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:



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