Territory and Population

The Nasa, also known as the Paéz, are a large indigenous group distributed throughout the southern Colombian Andes, concentrated principally in the department of Cauca.

Their officially recognized territory is vast, ranging from the “cordillera occidental” that runs into the department of Valle de Cauca, east to Tierradentro on the slopes of the “cordillera central,” and down into the departments of Caqueta and Putumayo. The Nasa territory of Tierradentro alone encompases more than 1,300 square kilometers (500 square miles, 130,000 hectares or 321,000 acres).

It is not well established just how many ethnic Nasa still exist, with estimates ranging from 60,000 – 80,000 individuals, all the way up to more than 185,000 in a 2005 Colombian census.


H istorically the Nasa were one of the largest, strongest, most traditional and most resistant to outside influence and exploitation, of all indigenous tribes in Colombia. They developed a reputation amongst the Spanish conquistadors as warriors, and were always very vocal and activist during Colombia’s various constitutional permutations and civil wars.

They carry these attitudes of activism into the present, and maintain local traditional government structures within their five main “cabildos,” or municipalities, and elect dozens of new male and female leaders every January in each cabildo. These traditions remain despite the fact that the last 30-40 years have brought extreme conflict, uncertainty and institutionalized degradation of their traditional culture by government, corporate and religious entities.

The Nasa traditionally worked in agricultural collectives, called “mingas,” and had a diet that revolved around “maiz,” or corn, and various tuberous crops like potatoes, and beans. They remain a principally agricultural society, but this sector and its collective nature and role for local consumption and subsistence, is threatened by climate change, changing dietary patterns, deforestation and various forms of exploitation to their territory.


The Nasa are a proud and very activist tribe that is constantly fighting to preserve their land and culture, often in the face of violence. Social and environmental leaders from Nasa territories are frequently threatened and assassinated, especially since the signing of the peace accords between the FARC guerillas and the Colombian government in 2016. These agreements and the lack of protection and implementation of the accords after signing, has left power vacuums within much of the Nasa territory, where the FARC previously had a strong presence.

Decades of forced religious and cultural conversion has also left the Nasa at extreme risk of permanently losing their native language, “Nasa Yuwe,” typical dress, traditional practices and symbolism. Climate change, unsustainable agriculture, mining, illicit crop production and road building, all threaten their territories, including some of Colombia’s most well-preserved high Andean paramos.


Traditions, Language and Symbolic Products