Danilo Villafañe, a political leader of the Arhauco people in northern Colombia. Photo by Rhett A Butler, March 2010.
The Arhauco, a fiercely independent and deeply spiritual group that lives in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains in Northern Colombia, have for the past 30 years struggled against paramilitaries, guerillas, coca growers, and colonists who have invaded their lands for ranching, coca production, and racketeering. But today the Arhauco are making progress in their struggle, buying back farms and ranches, while eradicating coca fields. The efforts are paying off: today their Indian reservation extends from the high mountains of the Sierra Nevada nearly to the sea.
Via the Organización Gonawindúa Tayrona, Danilo Villafañe is playing a key role in reclaiming indigenous lands and reducing commercial coca production in what the Arhauco know as the Corazón del Mundo (“Heart of the World”): the Sierra Nevada.
The Sierra Nevada is also home to the Kogi (Kogui) and Wiwa, as well as the Cancuamo people, who have lost most of their culture, including their language. All four groups are believed to be descendants of the Tairona, a civilization that ruled much of the Caribbean coast of Colombia until Europeans arrived in the New World.