Mundo Entre Las Montañas
We spent time at the community reserves witnessing Embera traditions, listening to their stories of displacement and learning about their craftsmanship. In order for us to reach these communities we teamed up with a human rights lawyer part of a national organization that systematically works on the rights of indigenous peoples. The reserves we work with are located in Risaralda and Valle del Cauca (western central region of the Colombia).
- The Embera are Colombia's third largest indigenous group. There are some 300,000 Embera, whose ancestors were nomadic, in 17 of Colombia’s 32 departments or provinces, but mainly concentrated in the west: Chocó, Antioquia, Caldas and Risaralda departments. There are also Embera in neighbouring Panama and Ecuador. They are the most widely dispersed native group in this South American country, according to the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC).
- "Embera" meaning "people," and Chami meaning "mountain" are curators of the land and as a community have been greatly affected by the armed conflict in the country. Living on resource-rich lands, threats often come from local and foreign gold, timber, mining and palm oil companies and criminal gangs.
- Colombia's native communities struggle daily to remain neutral in a conflict where both sides - government forces and armed rebels - place pressure on them to participate. Embera leaders have been vocal and repeatedly express they do not support one side or the other. "We want everyone out. Let us cultivate and live on our land as we have done for many centuries. This is not our war " as stated by one of our collaborators, Flaminio Onogama Gutierrez (Governador).
- Embera women are leading artisans, mothers of generational weaving techniques and caretakers. They are master craftsman’s who make beautiful jewelry. Women stay at home weaving, educating their children and helping the community with the daily activities. Once living in extended family groups along the river banks of el Choco many have transitioned to settled communities within the mountains. Each group manages its own jurisdiction and believe in protecting all natural resources for the survival of their communities. Some, but not all of the children attend the government schools, usually found to be an hour of walking distance. The diet is mostly plant, tuber, legumes and fruit based diet - they do not raise cattle nor slaughter them, preferring to hunt animals and fish. The Embera are incredibly determined to keep their values and traditions intact.
- Jagua is an important fruit in the life of Embera. It is used as black dye to paint their skin. The pigment remains embedded in the skin generally lasting between 10 to 12 days. The jagua body painting is still in use for all celebrations and is one of the most enduring and important customs for Embera people. Displacement has caused for the villages to lose access to this fruit.
- The Embera make different kinds of accessories such as bracelets, necklaces, earrings and custom decor pieces. Each piece can take up to 20 days to complete. The most appreciated piece is the Okama, a necklace, worn by women that gives distinction to the woman who carries it, telling her history and role in the community. Each individual color holds special significance for the Embera.
- Flaminmo explained, the Embera economy is largely a closed system united by family ties. The families often collaborate to complete a piece and appoint a male son to handle trade negotiations. The process creates a community and behind each item stories are passed along. By continuing these crafts, the Embera keep their culture and traditions alive for future generations.
- Each piece communicates what the woman's role is within the tribe. For example, larger choker pieces are worn by married women, of a specific age expressing the wisdom and value they hold. Necklaces are crucial in the Embera culture, and they are worn since childhood. Okama means the path that runs around the neck and its purpose is to protect the woman's heart, empower her, and to highlight her beauty.
- Bold colors, geometric patterns are preferred and the size of the bead - chakira checa - is very important. Tribal leaders commented how prior to Spanish colonization they would weave with gold and as colonization came along they were introduced to the glass beads. Children are taught how to weave at a young age and often create 3 bead bracelets to begin with. Families appoint one member to make the monthly trip to Bogota and purchase weaving material.
All the pictures showed in this section were taken during our trip and time visiting with the Embera tribes in Colombia. For those interested in sharing our material or more information please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org.