Oct 19

1916-2016: 100 years later, the Arhuacos returned to Bogotá


In 1916 6 Arhuacos set off from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta for Bogotá. They walked the entire way from the world’s highest coastal mountain range to the Colombian capital. It took them 6 months to arrive at the Narino Palace to meet with the Colombian president, Jose Vicente Concha, where they demanded recognition and, above all, teachers to allow them to learn Spanish. Their inability to speak the language was allowing settlers in the Sierra Nevada to abuse their power and take advantage of the Arhuacos through debt peonage. Concha listened to their entreaties and promised to send them educators. Little did they know that this would only be the beginning of one of the darkest times in the history of the Arhuaco nation (but more on that below). This October, 100 years after the long march from the heights of the Sierra to the chill of Bogota, a delegation of 100 Arhuacos (elders, men, women and children) arrived once more in the capital to commemorate 100 years of Arhuaco diplomacy and stage a peace march on the capitol to reaffirm their centuries long commitment to peace and tranquility. I attended both the march and the related conference that was held at Rosario University over the following two days, and was privileged to have the rare chance to learn firsthand from some of the most spiritual and knowledgeable people on earth, and discover sides to their history that I had never heard before.

The march itself was delayed by issues with the flight from the Sierra, and the main group of delegates arrived a couple of hours late, which meant that they were forced to cancel their scheduled meeting with the President. Once they arrived at the Centro de Memoria, Paz y Reconciliacion the march began. Over 100 Arhuacos, joined by a few hundred people marching in solidarity, marched from the Centro along the septima before arriving at the Plaza de Bolivar, where there were speeches, songs and dancing. The conference took place over two days in a lecture hall at Rosario University, and was attended by the group of Arhuacos, guest lecturers and speakers from other indigenous groups, and special guest such as Sergio Jaramillo, one of the main peace negotiators with the FARC in Havana. The topics ranged from the history of indigenous political participation in Colombia, women’s roles in Arhuaco society, weaving and it’s significance in Arhuaco culture, as well as the history of the march itself and the consequences it would have on Arhuaco culture.


| Bogotá, Colombia | A delegation of several hundred Arhuacos from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain in northern Colombia arrived in Bogotá to support the faltering peace process in Colombia between the government and leftist guerrillas. They marched to the city center to the sound of traditional music played on an accordion. The accordion was introduced to the region of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta by German immigrants in the 19th century and was adopted by the Arhuaco people for certain occasions. | Un hombre arhucao toca music tradicional en un accordion, minters una delegación de arhuacos de la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta marcha al centro de Bogotá en favor del frágil proceso de paz en Colombia. Comunidades indigenas como los arhuacos han sufrido especialmente por los ataques de actores armados en el conflicto. | #indigenous #indígena #accordion #música #music #peace #pazencolombia #pazenlacalle #colombia #bogotá #bogotaneando #enmicolombia #humanrights #hrw #everdaymacondo #everydaylatinamerica #instagrames #reduxpictures #icp #fnpi #sonyrx1

A photo posted by Stephen Ferry (@stephenedwardferry) on


To cut a long, long story short, President Concha send Capuchin monks to the Sierra Nevada to act as teachers. They promptly established a system of orfelinatos, which took Arhuaco children from their families and forced them to learn Christian traditions and forget their own culture. They outlawed the Arhuaco language, burned and destroyed the traditional poporo gourds carried by the men to chew coca, burned spiritual houses, and threatened with servitude, punishment and death those Arhuacos who disobeyed their many laws. Hearing Isai’as, an elder Arhuaco who travelled with the delegation, recall these times at a Q&A session (translated, as he only speaks Arhuaco) was a powerful and eye-opening glimpse at a time that most Colombians don’t know about. It only ended when the Arhuaco people rebelled in 1982, forcing the Capuchins to leave the following year. To learn this history firsthand from it’s victims was a powerful and moving experience.

The remainder of the conference was used to reiterate the Arhuacos message of peace – they have been a culture that has rejected war and violence for over 500 years, since the arrival of the Spanish. Their message is that Colombia needs to be at peace, not just with armed groups, but with the natural world. The Arhuacos see themselves as the guardians of the world, and believe that their prayers and offerings in the ‘Heart of the World’ (the Sierra Nevada) help to maintain the world’s balance and keep it safe. They have also seen our destructive environmental impact and believe that urgent action needs to be taken to protect the planet before it is too late. This message was hammered home by the words of Mamo Eugenio, an Arhuaco spiritual leader, whose words of peace and harmony were translated to the audience at the beginning and end of the conference.


arhuaco march bogota
A message from Nabusimake in the wake of the ‘No’ victory


To recount the entirety of the conference and all of the myriad details I learned over the 2 days would be excessive, not to mention difficult, so here are a series of images of the march and the conference to give a sense of the occasion. Suffice it to say, it was a memorable experience, one that I’m truly grateful to have been able to have, and I would urge any Colombians or visitors to the country to seek out some texts about the Arhuaco culture to learn more from the ‘guardians of the world.’


arhuaco march bogota
The march began to the sounds of the accordion


arhuaco march bogota
Arhuaco elder Geremias Torres with some inspirational words before the march


arhuaco march bogota
Elder Isai’as recalls the days of the Capuchin abuses in the Sierra Nevada


arhuaco march bogota
Mamo Eugenio is presented with a gift by representatives of Amazonas indigenous groups


arhuaco march bogota
Some of the group pose together





Filled under: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.