Translations available

Weaving Hope: Resistance and Resilience in Indigenous Colombia

In the verdant Sibundoy Valley of southwest Colombia, nestled between the high peaks of the Andes and the sweltering lowlands of the Amazon rainforest, the Kamëntšá people are in resistance. An anthropologist examines their history and their current struggles to preserve their culture and identity against colonialism, exclusion, and ecocide.

Rowan Glass

Amid the undulating shaman’s song and the gently falling rain pattering on the roof of the ceremonial roundhouse, I fell back on the blankets spread over the floor and wrapped myself in the folds of my poncho—blue, white, black, and red in the traditional Kamëntšá pattern.

“Paint, yagecito, cure, heal, bless, protect, yagecito,” intoned the shaman as I closed my eyes. Soon came the visions, then the purging, then the shaman’s gentle words as he leaned over me and cleansed my body of malevolent spirits. My habitual doubts and anxieties dissolved. Into that space of healing entered an unfamiliar feeling: a sense of place and belonging. I knew then that I had found a lifelong connection to the Sibundoy Valley and the relationships I had forged there. I felt myself engaged in a project truly meaningful, not only academically and professionally but also in deeply human terms. I had come to the Sibundoy Valley to live among the Kamëntšá for the sake of my anthropology honors thesis, but I left it as more than just a detached researcher. Spending three months among the Kamëntšá was a rite of passage that taught me much about the movement from despair to hope.

Like all Indigenous peoples in what we now call the Americas, the Kamëntšá, one of two Indigenous groups who have inhabited the Sibundoy Valley of southwest Colombia since time immemorial, were and continue to be victims of territorial, cultural, and socioeconomic dispossession and exclusion. The Sibundoy Valley, a lush and verdant basin situated between the Andean highlands to the west and the Amazonian lowlands to the east, was first “opened” to colonization and settlement at the turn of the 20th century, when Capuchin missionaries built roads into the valley with Indigenous forced labor under the auspices of the Colombian state. The following seventy years of quasi-feudal Capuchin rule saw the Kamëntšá stripped of much of their ancestral territory, language, and cultural identity. Even since the Capuchins left in 1970, the valley has undergone continued settlement and land theft at the hands of non-Indigenous colonizers from other parts of Colombia, and casual racism and discrimination against the Indigenous are still everyday occurrences today.

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