Indigenous People of Colombia: Sierra Nevada & Guajira

Indigenous People of the Sierra Nevada
While on our trek to Ciudad Perdida, our guide Archie explained to us about the beliefs of the indigenous tribes of the area. In the Sierra Nevada there are different groups, different tribes and each have slightly different beliefs and practices, but they also have many things in common. I am by no means an expert, and all the information I relay here is second hand from our tour guide.

The groups in the Sierra Nevada chew on coca leaves. This helps alleviate the effects of the high altitude, and also gives them many of the effects associated with cocaine. At the age of 18, each boy receives his own instrument to grind the leaves, and this is symbolic of his becoming a man. At 18 he is also found a wife, and married off to her. The wife usually won’t be 18- as soon as girls begin their periods, they get married and start to have children. This is due to a belief they have about menstruation; that the blood attracts evil bats, and in order to keep them away it is necessary for women to be eternally pregnant. This shocked us a lot, and it was something that truth be told we were not completely comfortable with- and it caused quite a debate in our group about what point something changes from an aspect of culture that needs to be respected, into an issue of human rights. When a couple get married, the family of the groom offer something to the bride’s family. This is usually composed of land and livestock. If the woman is unfaithful, her family must pay back 3 times what they were given- despite the fact that the men have several wives and can do as they please. They have Shaman chiefs, who lead and rule on religious, health and economic grounds. Shamans perform marriages and funerals, and lead the communities in other religious events- such as calling for good harvests or rainfall.

Indigenous People of La Guajira

The main group of indigenous people in La Guajira are the wayuu, and our guide Maikel on that trip explained to us several aspects of their culture. When they marry, the groom’s family makes an offering to the bride’s family. This is normally made up of goats- which will come to no surprise to anyone who has visited La Guajira as there are goats everywhere. The indigenous people in La Guajira are more integrated with the Colombians. They have married amongst each other, they do normal jobs and they lead normal Colombian lives- and although many of them retain indigenous practices and beliefs, many others have converted to Christianity. To the wayuu people, anyone born with a disability is highly cherished in the community, and are never discriminated against. They believe that those with disabilities are blessed with other talents and skills, and should be loved entirely.

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