Colombia Indigenous Story, Honoring Ancestors
Colombian history is told through its indigenous voices – a flashback through the centuries. The story of how Colombian antiquity genuinely originates. A time when there were no national borders and its inhabitants thrived in a virgin environment, living in harmony with abundant vegetation and wildlife.
The Indigenous tribes of Colombia are those ethnic groups that were present in the territory before the arrival of the Spaniards in the sixteenth century.
Colombia’s indigenous population stands at around 1.5 million, or about 3.5% of the total population distributed among about eighty-seven different tribes.
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Approximately one-third of the country’s land is owned by ethnic groups. The departments with the greatest number of Indigenous individuals are La Guajira, with 394,683 inhabitants; Cauca, 308,455, Nariño 206,455, Córdoba, 202,621 and Sucre with 104,890. The ethnic groups with the greatest number of members are the Wayuu, 380,460, Zenú, 307,091, Nasa 243,176 and Pastos 163,873. These people account for 58.1% of Colombia’s Indigenous population.
These communities have had a great impact throughout the country from the Amazon jungle, through the mountains of the Andes to the Caribbean and Pacific lowlands.
European colonization beginning in the 16th century, destroyed much of Colombia’s indigenous culture. However, many groups survived and continue to thrive today. While most existing groups live in the departments of La Guajira, Cauca and Nariño, the Amazon region of Colombia, though sparsely populated, is home to over seventy different indigenous ethnic groups.
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The Guajira Peninsula in northern Colombia, on the border with Venezuela, finds Wayuu people – those of the sun, sand and wind. The Wayuu speak Wayuunaiki and are among the largest indigenous groups in Colombia. Since they never encountered Spanish invaders, Wayuu culture remains largely intact. One of the most symbolic facets of the Wayuu is the art of weaving colorful Mochila bags.
From as far back as the 1st century AD, Taironas (or Tayronas) group inhabited the lowlands and mountainous region in and around Tayrona National Park, in the Sierra Nevada region of Colombia’s Caribbean coast. They are known for their masterful gold work and architecture, which brings tourists and other groups to the region. Today, descendant groups of Taironas include the Arhuaco, Wiwa, Kogi and Kankuamo, numbering some 30,000.
On an expedition to Ciudad Perdida, the Lost City, in the Sierra Nevada, there are ancient architectural relics of the Taironas’ developed society.
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Colombia’s vast Amazon region supports some 55,000 ethnic groups that exist on millions of hectares of preserved lands. The region has been inhabited for at least 10,000 years and local indigenous cultures have developed ways of living in harmony with the rainforest. Isolated, uncontacted groups living deep in the Amazon forest, such as the Yuri and Passé, completely resist the ways of the modern world.
Other indigenous groups, such as the Quimbayas, the Muiscas and the Kalima, also known as Caribs, once numbered some two million, but have largely disappeared. The Muiscas lived mainly in the present day departments of Cundinamarca and Boyacá and were well known for their political structures. Their society was based on an economy promoting agriculture, crafts and trade.
Relics of Colombia’s rich indigenous societies can be found in the collections of Colombia’s various Gold Museums.
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