The photographs, typical in the 1910-1912 period during which they were taken, show a man and a boy, naked to the waist, in both frontal and half-profile shots, very typical of anthropological portraits of the time. The two, Omarino and Ricudo, were transported to England by Irish revolutionary Roger Casement as a way for him to advertise the English human rights abuses of natives in what is now part of Columbia , where the English were engaged in trying to establish rubber plantations.
The photos were discovered by a Latin American Studies researcher at the University of Leicester. Dr. Lesley Wylie came across the photos while doing research on a book about Casement, who was often at odds with the British over many things, including their colonialism. Casement said that the younger of the two, Omarino, was ‘presented’ to him in payment for a pair of trousers, while the elder of the two, Ricudo, who was a married male of 29 years of age, was ‘won’ by casement in a game of cards. According to Photography News, Dr. Wylie said that the photographs of the two men were typical of their time but continued:
I came across the two photographs among a photographic collection held by the University of Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Although the catalogue card identified the sitters simply as “Two slaves from Putomayo (sic) river, Up. Amazon, Colombia”, I suspected immediately that they were the two Amazonians that Casement had brought to London in 1911.
I had previously seen a copy of William Rothenstein’s painting of the subjects, and there was a strong resemblance between it and the photographs.
Although Casement mentions the existence of these photographs in his personal correspondence, scholars had assumed up to now that these images had been lost.
Whilst it has been possible at least partially to reconstruct the story of Omarino and Ricudo, and their trip from the forests of the Amazon to the busy streets of London, many other stories from the Putumayo, then and now, remain untold.
As part of my research I came across testimony given by Omarino and Ricudo recounting stories of violence, displacement, and murder. Today, indigenous communities in the Putumayo, now in the war-torn south of Colombia, are bearing the brunt of the latest tropical boom – in cocaine rather than rubber – as well as ongoing political violence.
It is not known if the two South American natives ever made it back home again after having been ‘drafted’ by Casement to serve in his war as propaganda.