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© 2018 | Jaime Gómez

The Indian in mid-twentieth-century Colombia.

February 15, 2018

Information from different sources suggests that in mid-twentieth-century Colombia some sectors still saw the Indian as a socially and culturally backward person in need of transformation. In his speech delivered at the First Convention of National Territories (1) held in 1966, for example, the president of the Colombian Congress labelled the Indian as "innocent in his ignorance." The Colombian president, in his turn addressing the convention's participants, praised the Catholic church's "civilizing" efforts that were transforming the Indian into a "useful element" for the country. The head of the national territories, in his turn, talked about the need to keep preparing the Indian to "enjoy the benefits of progress and civilization." However, a more moderate speech was delivered by the head of the Indian Affairs Division. Although acknowledging that the goal of missioners and public officials was to "acculturate or integrate" the Indian, he called for their training in "ethnography, social anthropology, and linguistics" so they could understand the natives better. The position of the head of the Indian Affairs Division is reflected consistently in all the correspondence I could review. An ethnologist himself, his letters show the tension between the "civilizing" endeavor promoted by the government he represented and the need to respect the Indians' own culture.      



In the popular press, articles in the period's newspapers also suggest that some people saw Indians as inferior beings. An article published in El Espectador in 1960, for example, implies that some Indians were still held as slaves by rich families in La Guajira region. Another article published in El Tiempo the same year shows that Indians did not have any representative in local governments; not even in regions where the natives made most of the population. A stunning article titled "Poisoning Indians: Not a Crime" published in El Matutino as late as 1973 relates a conflict between Indians and farmers that ended up in the latter poisoning the Indians' food (see image of the headline). Through the article's title the reporter wanted to highlight how Indians were mistreated by white people, apparently without facing legal consequences.


(1) Territorios Nacionales was an administrative category used by the Colombian government to group and manage remote and lowly populated regions.


Sources (including image):  Archivo General de la Nación, Colombia, CO.AGN.AO/100.MGOB[2]-4//56.1, CO.AGN.AO/100.MGOB[2]-3/21.1.1, CO.AGN.AO/100.MGOB[2]-3/51.2.1    

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