Born in 1896 and still going: meet the world’s oldest man (probably)

Don Celino is 121, according to his Chilean ID card. That makes him four years older than the Guinness-listed oldest person

When Marta Ramrez agreed at age 63 to take in a destitute nonagenarian, she didnt see it as a long-term imposition.

The mans house had burned down, he had no one else and he looked frail.

He was 99, I didnt think hed be around that much longer, Ramrez recalls.

She is now 85, and her long-term guest, Celino Villaneuva Jaramillo, is 121 very probably the worlds oldest man.

Born in 1896 a year after George VI, and four years before the current Guinness-listed oldest person, Nabi Tajima Jaramillo lost his birth certificate in the same house fire that made him destitute 20 years ago.

But the birth date on his Chilean identity card is 1896, and no one in Chile up to the president and justice minister (who personally delivered his renewed ID card in 2016) doubts his longevity.

Checking our records, Celino Villanueva Jaramillo was effectively born on 25 July 1896 and hes still alive, said Jacqueline Salinas, one of the heads of the demographic department at Chiles office of statistics.

Celino Jaramillo, born 1896, Chile Photograph: Piotr Kozak

Jaramillo was born in the town of Ro Bueno, around 30 miles south of the regional capital of Valdivia. It was the year of the first modern Olympics, when Utah became the 45th US state, Victoria became Britains longest-reigning monarch, and Ford produced its first motor vehicle.

Exact details about his youth are now hard to ascertain as communication with him is limited. All thats known for certain is that he always found employment as an agricultural labourer, and for the past 30 years or so of his working life for a landowner called Ambrosio Toledo.

When Jaramillo turned 80, Don Ambrosio wished him well, patted him on the back and informed him he was being replaced by a younger field hand, and please could he vacate the estate house where he was living. The farmer had been paying Jaramillos contributions, so at least he had a small pension to live on.

He moved into the nearby coastal village of Mehun, renting the ill-fated and rundown shack with a dirt floor and a fireplace in the middle, over which he would hang his fish to smoke (it was a loose ember from the fire that set the house alight). The local kids, now long grown up, remember him as an elf-like figure, due to his diminutive stature, always walking around the village with a sack slung over his shoulders. He supplemented his meagre pension growing vegetables and selling the surplus to the local shops.

After the accident that destroyed his home and belongings and almost took his life (he suffered slight burns and smoke inhalation), Ramrez took him in.

For his 115th birthday in 2011, the billionaire president, Sebastin Piera, personally flew down to Valdivia accompanied by the minister of social development, Joaquin Lavin, their plane loaded with generous gifts for Chiles oldest citizen.

Lavin presented Jaramillo with a certificate verifying the governments recognition of his age, and told him he was a shining example of health and vitality to follow for all citizens and of the governments commitment to Chiles seniors.

Piera presented him with a set of earphones, two crutches and a small wood-burning stove.

Sadly, no offer was made for the provision of specialist geriatric care to Chiles and possibly the worlds oldest living inhabitant, which in the coming years would have proved a much kinder gift.

Marta Ramrez, with Jaramillo. Photograph: Piotr Kozak for the Guardian

But in Chile such attention is the reserve of private healthcare patients, and Jaramillo, who is poor, is reliant on the inferior public system. A visit to hospital earlier this year because of pneumonia did not go well. Ramrez says he has not been the same since.

Now almost 90% blind due to his (operable) cataracts, 85% deaf and toothless since nobody remembers when, it is difficult to understand what he says, although the family that cares for him certainly do.

During a visit by the Guardian, Jaramillo sat at table gumming his way through some bread and cheese. Conversation was stilted due to his hearing difficulties. He cannot walk without a helping hand, but occasionally breaks into chat, recalling how his arm was broken as a baby by an aunt and how the chief of the Mapuche tribe had many women.

Why didnt you take one? asks Ramrez. Jaramillo does not reply.

He never married or had any children.

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