Policarpa Salavarrieta Ríos

Policarpa Salavarrieta Ríos is without a doubt the most famous, the most popular, and the most beloved Colombian heroine of all time. Her name is associated with the great heroes of the Colombian war of Independence and would easily come to the mind of any Colombian when asked about female heroines of Colombia.

Policarpa was born somewhere between 1793 and 1796, in Guaduas, Cundinamarca, Colombia. The exact date she was born is unknown and actually so is the place, though her siblings were born in Guaduas. In reality, even her exact name is unknown -- her father called her Polonia, her friends Georgina Apolinar, and some even just Pola. However, it is under the name Policarpa that she became famous and so that is the name that has stuck.

She was born, the fifth of nine children, to an upper class family that lived comfortably. (Today her home in Guaduas is a museum -- Casa Museo Policarpa Salavarrieta.) In the early 1800's, the family moved to Bogotá. There they suffered a family tragedy when in 1802 her father, mother, a brother, and a sister all died of smallpox. This left the large family orphans. So, the two oldest brothers became monks. Two other brothers went to work on a farm. After suffering alone for nearly two years, Policarpa and her oldest sister (then only 13) went to live with the sister's Godmother in Guaduas. There she remained until her sister was married and she went to live with her sister and brother-in-law.

Little is known about what happened to her during those years, however, it is clear that she learned the trade of seamstress during this time. It is also clear that her family became involved in the anti-royalist movement -- her brother-in-law was killed and her youngest brother wounded while fighting with Nariño in Southern Colombia in 1815.

By 1817, Policarpa had moved back to Bogotá with her younger brother. This time under assumed names and with hidden letters from two of the leaders of the Revolution, this allowed her to become part of the patriot movement in Bogotá. Unknown to the royalists in Bogotá, their seamstress, Policarpa was a revolutionary spy. As she labored in their homes, she would hear information about the war, troop movements, etc. and would pass this on to rebel leaders. She also passed messages to and from the rebels in the Llanos and was instrumental in buying weapons and recruiting young men to join the anti-royalist movement.

She probably never would have been caught, except that in September 1817, two brothers, carrying compromising documents that implicated her in rebellious activity were captured by the royalists. This was followed by the capture of Alejo Sabaraín who was found to have long lists of the names of royalists and rebels that Policarpa had written. Her connection to the rebels was confirmed and she was arrested and then condemned to death.

In a last effort to save her life, a priest was sent to her so that she could confess her wrongs and be forgiven. However, Policarpa refused to admit that what she had done was wrong. She spoke of liberty and the establishment of a free society instead.

At nine o'clock on November 14, 1817, Policarpa marched toward the firing squad, flanked by two priests. She would not be silenced. She began to yell to the gathered crowd about her hatred for the Roayalist rule, her desire for freedom, and that her death should be avenged.

Though several women were executed for treason in Colombia during this time period, something about Policarpa resonated with the people. Some people wrote poetry about her, others plays, there was even a popular anagram of her name that was circulated. The more people learned about her, the more the general populous became enraged at the royalists. Her death galvanized the patriot movement.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Today, November 14th is, by and act of Congress in 1967, the DAY OF THE COLOMBIAN WOMAN in honor of Policarpa.


* Photo Cultura Banco de la Republica


Anonymous said…
I love this! i've seen the statue of Policarpa so many times in Bogota and wondered what her history was. I've always found the inscription at the base inspiring. -Emily
Anonymous said…
love thi totaly agree with pola

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