Who Loses What in a Civil War? The Kogi-Wiwa-Arhuaco of Colombia

The Kogi-Wiwa-Arhuaco Reserve, home to several of Colombia’s indigenous groups, are the ultimate losers in the ongoing civil war that threatens to take from them what is left from the passage of time.

The Kogi-Wiwa-Arhuaco Reserve, an area containing several indigenous towns in Colombia - Bunkwimake, Gúmake, Jiwa Chivilongui, Acleyzhi, Ulueyzhi, Goksheyzhi, Kemakumake and Kalabangaga - still constitutes an intact pre-Columbian high civilization, one that has survived both Spanish and industrial colonizations over the course of time. The natives belonging to this country have preserved their ancestral ways of life, maintaining a rich culture and continuing in the education of their so-called “Mamas”, priests of the Kogi nation, wise men trained since their childhood both to preserve and work in the spirit world.

The Kogi area is one of those indigenous populations that belong to Colombia , a country not simply going through a situation of internal fighting, but suffering a civil war. The same kind of civil war that, for whatever reasons, we have seen in many countries. However, the case of Colombia is different in one respect. The complicated array of numerous warring and quarreling groups has trapped within it an equally diverse number of indigenous people, who have essentially nothing to do with the current internecine situation, a situation that is part of a world they simply do not belong to.

What has not been eroded with the passage of time is in danger of being eradicated by warring squads, all products of national chaos and violence. According to Danilo Villafañe, a representative of the Kogi community acting under an organization called “Gonawindua Tairona”, heavily armed men, apparently members of the Self-Defense Union of Colombia (AUC), invaded part of the northern coastal province of Magdalena (which includes part of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta), where the Kogi nation and other indigenous tribes live. Mr. Villafañe explains that the Kogi had never sought help before.

Not so now. They are presently trying to bring their appeals to the attention of the President of Colombia through simple letters, as well as seeking to attract the attention of human rights organizations. Upon actually reading those letters, one realizes the simple validity of their claims, asking for the rights that are intrinsic to humans irrespective of their level of civilization or development. They ask for the simple right to live.

But in a war, the right to live –the most basic right of all - does not turn out to be a valuable one. It is as devalued as the bank accounts of those enduring the war from the vantage point of a more 'advanced' civilization.