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Misak Indians and the ancestral right to historic memory

This means the statue of Belalcázar will not return to this location and it will be protected as a sacred place for this community. “The local authorities insisted on maintaining this colonial symbol which represents a racist position and legitimizes what occurred 500 years ago with the Indian dispossession”, explained Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) Professor Emeritus andAnthropologistMyriam Jimeno Santoyo.

“The pyramid or morro (hill) was an ancient Indian cemetery, place of sacred rituals, and home to a statue of a conquistador such as Belalcázar can be perceived as an insult, placing the victor over the defeated,” said Professor Jimeno.

This first agreement opened the door to establish a conversation between the Government and this community, who 500 years later, invoked documents in the colonial archives to demonstrate who was this Spaniard and taken as an affront to the historic memory of the Misak people.

Read more: Iván Mordisco and the assassination of Indians in the Province of Cauca (in Spanish).

The toppling, claims, and impact

In September 16 past, more than 4,000 Indians from several ethnicities of the Province of Cauca and members of the Misak Indigenous community knocked down the statue of the Conquistador Belalcázar located on the Morro de Tulcán in Popayán, the capital city of Cauca.

“Days before, this community issued a statement on behalf of the Autoridades Indígenas del Suroccidente – AISO (Indigenous Authorities of the South West), established in 1975, where they demanded this symbol to be taken down. A statue that praised a conqueror that used weapons ruthlessly against their people and they considered it an insult for their historic memory, honoring a conquistador that callously began taking their lands and destroying their culture,” said Jimeno.

The Indians that protested also looked to assert the memory of their slain and enslaved ancestors and the threats that had previously been received.

“There is a first impact that is the fact, as it was not a product of legal procedures or consensus, but a de facto act of a group of Misak Indians with support from the Indigenous Movement and an Indian trial; as it was clear who was the conqueror and which were the violent actions against the Indian people,” added Jimeno.

 Read more: Indians in prison, compelled to change their culture.

While, at first, the fact produced repulse from the local authorities, and other people from the political scenario, for Jimeno it is important to understand the political messages provided by an event such as this:

  1. This is not an unexpected action, but part of a cultural policy of self-acknowledgment  that has been claiming for its rights for 40 years through different organizations and have obtained important achievements, such as that of 1991 when the Political Constitution of Colombia was reformed and Misak Indian Lorenzo Muelas was elected as one of the two Indian members of the Constituent Assembly;
  2. It was a national and Cauca symbol that they wanted to change, and
  3. They wanted to obtain attention over the agreements they had with the government in 2017, regarding expanding their territory; support for their educational infrastructure; protection of the guard, and indigenous leaders, and support to the indigenous government system for strengthening agriculture and economic life forms.

“The authorities saw that toppling the statue was a de facto proceeding and they wanted to treat it as a punitive reason. Although it was a de facto act, dialogue was not an option and pondering on what are the legacy symbols they wanted to maintain. There is a world movement to review symbols that are related to oppression and slavery,” said Jimeno.

The history of the Misak and the agreement

Although the name Misak is what they have claimed for decades, they were known before as guambianos: “This is a ‘collective territory’ near the city of Popayán, with an acknowledgment title and an average of 23,000 inhabitants that have a cultural reaffirmation movement, important inter-ethnicity education, and for many years now they are a symbol of the identity of the Province of Cauca and integrated into the Colombian identity,” added Jimeno.

In Cauca, there are 300,000 Indians, of which 250,000 are Nasa (Paez). Although the Misak are a minority, they have an organization that works for their education and strengthening of their traditional authority organizations.

From this act, the road ahead was that the government needed to start a conversation with this community, “considering that they are cultures that are in the process of political and economic dignification because they have political organizations that ponder, strengthen education, their language, and their culture. It is important to recognize this dignification and acknowledgment process, and not only considering the perspective of the conquistador,” said Jimeno.

Read more: The Province of Cauca needs greater military intelligence to save youngsters and social leaders (in Spanish).

As part of the political agreement between the AISO Movement and the Government, it established that only the Colombian Anthropology and History Institute (ICANH, for its Spanish acronym) would authorize any type of intervention on Morro hill and that also in future meetings they would determine what type of investigation would be carried out, as well as the timing and the work route 3. The talks were warranted by several universities including UNal, Antioquia, Cauca, Javeriana in Bogotá, Valle, and Universidad Libre of Cali.


1 This is a property that was theirs before the creation of a state, which they are compelled to acknowledge, provide titles, and mark the territory.,titular%20y%20demarcar%20tales%20territorios.

2 According to the law established in Law 397 of 1997, modified by Article 10 of Law 1185 of 2008.

3 Political Agreement signed in the municipality of Piendamó (Province of Cauca) on September 25 of 2020 between the Colombian government and AISO.



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