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Siona Tribe: Colombia Hidden Insights

The Siona are an indigenous tribe located in between the Putumayo River and its tributaries in the Amazon region of Colombia and Ecuador. The Siona designate themselves as Zio Bain, which literally, means people that farm the land or chagraTraditionally, all of their activities were held on the chagra.  Young men and women were raised on the chagra gaining knowledge of nature, their native language, how to be responsible, how and when to hunt and the sustainment and conservation of the forests and crops. Myths and stories were told on the chagra. Indeed, everything happened in the chagra.

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A chagra is a small plot of land designated for crop farming by indigenous people usually worked by individual family groups. A traditional Siona chagra produces cassava, plantain, cane, pineapples, corn and yam among other fruit trees and medicinal plants.  For the Siona, their lands are sacred and represent existence and mother nature. Their territory provides them with the much-needed elements and conditions for their survival and cultural expression.

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Their native language, Mai Co’ca comes from that of the Tucano.

For the Siona people yagé, an ancestral hallucinatory medicine used by the Shamans or Taitas, is central to harmonizing their lives and providing well-being to their communities. The purity and power of this and all of their ancestral medicines depend entirely on the conservation and welfare of their rainforests and natural resources.

By tradition, the Siona sustained their families through hunting, fishing, small-plot farming and the gathering of resources from the rainforest. However, the impacts of globalization and Western culture have drastically affected the ability to do so.

The Siona strive to resist this adversity by conserving their ancestral and sustainable traditions, but they also face the need to adapt their way of life to the modern world and its conditions.

Currently, the Siona people face severe threats to their survival and self-determination rights in their territories. These threats stem mainly from oil-drilling companies, armed conflict in the region along with the exploitation of natural resources resulting from the expansion of cattle raising and illegal crop farming by Cuya Bain (non-indigenous people).

These factors have led to a diminution of food and medicinal resources that limit traditional livelihood. Likewise, their native language and cultural expressions, face a risk of disappearing because of a series of colonization attempts in the past.

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The Siona tribe number about 2,900 inhabitants and are considered in danger of physical and cultural extinction by the Colombian Constitutional Court.

Rooted by their traditional medicine and following the spiritual mandate of their ancestors, the Siona tribe sustains a cultural resistance to protect their rights as ancestral indigenous people.

Buenavista is the Siona tribe’s main indigenous reserve. Legally adopted in 1983, it is located in the Puerto Asis municipality in the Putumayo department. Buenavista is inhabited by 167 families and about 620 people over 4,500 hectares/11,120 acres of territory.

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The wisdom of the native elders and their ancestors is congregated in Buenavista’s reserve. It has also been home to ubiquitous reunions with different indigenous communities. The main school campus for the Siona tribe is located here in Buenavista. Currently, there are 84 students enrolled at the local educational center, studying up to ninth grade. A further land restitution process of 45,000 hectares/111,200 acres of their ancestral territory is in progress.

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