Gabriel García Márquez’s birthplace of Aracataca — which through the filter of magical realism became Macondo, the fictional town described in One Hundred Years of Solitude — has not changed much since the writer left at the age of eight.
Once we remove the “magical” we are left with just another town, abandoned by the Colombian government. The roofs are still made of sheet metal, the barrios still lack paved roads and proper sewage systems — regardless of the promises made in Bogotá.
In 2006 its citizens tried to get the town’s name changed to Aracataca Macondo as a way of reactivating the local economy. The referendum was approved, but there were not enough votes legally effect the change. So Macondo continues to exist only on paper and in the minds of Gabo’s readers.
García Márquez took the name of the town from a banana plantation close to Aracataca — not realizing until years later that macondo means banana in Bantu. Gabo doesn’t seem to have had much love for his birthplace.
The fact that rain returned for the first time in eight months on this precise day was considered by locals to be a heavenly sign.
In One Hundred Years of Solitude he causes Macondo to fall miserably — being destroyed and rebuilt several times — until finally spending four years underwater due to a flood of biblical proportion.
The writer only returned to Aracataca twice since he was forced into exile in 1981 by the Turbay administration — now known for its policy of torture, forced disappearances, and other human rights violations. His last brief visit was in 2007, after a 25-year absence, and Gabo was often criticized by the residents who felt abandoned.
Yet the entire town of Aracataca reunited in homage to their most famous son on Monday. “With his smart pen, our name became distinguished. Aracataca, I am leaving, though this is the land I am from,” a young man sang at the public tribute to Gabo. He was accompanied by the rhythm of vallenato, traditional Colombian folk music.
More than 3,000 people dressed in white or wearing Colombia’s soccer team jersey, joined the funeral procession, which marched through the town’s main streets. Many also carried paper yellow butterflies, referencing the cloud of that always followed the character of Mauricio Babilonia in One Hundred Years of Solitude.
After passing Gabo’s old elementary school the mourners finally arrived at the San Jose Cathedral and held a two-hour-long mass in commemoration. A few hours after, they headed toward the cemetery, where they left a picture of the author.
Aracataca’s burial service was symbolic — there was no corpse. A memorial service with the author’s ashes was held in Mexico City the same day.
On Monday it also started to rain. It not rained in Aracataca, in Colombia’s northern Caribbean region, for the last eight months. The fact that it returned on this precise day was considered by locals to be a heavenly sign. This belief was later amplified when the entire town suffered a power outage and was left in the dark.
Gabo’s cousin, Nicolás Arias, eloquently expressed what everyone was feeling when he told the press: “God too remembered him and cried. The waters fell from the sky, as tears.”