Friday, October 30, 2009

Colombian Halloween

While October 31st is Halloween here in the US, there is a similar -- typically -- less scary holiday in Colombia on the same day. Until 2001, it was called Día de los Niños. However, in 2001, spurred on by the ICBF and concerns over the violent nature of Halloween, the official title of Día de los Niños was removed and passed on to the last Saturday in the month of April -- it is called the Día de los Niñez y Recreacion.

Halloween is now just Halloween or Noche de Brujas. On this day, children dress up as their favorite character. Walking the streets, you will see Batman, fairies, dogs, cats, ninjas, cowboys, princesses, etc. The children will get candy, balloons, ice cream and other gifts in celebration.

Unlike here in the US, where kids go from house to house seeking candy. Most kids are taken to shopping malls or grocery stores (Centros Comerciales) where they ask for and receive candy.

So, what is the Colombian Trick or Treat saying?

It goes like this:

Triqui Triqui Halloween -- Tricky Tricky Halloween
Quiero dulces para mi -- I want candy for me
Si no hay dulces para mi -- If there is not candy for me
Se le crece la nariz. -- Your nose will grow.

This is the more sanitized version of the saying -- as in another version, you would threaten to break people's windows if you didn't get candy.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Coconut Handicrafts

Until the year 1853, cotton was the major agricultural focus on the Islands (San Andrés, Santa Catalina and Providencia). However, after this date, agriculture became more and more focused on Coconuts.

Coconuts became prevalent in both the gastronomy and economy of the islands. The fiber from the coconut tree branches is used to make hats, baskets, wall hangings and rugs.

The shells are used in a myriad of other handicrafts. There are the practical handicrafts -- bowls, spoons, lamps, cups and dishes. Those used to beautify -- necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and belts.

Yet another great idea for a Colombian souvenir, particularly if your child was born on the islands or if you choose to visit there.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Festival de la Luna Verde -- Green Moon Festival

El Festival de la Luna Verde or the Green Moon Festival got its start in 1988, with the 1st annual festival. The Festival was designed to celebrate the Affro Caribbean roots of the islands (San Andres, Santa Catalina and Providencia). According to an article I read in El Tiempo, the festival is unfortunately no longer held. However, here is what it was like.
The party would begin with a parade to all parts of the island, following the roads, accompanied by music. There were marches and dances hearkening back to dances from Ghana and other African places.
At night there were music competitions from groups representing European folkloric music like polka and chottis that has influenced the people of the islands.
There were also presentations paying homage to the population's African roots. These groups used drums, shells and other native African instruments -- they called this the Congo Meeting.
The festival also included musicians from all quarters of the Caribbean playing genres like Reggae, Ska, Calypso, Vallenato and other musical traditions.
And, of course, what Colombian Festival would be complete without a beauty contest. In this case, it was the Reinado del Coco -- where they would crown the Coconut Queen.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rondón or Rundown -- Not to Miss Cuisine

One of the classic dishes of the Islands (San Andrés, Santa Catalina and Providencia) is Rundown or Rondón.

Using coconut milk as the broth base, you add snail, pig tail, and fish (sometimes shrimp, crab or lobster are added) as the meat. You also add to the meat green plantains, yuca, breadfruit, yams, dumplings and spices.

It is usually cooked outside and most often on the beach in a large pot over an open fire. This unique and VERY typcial dish is well worth a whirl if you get a chance to visit San Andrés while in Colombia
* Photos

Monday, October 26, 2009

San Andrés and Providencia

One of the most important places for Afrocolombians are the islands of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina. They have an amazing history, which is as follows:

During the 1600's, while Spain and Portugal flourished because of their possessions in the new world, France and England became jealous and angry. They wanted a piece of the pie. However, Pope Alexander I had divided the New World in 1493, drawing an imaginary line between the North and South Pole, giving Portugal possession of lands on one side and Spain possession of lands on the other side. As a result, France and England were excluded from the riches of the New World.

The English adopted a belligerent attitude and in 1558, they began an organized, state sponsored, campaign of piracy -- known in English as PRIVATEERING. This tactic was designed to weaken Spain.

Pirates such as Sir John Hawkins, Sir Francis Drake, and Henry Morgan stole from the Spanish Armada as they attempted to take the riches from America back to Europe. Much of the gold and riches obtained from the Nueva Granada, through the use of African and Indians slaves, ended up lost to Pirate ships.

In 1588, the Spanish attempted to put and end to English activity when they sent the Invincible Armada to fight the English. However, they lost. This opened the way for the British to colonize many of the Spanish territories in the Caribbean.

It was under these conditions that in 1631, the English ship -- Seaflower -- arrived at the island of Providencia. The English had identified the island as a strategic spot on the route of the Spanish Galleons returning to Spain. A perfect home base for pirates.

There, the English built 9 forts with a total of 49 cannons. From this base, the English launched numerous attacks on the Spanish.

In 1638, there was a slave uprising on Providencia. The harsh treatment of the English toward their slaves had caused them to revolt. Many, fearing repercussions, fled to the island of San Andrés.

In 1641, the Spanish launched an attempt to recover Providencia. They were victorious and the English left, leaving a majority of their slaves abandoned on the island. These slaves were left under the new leadership of the governor Gerónimo de Ojeda.

In 1670, the English pirate Henry Morgan again conquered the island. There the English remained until 1689 when it returned to the Spanish. The island remained in Spanish control with slaves working sugar and cotton plantations. (Today, the major crop is coconuts.)

However, Spain's administration of the archipelago, has lead to a lasting battle over who controls the islands. In 1803, the Spanish assigned sovereignty of the islands and the Eastern coast of what is today Nicaragua to the Viceroy of Nueva Granada -- the Nueva Granada included what is today Panama. This area was administered from Cartagena. Once Colombia gained its independence from Spain, administration of the islands and the Eastern part of Nicaragua was given to the department of Magdalena.

Meanwhile, the United Provinces of Central America had formed, and they occupied Eastern Nicaragua and claimed the islands also. Colombia protested.

When the UPCA dissolved, Nicaragua became an independent state and carried on the battle over the islands with Colombia.

In 1912, Colombia established a local administration on the island, and in 1928 a treaty was signed with Nicaragua that gave the archipelago to Colombia.

However, in 1980, under the Sandinista government, Nicaragua claimed that the treaty had been signed under pressure and military occupation from the United States and therefore was null and void.

Colombia argues that though the treaty was signed during the US occupation of Nicaragua, it was not ratified by the Nicaraguan congress until 1930 -- after the US had withdrawn.

In 2001, Nicaragua appealed to the International Court of Justice, which eventually sided with Colombia on the sovereignty of the islands. Notwithstanding, they have yet to rule on the maritime boarders of Colombia which also includes some smaller Cays (Keys) -- La Serrana, El Roncador, and Quitasueño. Read more in this great article published last month:


Friday, October 23, 2009

Pollo Gritador

Yesterday, I mentioned an option for not to miss cuisine -- Pollo Gritador -- Screaming Chicken. Today, I will provide the recipe so that you could try this on your next Bar-B-Q.

Step #1

Take 5 pounds of chicken breast, clean and pound them so that they are even and will cook evenly.

Step #2

In a food processor, mix the following.
2 large tomatoes
4 green onions
1 medium onion finely chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic
4 sprigs of cilantro -- cut off the stem
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chicken broth instant powder
(I like Herb-ox my MIL uses Knorr).
Salt to taste, if necessary

Once ingredients are all mixed and chopped up in the food processor, I cook them in a frying pan on medium in:

3-4 Tablespoons butter (I use regular Smart Balance instead).

Cook the GUISO in the butter until everything is tender and the onions just start to brown. Take off the stove.

Step #3

Fork chicken and marinate the chicken in about 2 cups of Hogao. Let the chicken marinate over night.

Step #4

2 hours prior to cooking, add 1 1/2 - 2 cups of aguardiente (Colombian liquor with a base of anise).

Step #5

Bar-B-Q the chicken spraying few times with aguardiente.

Serve with white rice.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Not to Miss Cuisine - Asado Huilense

The most typically food associated with the Festival de San Pedro (Festival Folclórico de Bambuco) in Huila is the famous ASADO HUILENSE or Hulian Bar-B-Q.

Though each family probably has its own take on the amount of spices and the kinds of spices used, however, the overall idea and taste of the Bar-B-Q is the same.

You can use some or all of the following ingredients:

Carne de cerdo -- Pork
Cerveza -- Beer

Ajo -- Garlic
Pimentón -- Green Pepper
Cebolla larga -- Green onions
Laurel -- Bay leaf
Tomillo -- Thyme
Yerba buena -- Spearmint
Albahaca -- Basil
Poleo -- Pennyroyal (a kind of mint plant)
Naranja agria -- Bitter orange
Nuez Moscada -- Nutmeg
Canela -- Cinnamon
Sal -- Salt
Pimienta -- Pepper

The pork is marinated in the beer/spice marinade for at least 24 hours. Then, you put it in a clay tray and place it in the oven -- they use a brick and clay oven. Look at the cool video:

I couldn't find a free use photo, but here is a link to a picture:

I have gotten some e-mail and comments from people who for religious -- or other reasons do not eat pork. So, I wanted to make a suggestion for a not to miss cuisine for a non-pork food, you may want to try Pollo Gritador (Screaming Chicken). This tasty dish is made with chicken, hogao, and aguardiente (an alcoholic drink made from anise).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


The famous Colombian poet -- Rafael Pombo -- once wrote:

“Para conjurar el tedio de este vivir, tan maluco,
Dios me depare un bambuco y al punto, santo remedio

which means
In order to avert tedium in this life, so awful.
God has sent me a bambuco and with it, a holy remedy.

Most musicians, anthropologists, and historians claim that Bambuco has its roots in African mixed with Indigenous culture -- with some Spanish thrown in for good measure. Whatever its roots, however, Bambuco is a uniquely Colombian genre that has spread to other parts of South and Central America. Bambuco is most commonly associated with the following Departments of Colombia: Nariño, Cauca, Valle del Cauca, Tolima, Huila, Antioquia, Risaralda, Quindío, Cundinamarca, both Santanders, and Boyacá.

While there are modern singers of Bambuco (Conjunto Villa María, Trío Palo Santo, and Cuarto Palos), it is typically considered to be folkloric music.

It is based on 3/4 or 6/8 time, and employs instruments such as the Tiple, the Bandola, the Guitar, the Requinto and some people add flutes or other instruments. A few weeks ago I mentioned the contest held to decide the 20 most beautiful songs of Colombia. Well, among the top 20 are 5 Bambucos. In fact, the song that took second place is a Bambuco. It is called, "Yo también tuve 20 años" -- "I also was once 20 years old", by José A. Morales.

Here is a link to the song:

The song that took 7th place is also a Bambuco -- SOY COLOMBIANO by Rafael Godoy. Awesome song!! Ay que orgulloso me siento de ser un buen Colombiano!

There is a beautiful dance associated with the Bambuco. The dance itself is associated with love, and shows a process of a romance between campesinos. It has several parts:

1- The invitation (La invitación)
2- The flirting (Los coqueteos)
3- The pursuit (La perseguida) -- where sometimes a kiss is stolen
4- The union (La unión)

Here are a couple of links to videos showing the dance. You will note that no two dances are exactly alike.

For the Bambuco, traditional costumes are worn. In fact, purchasing a traditional bambuco costume could be a great souvenir for a Colombian born child.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

National Bambuco Folk Festival and Beauty Pageant

In 1790, the governor of the area that is now Huila, declared a special fiesta in Honor of the King of Spain. These fiestas or "La Jura" was required to demonstrate obedience and respect to the King.

Originally, the fiestas were to be held for 10 days in the month of June and corresponded with the Día de San Juan (Day of Saint John -- June 24) and that of San Pedro (Saint Peter -- June 29). In centuries past, the Día de San Juan was more celebrated by those in rural areas and the Día de San Pedro by those in the cities.

In 1956, the first parade, where people dressed in traditional clothing, was organized. A few years later, in 1960, the first annual Festival Folclorico y Reinado del Bambuco was declared by a city ordinance.

The festival includes competitions and prizes for the best musical groups, the best dancers, and the best floats. Of course, as with almost any Colombian festival, there is a beauty pageant where the contestants are each required to dance a Bambuco -- see tomorrow's post. In addition to the dance, the contestants participate in the Water Parade where they flost on decorated boats, in their bathing suits, down the Magdalena River.
Photo by:

Monday, October 19, 2009


While the rest of Colombia calls people from Huila -- Huilenses, they call themselves Opitos. Just one of the many unique things about the people and culture of Huila.
The capital of Huila is Neiva which is located about 5 hours from Bogotá. Neiva is located on the Magdalena river and is hot and humid -- with average daily temperatures ranging from 89-102 degrees.
The city itself was founded on May 24, 1612, by Diego de Ospina y Medinilla, and the department of Huila was established in 1905, with Neiva as its capital.
What to see in Neiva?
  • Parque Santander -- This is the main park in the center of town. Surrounding it are government and religious buildings. You can see the Templo Colonial or the modern catherdral. There are also shops and restaurants.
  • Parque Isla -- This park is located on the shores of the Magdalena. You can take the Teleférico or go in a canoe to get there. It is a nature preserve where you can see birds, ride horses, fish, or kayak or canoe in the Magdalena.
  • Estación Ferrocarril -- This is where the Casa de Cultura is located.
  • Concha Acústica Jorge Villamil Cordovez -- This is where a children's park and library are located. Often there are cultural and artistic presentations for children here.

Your meeting at ICBF:

Since the climate is hot, you will not be expected to wear a suit coat or pantyhose. However, nice dress slacks and a collared shirt for men would be appropriate and modest (nothing sleeveless, low-cut, or mini) summer-type dresses would be appropriate for women.

Huilenses will expect that you conscientiously use your best manners. You will need to be friendly. Always greet people and acknowledge their greetings. Always graciously accept invitations and be effusive in your compliments. Also, make sure that you don’t take your leave without individually saying “Goodbye” to EVERYONE in the room.


Besides learning the word Opito/a, you may also want to know that often people in Huila call children GUAMBITOS. So, if you hear this word, you'll know what they are talking about.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Friends of Colombian Orphans

The FOCO ebay auction is LIVE! It will also appear
in Missionfish in a few days.

Please take a look!

If there is anything you would like,
remember that all proceeds benefit
Friends of Colombian Orphans.

There are some great souvenirs from Colombia, just in case
you missed buying a MOLA while you were there.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Good News for ICBF Valle del Cauca

Last week, I read a great article in El Tiempo about how an internal ICBF change in that region is getting children out of the system and into adoptive homes more quickly. So far this year (as of September) 114 children from the department of Valle del Cauca have found new homes. This is the same number that found adoptive homes in ALL of last year.

Here is a summary translation of the article.

All night he slept, covered from head to toe with a blanket. Only his hand slipped outside of his cocoon to take that of his mother, confirming that she would still be there when he awoke. This was the first time that Pepe (named changed) had shared a bed with a mother and father. In his nine years of life, he had never felt such a marvelous sensation. It was the sealing of a pact that had opened the door to the home he had waited for since he was born. Even though expressing what he feels is difficult because he has been deaf since birth, nothing is too difficult for this little boy -- not even the fact that his new family speaks another language.

After a month of living with his new parents and four of his five new brothers and sisters, all of them are now ready to start their new adventure.

"Family is the top priority. Children are the most important thing in life, now it is our mission to help our six children succeed." said Tiffani, who won't let Pepe out of her sight.

Her husband Edward added that it is like starting over again. But once they arrive home, things will return to normal and their new son will finally know what it is like to have a wonderful family.

Even though Pepe, because of his special needs, is part of a group of children considered difficult to adopt, he is one of the 114 children from Valle del Cauca that have found a home this year. This is the same number of children that found homes in all of last year.

John Arley Murillo, the director of the ICBF regional office in Valle del Cauca, that the successful increase in the number of adoption processes is directly related to a reassignment of the Family Advocates (Defensores de Familia) in each of the area offices.

"For ICBF, each adoption process has its own story. It is our mission to find solutions in a timely fashion so that those stories are of happy boys and girls with bright futures," said Murillo. He added, "Following a national directive, what we have done is reassign all 95 of our Family Advocates to one office. This allows the workers to get to know many different cases and to make recommendations about the future of the children in our care without having to travel. Before, it might have taken up to three years to determine a child's future. Unfortunately, during this time the child would grow up and become part of the group of children that have difficulty finding adoptive homes."

The new system allows the workers to review a larger number of cases which thereby is speeding up the process for those children. This has allowed the 114 children, which include a group with 4 siblings, to find homes with families where everyone has a place. "This is how we are accomplishing the goal that every child will have the dream of finding a home," concluded Murillo.

"We cannot continue to provide homes for children whose parents only visit them once every three months without fulfilling their responsibility to raise them and provide for them. The Family Advocates have the mission of determining the future of these children who would likely enter the adoption program. "

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Why are kids in ICBF care?

The newspaper El Tiempo recently had a article that discussed the top reasons why children in the department of Cundimarca (the cities and area surrounding Bogotá) end up in ICBF care.

According to the article, the number one reason children come into the care of ICBF Cundinamarca is physical abuse and neglect.

The report states that in 2008, 3,178 children were referred to ICBF for reasons of physical abuse. So far this year, 2,496 children have been referred to ICBF for the same reason.

According to the Infant and Adolescent Police, the cities of Soacha, Chía and Facatativa are the cities with the highest number of reported abuse cases in Cundinamarca.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Most Common Last Names in Colombia

I have posted before about the most common first names in Colombia, but I got an e-mail asking me about the most common last names. And believe it or not, I was able to find the answer.


#1 Rodríguez -- with 675,196 Colombianos sharing this last name.
#2 Gómez -- 514,497
#3 González -- 506,861
#4 Martínez -- 504,486

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

An Easy Way to Help Friends of Colombian Orphans

Ebay Giving Works is an easy way for anyone to support Friends of Colombian Orphans. You decide what you want to sell and list it using the link below. When your item sells, you mail it, and MISSIONFISH will collect the donation, send it to FOCO and will send you a receipt for tax purposes.

Here is an opportunity for you to sell your stuff on ebay and have the proceeds from the sale to go to Friends of Colombian Orphans. Please decide what you would like to donate, and then go to the following link:

You can read more about FOCO at the following link:

Monday, October 12, 2009

Día de la Raza -- National Holiday

Perhaps no holiday is more controversial than that of October 12. It is the day where we celebrate the collision of 2 worlds, which had tragic consequences among the native peoples of America, while creating a New World and a new RAZA (race). This is what is celebrated today.

The word RACE in English insufficiently communicates what the word RAZA means in Spanish. When we think of race in English we think of skin color. Raza in Spanish refers to the entire sum of the collision of cultures -- a new kind of race RAZA is what the people have become as a result of the fusion of religion -- culture -- philosophy -- language -- -- etc.

Here is a link to some children's songs -- in Spanish -- that celebrate the Día de la RAZA.

Many native peoples see this holiday as a celebration of their ultimate cultural destruction. In fact, as we saw last week with a discussion of just 4 of the 87 native peoples of Colombia, the cultural and linguistic diversity that exists in the world is at risk of continued decline.

Here are some interesting statistics which show the threat that global cultural diversity faces in today's society.

1. Information and power is dominated by only a few languages
  • between 50% and 95% of the world’s approximately 6,800 languages face extinction
  • 90% of the world’s languages are not represented on the Internet

2. Trade in cultural products - from books to television to Internet - is heavily imbalanced in favour of the developed countries.

  • 5 countries monopolize the world’s
  • nearly half of the world’s countries have never made their own film

3. There is a growing Literacy gap between developed and under developed countries.

  • 2/3 of humanity is excluded from building the global knowledge base

It is important to learn about Colombia, its culture, its people, its languages, its food, and teach your child/ren about the same.

Mahatma Gandhi, Indian philosopher and Statesman once wrote:

‘I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.’

Friday, October 09, 2009

Tule or Kuna Indians and the Mola

The Tule (meaning the people) or Kuna (name commonly given the group) Indians live in the Urabá region of Antioquia and the islands of San Blas in Panamá.

They are a matriarchal society. When a couple marries, the groom goes to live with his in-laws and he works for them.

Like most indigenous peoples, their society revolves around hunting, fishing, and agriculture.

The language, Dulegaya, is still spoken and taught in the communities.

Here is a clip from a documentary about the Tule-Kuna of Colombia:

One of the most beautiful handicrafts of Colombia are the MOLAS made by the Kuna women. Here is a picture of one:

Molas are bright colorful works made by using a reverse appliqué process. In the process several layers of brightly colored cloth are loosely sewn together. Then, the top layers are cut and folded back and then hand sewn to the layers below.

Molas (which means 'blouse' in the Tula language) are still worn by the women of the village with a blue skirt and leg beads, however, men have adopted western style clothing.

Molas are available in main Colombian artesan shops and would make a lovely souvenir.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Awá

The Awá indigenous community is located along the south-west mountainous rain forests near Tumaco in Narino (also located in Northern Ecuador). They live on several Indigenous reservations.

Awá means the "people." They live in small communities that consist of large extended family units. There is typically long distances between communities.

The people live off of the land hunting, fishing, and growing corn (maiz), and other vegetables.

Unfortunately, little has been written about the AWÁ and their culture. The best resource is in Spanish. It is a book by Benhur Ceron Solarte called LOS AWÁ-KWAIKER.

As I mentioned yesterday, some of the hardest hit by the drug/guerrilla violence are those of indigenous communities. Unfortunately, the reservations where the Awá live are also located in areas where poppy and coca are grown. Thus making it ground zero for the FARC / Paramilitary / Army war.

Under such conditions, the Awá have recently suffered great loss. On August 26, there was a massacre of 12 Awá Indians (7 of whom were children) which sent over 200 local Indians fleeing from the Awá Reservation called Gran Rosario toward the city of Tumaco. On the 13th of September a 45 year old Awá man was killed by armed men. On September 15th, an 18 year old Awá was killed by armed men on the reservation known as Hojal de Turbia. On September 16, a 21 year old Awá man was killed on the Kuambi Yaslambi reservation. On September 19, an Awá man, who had fled the Pialapi Pueblo Viejo reservation because of FARC activity and was heading for Tumaco was gunned down. On September 23, 10 men dressed in military uniforms entered the home of the Awá woman Mercedes Guanga. They demanded money, but the family had none. The woman was shot point blank and the family has fled the area.

Unfortunately, I could not find public domain pictures of the Awá, but an article I found about the Awá has a few. Here is a link:

More info in Spanish here:

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Waunana and their Werregue

The Waunana are closely related to the Embera and inhabit much of the same territory of the Embera. Many live in Chocó in the San Juan River basin, but there are others in the department of Cauca these are the Waunan Nonam.

I have read some estimates that say prior to 800 AD they were the same people and spoke the same language. Then, sometime between 800 and 1200 AD their language began to change and now they are as closely related as German is to English.

Their cultural and religious traditions seem to be much more cohesive than the diverse Embera, but their overall lifestyle is very similar.

I also read that there has been a lot of racial mixing between the Waunana and Afrocolombians in the Chocó region. I am not sure if this source was particularly reliable, however, I think that it stands to reason based on the following:

One of the most unique handicrafts of Colombia, WERREGUE BASKETS, are made by the Waunana Indians in the Chocó region. The Colombian official Tourism site states that the baskets probably have their origin in Africa, however, the Waunana have made the craft their own.

Using fiber from the werregue, a 20 to 30 meter high palm tree with a thorny trunk. The Waunana women can weave a vase in 30 - 60 days. The designs in the basket weave represent images of men and animals, scenes from Waunanan mythology or simple geometric shapes. The fibers of the werregue are combined with fruits and seeds that provide color to the basket.

Here is a You Tube video of some of the baskets:

This is yet another great souvenir idea for your little Colombian. You can see examples of these baskets and purchase them at the following websites:

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Embera

The Emberas are nomadic peoples that live primarily in the department of Chocó and the part of Antioquia known as Urabá, however, there are also Emberas in other parts of Colombia as well as in neighboring Panamá. The Emberas are Colombia's 3rd largest indigenous group with a population of approximately 71,000.

They are hunter gatherers and often still use the poison dart (made from the poison-dart frog)blow-gun, bows and arrows, or spears to catch their prey. They live in houses on stilts, which were to protect them from jaguars, wild boar and other jungle hazards. Both men and women are shirtless in their native environment wearing loincloths and skirts.

One of the unique features of the Embera is the body painting that they do. The Embera use the inedible fruit JAGUA to create a black dye that is then used to paint their bodies. The dye lasts 10 days to 2 weeks. Each design has a meaning and each is different for age as well as gender.

There are actually 5 different dialects of Embera. In their language, Embera means the "people" and they distinguish themselves by geographical regions. The people of the river are the Embera-Katío and the Northern Embera. They live in the department of Chocó and the Urabá region of Antioquia. Next, are the people of the mountains, called the Embera-Chamí and the Embera-Tadó. These people live in the western mountain range of Antioquia, Risaralda, Caldas, and Valle del Cauca. Finally, there are the people of the sea or Embera-Baudó. They live on the river tributaries of the Pacific Ocean towards the southern port of Buenaventura in the departments of Chocó and Valle del Cauca.

This tenacious group of indigenous Americans have held on to their culture and traditional way of life for over 500 years despite being among the first South American Indians to have contact with Spanish Conquistadores. As the story goes, in the early 1500's, the Spanish built a small colony at Acandí -- near the current boarder with Panamá. There they encountered the Embera. Ultimately, the colony failed to thrive. The Emberas resisted the Spanish and the conquerors left. One of the colonists -- Francisco Pizarro -- ultimately moved on to Perú and conquered the Inca.

Unfortunately, the indigenous peoples of Colombia, and particularly those along the Pacific Coast (Embera and Awá) are threatened by the guerrillas and violence endemic in rural Colombia.

One cannot talk about the Embera without recognizing the large numbers that have been assassinated or forced to leave their native lands thereby jeopardizing their culture and very existence.

In 2006, the UNHRC said the following: "The Embera indigenous people are displaced by armed conflict. There are over two million internally displaced persons in Colombia and while forced displacement is always a very difficult experience, it is doubly catastrophic for indigenous communities. Indigenous culture is closely linked to the land and displacement often leads to the total collapse of traditional authority and cultural patterns." The pictures for today are linked to this report.

In addition to the threats by the Colombian Civil War, the Embera are at risk of losing their land to US mining companies and a large water project. Read more here:


Monday, October 05, 2009

Colombian Indigenous Group Statistics

The DANE (the government office in charge of census and statistics) provided the following information in 2005.

There are approximately 1,400,000 indigenous people, from 87 different ethnic groups that live in Colombia.

These groups speak 64 different languages from 13 different language families.

There are 710 reservations and the Indigenous peoples occupy 29.8% of the national territory.

In 1900, 25% of the Colombian population were indigenous, today it is 3.4%.

The Colombian Constitution guarantees 2 senators and 1 congressman to represent the collection of the nation's indigenous population.

* photos

Friday, October 02, 2009

Indigenous Groups of the Pacific and Afrocolombian Influence

Although the largest portion of the population on the Pacific Coast is of African descent (approximately 700,000 rural afrocolombian farmers), there are still large groups of indigenous peoples all along the coast. The largest group is the EMBERA (40,000), followed by the AWÁ (10,000), the WAUNANA (7,000), and the KUNA (600) native peoples.

The native peoples accepted the afrocolombian encroachment much more readily than that of the white man. There has been some, though not much, mixing of the races and the children of afrocolombian and indigenous people are called Zambos. They make up approximately 2 1/2 -3% of the population.

In a book by Javier Ocampo Lopez (a professor at the UPTC in Tunja), I found an Embera legend about the origin of race that I thought might be interesting to share to close out this week.

According to the group of Embera Indians known as the Catios, who live in Choco, there exists the god EUANDAMA, whose body is that of the sun. Euandama married the moon and they had many, many children -- all of whom were black. Together with the children, they all went to the Bahia Solano on Colombia's Pacific coast. There, Euandama created a large lagoon and filled it with milk. Then, all of the children were ordered to bathe in the lagoon. Those who arrived first found that their skin became white (the Spanish). Those who arrived a bit more slowly found that there was not much milk left and ended up with a brownish skin (the Indigenous people). The last group to arrive had not hurried enough and there was just a little milk left in puddles at the bottom of the lagoon. So, there was only enough for them to wash their hands and feet, which were left more white than the rest of their bodies (those of African descent).

Population statistics:

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Drinks of the Costa Pacífica

One of the most unique aspects of food from the Pacific coast is the large variety of drinks that they have. Each department seems to have their specialty drink.


For this coconut chocolate milk, you take 8 bars of Colombian chocolate, 2 cups of coconut milk from freshly opened coconuts, 4 cups of milk, and sugar to taste. First, melt the chocolate in the coconut milk on low heat. Mix constantly with a hand mixer (molinillo). When the chocolate is completely melted, add milk and sugar and stir until they are dissolved.

JUGO DE NAIDÍ - from Guapí, Cauca

The naidí (nigh DEE) is more commonly known in the U.S. as the

acai fruit. They come from palm trees where they grow in bunches, like grapes. They start out green and turn a deep reddish-purple when they ripen.

To prepare a delicious drink from the fruit, you place the ripe berries in a pot of water that just covers the berries, and then boil on high for about 30 minutes (add water if necessary). After they are cooked, remove the berries and mash them with a rock. Then, take the remaining pulp and put it in a strainer until all the juice is collected. Mix the juice with milk and sugar -- to taste and serve cold.

FRESCO DE AGUACATE -- from Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca

Here is a different way to use your avocado. In Buenaventura, they make a drink out of it. Take 1 large avocado -- or several of the kind you can buy here in the U.S. -- cut in two, remove pit, and scrape out the pulp with a spoon. Put the avocado pulp in a blender with 4 cups of milk and 1 cup of sugar. Mix until smooth and refrigerate. Serve cold.

FRESCO DE GUANABANA -- from Tumaco, Nariño
In a blender, you mix 1/2 a Guanabana with 4 cups of milk, 1 cup of sugar, 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon, and lots of ice. Delicious!