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Colombia’s Rain Shaman Got Paid to Stop the Storms, Until He Couldn’t

For decades, Bogotá officials and event planners hired a mystic named Jorge Elias González to manipulate the weather. A corruption probe, and a few memorable downpours, shook their faith.

Jorge Elias González

Jorge Elias González

Photographer: Oliver Schmieg

Inside a dilapidated hut at the center of Bogotá, a 66-year-old man named Jorge Elias González stood with his eyes shut and his arms outstretched, praying for no rain. Every two years, the Ibero-American Theatre Festival brings to Colombia hundreds of theater companies, dance troupes, and concert musicians from dozens of countries for one of the world’s largest celebrations of the performing arts. Its 17-day program is pretty much all outdoors. And on the festival’s first day, shortly before the parades that signal the beginning of the scheduled events, the sky darkened in the kind of way that generally suggests an imminent deluge. The clouds were the business reason González was praying. He was a coffee farmer who also happened to be Colombia’s unofficial government rain shaman.

“May the Lord give me the strength,” he recalls whispering in the city’s Simón Bolivar Park, “to keep this weather at bay.”