Colombia Indigenous People

By | December 15, 2021

At the time of the discovery, a large part of the Andean region of Colombia was populated by Chibcha-speaking people who had reached a very high cultural level: such were the Tairona of the bay of S. Marta, the Quimbayas of the Valle del Cauca, the Muisca (or Chibcha) of the Bogotá plateau, and various other tribes that are now extinct or have lost their original culture and language or have disappeared into the mixes forming the current large population of mestizos. The ancient culture (see Chibcha) had many characteristic elements. Unlike the Inca, these peoples did not have tools of copper or bronze, but made extensive use of an alloy of copper and gold for ornaments and for fishing hooks. Gold was above all abundant: and from the abundant periodic revenue of gold in the waters of Lake Guatavita, during the sacrifices of the “indio dorado”, the legend of the Eldorado (v.) Arose, which played a very notable part in history of the discovery of inner America. The Chibcha also possessed emeralds which are still obtained from ancient mines. Of the Chibchas, however, there are no monumental ruins as important as those of the Incas, because even their major buildings were built of wood: in addition to the goldsmiths, however, a considerable quantity of beautiful ceramics was found in their territory, especially in the tombs, often excavated at a depth of several meters. In the century XVI, when the Inca kingdom was conquered by the Spaniards, the Inca had penetrated into what is now Colombian territory as far as the Río Ancamayu, and without European intervention the two civilizations would certainly have come into contact. For Colombia 2008, please check

The Chibcha languages ​​are still spoken by some small groups of Indians, who also retain various traits, especially in the spiritual life and in folklore, of the original culture. On the southern slope of the Sierra Nevada of S. Marta are the villages of the Arahuaco or Arhuaco, studied by Preuss and Bolinder, divided into various tribes (Cágaba, Bintuqua, Atánquez, Guamaqua), further south the Chimila, perhaps a remnant of the Tairona, reduced a few years ago to 12 individuals; on the eastern Cordillera between the 5th and 7th N., the still large nucleus of the Tunebo (about 3000 individuals), and further east, in the Casanare plains, the Betoi ; in the Central Cordillera near Popayán, the Coconuco (Moguex and Totoró) and between the high Magdalena and the Cauca, in about twenty villages, the Paniquitas (Paez, Paniquita, Pixao, Guanaco); finally, in the Eastern Cordillera, around the sources of the Río de la Fragua, Yapurá and Içá, the Andaqui and the Mocoa, of which however the belonging to the Chibcha group is doubtful. At the time of discovery, the coasts and lowlands were inhabited by far less civilized tribes than those in the highlands. Currently they are mainly populated by Negroes and Mulattos. The surviving Indian tribes, which have also been linked, by language, to the Chibcha group, are made up of the descendants of the Barbacoa of the southern Colombian coast, who lived in villages on stilts, and the Chocó (v.) of the Atrato basin and the northernmost coast of the Pacific, which go as far as the territory of Panamá, where they live in little altered conditions of culture, almost naked, in large huts on poles; their typical weapon is a blowgun of a type similar to that used in Ecuador, and southern (Peruvian) affinity have their numerous silver jewels.

The Chibcha aren’t the only highland nation, however. Indeed (Lehmann) it appears that they overlapped an older Arawak population, and a Carib colony identified itself with the Opone and Carare Indians, tributaries of the Río Magdalena. An Arawak tribe, the Goajiro, still lives in large numbers on the peninsula that closes the Gulf of Maracaibo to the west, in villages built partly on stilts. However, they are almost totally Europeanized in culture, and, as a unique example among the natives of America, they have also adopted cattle breeding on a large scale by the Whites. The flat regions located to the east of the Cordillera and crossed by the parallel rivers that flow to the Orinoco, the Río Negro and the Amazon River keep the indigenous tribes unchanged to a greater extent.

The northern savannahs of Colombia up to Guaviare are now colonized by llaneros and white or mestizo vaqueros, and already powerful and widespread Indian tribes are reduced to a few hundred individuals. Thus the Sáliva, once settled between the Vichada, the Guaviare and the Orinoco, the Otomaco, the Guahibo, between the Meta and the Vichada, the only group still numerous (3000) and not completely absorbed by colonial civilization, the Churoye, similar to the previous ones, in the source region of the Río Meta. The Arawak tribes that once surrounded these groups, Piapoco, Achagua, etc., are reduced to a few dozen families in the service of the Whites. At S. del Río Guaviare you enter the forest area, where the Indian tribes, although decimated by the devastating bands of the “caucheros”, the rubber gatherers, still constitute the only permanent population and, as we proceed towards the S., are still practically independent. In this part of the Colombian territory, not all ethnologically explored, there are numerous Arawak tribes, especially in the north (Guaypé, Mitua, Baniva, Tariana) and in the SE. (Ticuna del Rio delle Amazon): the toponymy bears the signs of their greater diffusion in the past. Many Caribbean tribes are settled in the upper basin of the Río Yapurá (Hianácoto, Tsahátsaha, Umáua, Carijona) and the Yagua of the Amazonas are connected to the same group. Puinave of the upper Río Inirida with their Macú relatives, scattered in the forests between the Río Vaupés and the Río Apaporis-Yapurá, as well as the Uitoto and Miránya (v.) Settled between the Río Caquetá (Yapurá) and the Río Putumayo (Içá). Around these tribes and the Caribs, between the Andean Cordillera and the easternmost territory occupied by the Arawaks, there are numerous Tucan tribes, especially along the course of the Vaupés, Tiquié and Apaporis rivers (Tucano, Cobéua, Desana, Tsoloa, Yahuna, etc.) and in the SO border area. of Colombia beyond the Río Içá (Icaguate, Pioje, Encabellados, Correguaje, Pasto, etc.).

Colombia Indigenous People