Territory and Population

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.

One particular community located in Caqueta, Colombia, within the western Colombian Amazon, is a perfect case study in the suffering that this resilient tribe has had to endure. They are part of a sub-sect of Embera known as Embera Chami (as opposed to Embera Katio and Embera Wounaan), and their specific territory is known as “Resguardo Honduras.”

In 2005, due to the armed conflict and territory grabbing going on in this decades-long running Colombian civil war, the entire community, consisting of 45 families, were forced from their homes in “Resguardo Honduras,” and into the slums of the nearest city, Florencia. For nine terribly long years they suffered through disease, malnutrition, lack of income and constant threats of violence, within atrociously inadequate buildings that crammed three or four entire families inside one basic “apartment.” Many died or developed permanent medical conditions, but they persevered. Finally, in 2014, with relative levels of peace settling over the region, and with the help of international aid, this particular Embera Chami community of 45 families and 167 people were resettled into a territory within 100 miles of their original homes in Resguardo Honduras, still in Caqueta. They still refer to their land as Resguardo Honduras, but now also identify their community by the name “Chami Puro,” or “Pure Chami.”


For such a dispersed tribe that inhabits several different unique ecosystems, there are a wide range of region-specific threats that impact the Embera. One issue that has threatened the entire Embera tribe for decades, and continues to do so, is loss of territory and forced displacement. Thousands of Embera now reside in the slums and on the streets of Colombian cities.

For the Embera chami community, “chami puru,” in the Colombian Amazon in the department of Caquetá, threats abound to their “Resguardo Honduras” territory, including recent concessions to multinational petroleum companies that plan to form extraction points and pipelines near the territory.

Traditions, Language and Symbolic Products

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.

One of the Embera’s most notable artisan products is that of “Chaquira” beaded jewelry, which both the men and women wear during ceremonies and in daily life. These highly skilled and original designs represent symbols from their Worldviews (“Cosmovision”), natural plants and medicines, Mother-Earth, and especially their sense of community. Each individual color also holds special significance for the Embera.

One of the most recognizable symbols in Chaquira made by members of Resguardo Honduras is called as they call their new territory, “Chami Puro.” The designs consist of different arrangements of prehensile monkey tails, which represent for this incredible and inspiring group, community and togetherness.