Territory and Population

T he Kankuamo are a small and fragile Indigenous community concentrated on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Northern Colombia. There are estimated to be between 11,000 and 25,000 remaining ethnic Kankuamo, but a large portion have lost their traditions, moved out of their territories, and do not identify as Kankuamo.


T he Kankuamo are part of the Chibcha ethnic group, as are their neighbors in the Sierra Nevada, the Arhuaco, Kogui and Wiwa. Historically, in traditions, building structures, dress and beliefs, they most closely resembled the Wiwa, who also live along the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, and still maintain their language and traditional way of life.

The Kankuamo have always been a principally agricultural society based around traditional crops such as yuca and maiz for local consumptions, as well as products made from “fique,” but their economy now is based mostly on cash crops for export or national distribution. Mangos and Avocados, as well as Dairy products, have formed the foundations to their fragile economic structure for more than 20 years, and threats exist for vast industrial monocultures of palm oil and other export crops to move into the Kankuamo territory in the near future.


The disappearance of Sanha/Kakatwukwa and cultural identity, loss of land to palm oil and other industrial monocultures, climate change, political instability.

Traditions, Language and Symbolic Products

Unfortunately centuries of cultural, religious and militant political intervention, have left the Kankuamo struggling to preserve their traditions and native tongue, known as Sanha, or Kakatwukwa.

While much has been lost for the Kankuamo, they maintain their identities through oral tradition, ceremonies, and shared heritage with the other three indigenous tribes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (Arhuaco, Kogui and Wiwa). Activists within the community fight to keep these traditions alive, through teaching Sanha in school to the youth, working with traditional agriculture, and handcrafting beautiful traditional products made from “fique.”

Fique is a plant endemic to Colombia, and grows particularly well along the warm Southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta where the Kankuamo live. The strong natural fibres of Fique have been used for many centuries by the Kankuamo to produce clothes, tools, hammocks, and especially Mochila bags.

The process of producing and coloring the natural fibres of Fique is done entirely by hand, as is the weaving of the Mochilas, resulting in a 100% natural and traditional product.