In the early 20th century, the swedish anthropologist gustaf bolinder contacted the indigenous population of the ariguaní river in north colombia, known at the time as “chimila”. as had other explorers and ethnologists, bolinder portrayed them as seriously disintegrated group which was almost extinct. the present article analyzes the process that gave rise to this idea, moving further from those interpretations that understand the ethnographic reports as either neutral descriptions or ethnocentric constructions. it is argued that the conception of chimila decadence was the result of a complex process of cultural interaction, in which indigenous practices and representations oriented toward isolationism, catastrophism and rejection of outsiders had an important infuence. the article also introduces two unpublished texts of bolinder on the subject.