Buffalo / Kamentsa and Inga Indigenous Communities in the Sibundoy Valley
THE OLD PATH AND THE AMBITIONS OF A COMING POWER
From the times of the Conquest to current times, whoever travels to Putumayo becomes awed by the beauty of the Sibundoy Valley. Its magic comes not only from the landscape with rivers, volcanic peaks, flowers, trees, birds and other living creatures but from its horizon surrounded by the majesty of the Andes and the wilderness of the nearby Amazon jungle. The valley is the connection between these two well-defined geographic entities and for thousands of years has played the role of a bridge to unite and not separate all the elements that live and survive in its midst.
In harmony with this place, the Kamentsá and Ingá communities inhabit Sibundoy. Theoretically, the homeland of these indigenous communities encompasses an immense extension of land in southern Colombia and even a part of Ecuador, and is a territory given to them by an officially registered will of Taita Carlos Tamiobioy as a grant from the Spanish Crown in the year 1700. The Kamentsa and Inga cultures are refined and serene, full of artistic feelings reflected in the beautiful masks and crafts they make, which show the serenity of their souls. Their cosmology does not indicate they came to Sibundoy from some other land, nor how they ended up there. Their language is a mystery and no one has been able to demonstrate links to any other language in the region. Contrary to all in the region, their religion is based upon the moon and little children are washed in their rivers at midnight, during special holidays, when there is a full moon. A long time ago, there was a war between the Ingá and the Kamentsá, but after senseless fighting, they made peace among themselves. This was the beginning of an annual holiday called “Fiesta del Perdón” (Celebration of Forgiveness), a holiday for dancing and being merry and to enjoy each other’s company. As part of this holiday, anyone who has offended another, asks for forgiveness and all of them grant pardons. This is a great lesson for the rest of Colombia to learn!
In the Andean part of the Valley there are mountains with forests that receive the winds from the Amazon and become factories of water. Many rivers are born there which later feed the mighty Amazon. For thousands of years Andean tribes and Amazon tribes have met along a primitive path called the Old Road (Camino Viejo or Ruku Nambi) to engage in barter transactions. (Even if you do not speak Spanish or Kamentsá or Ingá you can enjoy the beauty and the clear waters at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7C1wnkxHEqI).
This path is the selected route chosen by the Colombian government to construct a new highway between the town of San Francisco and Mocoa, the capital city of Putumayo Department, which will pass directly through these sacred historic lands, where the indigenous have their burial grounds. The new road, with financing committed by the Inter American Development Bank (IADB), is to replace the present road, which is in poor shape. The road is planned as a part of a highway and waterway development extending from Belem on the Atlantic Coast of Brazil to Tumaco on the Pacific Coast of Colombia. It will respond to the ambition of Brazil to have an outlet to the Pacific in order to trade with China and other Asian countries. And it is one of the many roads planned by the governments of South America through IIRSA (Integracion de la Infraestructura Regional Suramericana) to open up the Amazon and the rest of South America to facilitate business, especially mining and oil-drilling.
The path has an immense significance to the two indigenous nations, because it is the site of their sacred places and of their cemeteries. The plan calls for cutting 97 hectares of virgin forests, which the Kamentsa and Inga fear will destroy the water sources of the Sibundoy Valley, making it impossible for them to grow the crops which sustain them. At the request of these two communities, CSN has undertaken an intense work to help them survive culturally and physically. Colombia’s Constitutional Court has declared the Inga and Kamentsa on the verge of extinction. CSN, through a chapter in formation in Buffalo, New York, is accompanying the Kamentsa and Inga communities in their fight to save their lands, their culture and their traditions.
CSN Buffalo is planning another delegation to this region. CSN Buffalo has helped leaders of both communities to come to Bogota, to bring the issue to Colombian NGO’s, universities and others to widen support for their struggle.