Friday, March 25, 2011

Nature and Indigenous People Party on Plaza Bolívar

Arahuaco and Kogi elders, from the Montes de Santa Maria
I went down to Bolivar Plaza this afternoon to see an indigenous cultural event. Even some indigenous people I met told me this was an indigenous cultural celebration. But Bolivar Plaza was full of young people dancing and singing to rock and reggae bands, few of in the crowd showing much interest in the prefabricated white tents distributed around the plaza, each with a smokey fire in front and a carefully arranged pile of fruit and chocolates. The first two tents I visited, in fact, had not indigenous people, but some hippy kids in front of them. Others, dressed in indigenous clothing, appeared suspiciously light skinned.

The main attraction - partying.

Photographing Indios behind bars
Finally, I found some indigenous people. Arauhuacos and Kogi from the Santa Maria Mountains and several Amazonian ethnic groups, inside iron barriers, in front of prefabricated white tents. They resembled sideshows, or even zoo animals, behind their railings.

Plaza Bolívar turned into a bigger, bohemian Plaza del Chorro. 
In fact, the event was staged to promote a Constitional Referendum for the Rights of Nature. A young woman collecting signatures told me the referendum would "prohibit the cutting down of trees." That's certainly a wonderful, and utopian idea. Colombia has one of the world's highest biodiversity rates, but loses a mind-boggling 2,000 square kilometers per year of forest every year. That's a tragedy for the world, for all Colombians, and particularly for the nation's indigenous people, who often depend directly on the forest for their survival. But, unfortunately, passing more laws isn't likely to solve the problem. Colombia needs to enforce the laws it already has against practices such as slash-and-burn agriculture, illegal logging and cattle raising, limit megaplantations of African palm and other plants cultivated by big corporations and impose some sort of rationality on the War on Drugs. Deforestation happens both when illegal coca bushes are planted and when they're erradicated.

Ati Quigua, the indigenous representative on Bogotá's city council attaches a protective bracelet, called an aseguranza
Spiritual leaders, called mamos, of the Kogi people.
Later on at the event, indigenous peoples did perform traditional eremonies, so they did get real attention. And they also carried out Mayan rituals - a bit strange, since the Mayans live in Central America. But part of the event's message was unity among the Americas' indigenous people, it made sense. And it turns out that the pile of fruits and sweets in front of each tent was a Mayan altar.

Colombia has some 86 different indigenous peoples, according to Wikipedia, most of whom live in the tropical lowlands. Many indigenous peoples here have their own territories and dedicated representation in parliament and city councils. Afro-Colombians have the legal status of 'indigenous peoples.'

Common sight in Bogotá. An Embera
woman in dowtown.
However, Colombia's indigenous peoples are generally poor and isolated, and many of them have suffered the worst impacts of Colombia's armed conflict - displacement from their lands and forced recruitment by armed groups. Indigenous people, begging or vending handicrafts, are a common sight on Bogotá's streets.

Some Colombian indigenous peoples seem to do pretty well in modern western society. In particular, many Wayuus, also known as Guajiras, have thrived as merchants and traders (altho their territory has been wracked by paramilitary violence.). But others, whose traditional lifestyles ae less sophisticated, often cannot cope in western society.

Kogi elders. 
Behind tape, placing an aseguranza.
Smoking traditional pipe, called a rapé.

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