Territory and Population

Ethnically large in number, there are an estimated 200,000 – 250,000 Zenú still alive, but most would not identify as Zenú, and most do not have recognized indigenous territorial right to their lands anymore. The Zenú, more better described as the Zenú descendents, live in the Colombian departments of Cordoba, Sucre and Bolivar.


The Zenú are a nearly lost tribe, descended from a great civilization that was systematically weakened and exploited by the Spanish conquistadors and other destructive post-colonial actors, but historical records show that the civilization was in decline even before the Spanish.

The Zenú culture faces an uphill battle for recuperation now, but efforts are being made to reintroduce the language and specific traditions and handcrafts, including the weaving of natural fibers and cotton, as well as metalworking. Beyond handcrafts the Zenú do not maintain any traditional forms of governance, agriculture or economy.

The Pre-Columbian Zenú, or Sinú, culture was a powerful ancient civilization. Since around 200 B.C.E., they are known to have occupied areas of Northwestern Colombia. By around 1,000 B.C they were one of the most powerful and well-organized tribes in the Ancient Americas. The ancient Zenú are most well-known for the incredible symbolic statues and ornaments that they made out of gold, detailed and high quality textiles (a skill that many Zenú descendents still maintain) and for complex canal-systems that were built to sustain a robust agricultural economy.


Complete loss of culture, identity, language and territory. Mining, palm oil and violent conflict.

The area around San Jacinto, Bolivar, for example, has suffered great hardships over the past decades, with many indigenous peoples and “campesinos” being victimized, often through brutal violence, at the hands of militant guerilla groups, such as the FARC, and privately funded Paramilitaries that have been consistently connected to multinational corporations and corrupt governmental-structures.

Traditions, Language and Symbolic Products

The great Zenú culture is essentially lost, and its language and traditional along with it. Efforts at recuperation are ongoing, however, through teaching of Zenú words and history in schools, and by making traditional handcrafts that incorporate symbolism of the Zenú civilization.

The Zenu women from San Jacinto, Bolivar in Northern Colombia, have a long tradition of being expert weavers. The loom is a staple of many a Zenu home, and for generations they have been making extremely high quality cotton hammocks. Zenu communities further south in the state of Cordoba also display expert weaving skills with the unique large-leafed palm known as “Cana Flecha,” a symbol of Colombia.

Despite so much being lost, and suffering through so much conflict in recent decades, thankfully these resilient people have survived and kept their wonderful traditions of weaving alive, and use this expertise as a beacon of hope for a better and more peaceful future.