The Arhuacos are an extremely proud, traditional and spiritual people. Most of the 27,000 remaining Arhuacos have resisted forced attempts to change their language, beliefs and dress, holding firmly to their ancient Worldviews (“Cosmovision”), Arhuaco language, and traditional attire, including their incredible Mochilas.

The mother-earth, pachamama, is of profound importance to the Arhuacos, and they consider the towering mountains of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which are the highest coastal mountains in the world, to be the center of the Universe. They call their belief system, and the unity of the Arhuacos with their divine surroundings, “Kunsamu,” and traditional laws and decisions within the community are administered by spiritual leaders, known as Mamos.

The Embera are a relatively large and dispersed tribe, inhabiting parts of Panama and Colombia. They were originally concentrated in southern Panama and Northwestern Colombia, but due to political pressures and forced relocations in the 1960’s, many Embera migrated into urban centers or dispersed small communities around Colombia.

Those that chose to form small communities did so with little support and much fragility. Due to increased violence and tensions in Colombia during the late 20th and early 21st century, between the marxist guerrilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC, meaning Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), “official” Colombian Government armed forces, and brutal unofficial privately organized Paramilitary groups, entire communities became displaced, with no place to go other than unlivable slums within urban centers.

Traditions are preserved through music, dance, artisan work and a strong communal solidarity that formed through decades of shared suffering by all families. They are understandably guarded and suspicious of outsiders, while also accepting of the necessity of their help in a quest for autonomy and self-sustainability. Bonds of mutual respect are essential to form before any cultural interchange or developmental projects can be conducted.

The Kamentsa are a deeply spiritual people, and still inhabit their ancestral territory of the Sibundoy Valley in what is known as Alto Putumayo, along the Western fringe of the Colombian Amazon.

Approximately 7,000 members of the Kamensta tribe still exist, and they hold adamantly to their traditions, having fought off disease and violence brought by the Conquistadors in the 16th century, constant religious missions and forced interventions over the ensuing centuries, and continued violence and instability throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Above all else, respect for the “Pachamama,” or Mother-Earth, and all of her gifts, is of fundamental importance to the Kamentsa.

Shamanism and “Shamanic Visions” are a deep part of their beliefs and resulting symbolism, which is preserved through their celebrations, music, dances, traditional medicine, and artisan work. Shamans are known as Taitas in the Kamentsa’s native language, Kamsa, and the Taita’s visionary interpretations are projected into symbolism that represents the tribe’s unity with, and dependance upon, the natural world, and to their spiritual Worldviews, or “Cosmovision.”

The Kankuamo are a small, independent Indigenous community concentrated on the Southern Slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Northern Colombia. They are part of the Chibchan ethnic group, as are their neighbors in the Sierra Nevada, the Arhuaco, Kogui and Wiwa.

Unfortunately centuries of cultural, religious and militant political intervention, have left this resilient community of approximately 15,000 people struggling to preserve their traditions and native tongue, known as Sanha. Activists within the community fight to keep these traditions alive, however, through teaching Sanha in school to the youth, and working with traditional crafts and agriculture, such as yuca, maiz, and products made from “fique.”

Based within the Amazon bordering the department of Caqueta, Colombia, the Koreguaje are a small and vulnerable group estimated to be less than 4,000 in current population. Many have been victims of various forms of natural and human exploitation, such as Oil drilling, illegal gold mining, and Coca planting that fuels the illegal Cocaine trade. Approximately half the population has been displaced, being forced into slums in Florencia, Caqueta, or to Bogota. They make lovely entirely natural products from a special palm tree, that is woven to make “mochila” bags, and they also use different seeds and nuts for jewelry. All coloring is from leaves, fruits and tree-bark from their territory. 

The Misak tribe, also known as Guambianos, are a traditional indigenous group of approximately 21,000. They are a tribe of the Colombian Andes, located principally in the Cauca region of Colombia in small communities around the town of Silvia.

Traditional beliefs, dress, language and laws have been resiliently kept alive to this day, while substantial integration and adoption of outsider beliefs, such as Evangelism, have become more prevalent over the past decades with the arrival of missionaries to their communities.

Their society and laws function through both male and female leaders of the community, known as Tatas and Mamas, respectively. They are voted into positions of administrative and spiritual power each year at community ceremonies within the “Veredas,” the small mountain communities within their protected territory.

All of their beautiful traditional crafts, such as wool Mochilas, hold great symbolic significance, connected especially to nature, their Worldviews (Cosmovision), and community gathering. The spiral is one symbol of great importance to the Misak, a representation of the circle of life, and the cyclical nature of the Universe in Misak mythology. Ancient spiral petroglyphs can be found on rocks in the Veredas.

he 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).

The Wayuus are the largest Indigenous tribe in Colombia (and Venezuela), and one of the most impoverished and exploited. They live in the harsh climate of the La Guajira desert in the Northeast of the country. While La Guajira is already a naturally hot and dry world, years of drought and the diversion of the waters of the Rancheria River to the massive internationally-run coal mine, Cerrejon, have left the Wayuu dying of thirst and malnutrition.

The Wayuu live in small dispersed communities called “Rancherias,” where families of upwards of twenty people live inside one hut. Women are taught to weave when still young children, and they become extremely skilled artisans.

The San Juan river basin in the southern Choco is where the majority of the 16,000 “strong” Wounaan tribe live in attempted harmony with their beautiful surroundings. “Strong” in quotations because the Wounaan used to be much larger in population, but the 500 plus years of conquistadors, civil wars and forced displacement, has left them struggling for survival. Their true strength, however, shows in many ways.

The Wounaan live side-by-side, or more correctly in this instance, face-to-face, with their Afro-Colombian neighbors, with homogeneous communities set-up at times directly across the river from each other. They live in peace, having so many shared experiences of hardships and exploitation.

Many still speak their native Wounaan tongue, and they have resisted with admirable force and principle, the intrusions of outside religious forces, and hold their connection to, and presence within, nature, and their belief in the “supreme father,” called Inwadam, as essentials of life.

Amongst this amazing setting, of beauty and tradition and struggle, the Wounaan also make and design marvelous and intricate 100% natural products, made from a special Palm tree that the Wounaan call Werregue.

In Pre-Colonial times, the Zenu were a grand ancient culture of strong influence, traditions and power. Their descendants have lost much of that grandeur and tradition, but hold on to their rich tradition of craft making. 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.