Territory and Population

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.


The Kamentsa 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.

Every year a new Taita takes the reigns after several years of lower positions of official power within the community. The Sibundoy valley of the Kamentsa shares territory with several traditionally governing communities of the Inga tribe.

Traditionally the Kamentsa were in agriculture economy based on corn, potatoes and fruits. Now in addition to these traditional crops, large areas have been cleared for livestock and tourism is beginning to increase in presence.


The Putumayo department has long been a zone of conflict and illicit activities in Colombia, as well as sanctioned mining, deforestation and hydroelectric campaigns. Along with many decades of forced religious conversion and suppression of traditional language, beliefs, and agricultural practices, significant cultural and environmental pressure has been placed on the Kamëntsá.

A recent exposure to “Ayahuasca Tourism” also threatens to have consequences for the culture and economy of the Kamëntsá.

Traditions, Language and Symbolic Products

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 most fundamental symbols and beliefs of the Kamentsa are represented in their “Chaquira” beaded jewelry. A few of the sacred symbols:

  • The Frog, symbolizing fertility, and the messenger of water;
  • The Rainbow, which represents unity and holds great sacred significance in Kamentsa mythology;
  • The Bear, which represents strength and power;
  • The Shaman, the link to the spiritual world and guide for the community;
  • The Tiger, second embodiment of the Shaman and solitary ruler of the jungle;
  • The Sun, giver of life and energy;
  • The Mother’s Womb, a symbol of the sacredness of motherhood and the mother-earth;
  • The Ant, symbol of hard work;
  • The Star, symbol of creation;
  • The Macaw Parrot, a symbol of liberty, both in thought and being, and also a very important character in Kamentsa mythology.