Inga Odyssey: Discovering Colombia’s Indigenous Roots

Inga Odyssey: Discovering Colombia’s Indigenous Roots

The Inga people are an indigenous ethnic group native to portions of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, with a claimed historical relationship with the Incas.

Stretching from the Andes to the Amazonian lowlands, these territories are biologically and culturally diverse and strategically important as the source of major Amazonian rivers and for their deposits of mineral and natural wealth such as oil, coltan, quartz, and timber.

They speak a dialect of Quechua known as Inga Kichwa, which likely was introduced through relations with the Incas as well as a Jesuit mission that was briefly established in the region. Quechua was used as an administrative language in the Andes Mountains since the Incan Empire and well into the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru.

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The Inga language is an endangered one. However, the Inga people are working to revitalize their language. They have established bilingual schools and are publishing materials in the Inga language.

The Inga people are believed to be descendants of the Incas. They were once a powerful and influential people, with a vast empire that stretched from Ecuador to Colombia and Peru.

During the past five hundred years of colonization, the Inga have experienced violent encroachments upon their ways of life and territories through colonial expropriation of lands, a constant violation of rights, rampant deforestation, narcotrafficking and armed conflicts.

Education has been a major tool for integrating the indigenous communities into colonial and modern-day Colombia. In the early 20th century, with the new road connecting the Andean centers with Mocoa, the capital of Putumayo, missionary schools appeared in these Amazonian provinces. In their wake, colonial settlers, narco-traffickers, coca farmers, oil companies and large cattle farmers gradually arrived in the region, dividing up the ancestral Inga territories among themselves.

One of the main objectives of the Inga people today is to recuperate at least some of the ancestral land that has been appropriated by the state. Over the last 15 years, 50,000ha/123,553 acres of land have been turned into collectively owned indigenous reservations, which are inalienable.

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Recent history has seen a renewal of the indigenous cultural identity along with a revitalization of specifically indigenous values and traditions not only in Colombia but in the Americas at large.
At the heart of this liberation effort lies Aponte, an Inga Resguardo (Inga Reserve) located at 2,000m/6,562´ altitude in the Andean department Nariño.

The community has managed to turn the town into an official reservation, to rid themselves of unwanted groups and to transform the surrounding fields into coffee plantations, allocating close to 80 percent of the land to protected and sacred areas.
Through the use of organic fertilizer and reforestation, they have managed to recover 2,500ha/6,178 acres of badly affected land. These arduous efforts have been amply rewarded for the Wuasikamas, Guardians of the Earth.

Encouraged by these successful interventions, the Inga have embarked on a remarkable path of self-determination to strengthen their indigenous identities and practices and reconnect with their ancestral way of life, based on a philosophy of Good Living, Sumak Kawsay, and a deep connection with the earth and the land with all its beings, ecosystems, medicines and spirits.

With the gradual process of pacification following the Peace Agreement signed in 2016, the desire to be reconnected and to build on a vision for the future that includes plans and institutions for higher education for the young generation moves within reach.

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The Inga have a profound system of religious beliefs, believing in a supreme creator god named Chibchachum. They also have faith in several other spirits, including those of their ancestors.

The Inga have a deep conviction that they have a special responsibility to care for the earth. They believe that the earth is a living being and that humans must live in harmony with nature.

The Inga economy is based on agriculture, fishing, hunting, and gathering. They also produce and sell a variety of handicrafts, such as woven baskets, bags, and clothing.

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The Inga are also involved in the Colombian economy through ecotourism. They offer a variety of ecotourism services, including guided tours of their traditional villages and territories.

Inga as an indigenous people with a rich and multifaceted history, have overcome many challenges throughout their history and they are now working to preserve their culture and way of life. The Inga are gradually becoming a positive and significant part of Colombian society.

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