitants of Puerto Berrio visit the cemetery. 
Leidi de Jesus Gómez looks at a shrine in her home. Like many other locals, Gómez has adopted an anonymous corpse, known as an “NN,” at the local cemetery. 
The decorated crypt of an “NN” or a “no name” in Puerto Berrio. Locals “adopt” the anonymous corpses and take care of their graves.
Father Rafael Chaparro Becerra splashes holy water on the tombs of unknown bodies.

The complete story written by Jim Wyss with my fotos in The Miami Herald. Further reading in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Der Standard.

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