Land and the persistence of culture
By: Nicholas Parkinson
Date: 23 January 2017
Source: Intercontinental Cry
YUPKA: AN INDIGENOUS YUKPA COMMUNITY STRIVES TO RECOVER ITS LAND AFTER YEARS OF CONFLICT
A community of indigenous Yukpa saw their land reduced to a third of what it once was due to violence and intimidation. Now Colombia’s Land Restitution Unit is helping the community return to their lands.
The spiritual equilibrium essential to the Yukpa community is off balance. Ancestral burial grounds have been desecrated by invaders; the trees that house the spirits are being cut down; and the wild game that Yukpa men once hunted with zeal is no longer available. The same limitations preventing the community from practicing its culture are preventing Yukpa parents from passing these activities, words, and stories down to new generations.
“The loss of culture is very real. Our children won’t know anything about the Yukpa if we aren’t rescued from extinction. If we don’t have space to preserve our culture, I guarantee that in thirty years, our culture will disappear,” says Andrés Vence, council leader of a Yukpa community consisting of 120 families living on 300 hectares in the Sierra Perijá on the border of Venezuela and Colombia.
“Culture’s longevity depends on territory.”
There are an estimated 6,000 Yukpa remaining in Colombia, and the majority live on autonomous lands known as resguardos. Over the past thirty years, the Yukpa community living in La Laguna has been victim to abuse and intimidation stemming from the armed conflict. The community has also seen its ancestral lands become increasingly occupied by “outsiders,” whom they refer to as colonists. Now, the community is pushing back by launching an ethnic restitution claim that seeks to recover 964 hectares of land and allow the community the space it needs to flourish.
HUMILIATION AND ABUSE
In 1982, the guerrilla group known as the FARC came to Yukpa territory to recruit. Andrés Vence was abducted for eight days to be indoctrinated. He and the Yukpa resisted, but then another guerrilla group known as ELN arrived the following year. After the ELN abducted several young men, Vence and his men–armed with just bows and arrows–marched into the guerrilla camp and took their children back, saying the Yukpa would not participate in any war.
When the Colombian military entered the scene in the mid-1990s, the situation turned for the worst. Yukpa families could no longer move freely from house to house, leading to the systematic abandonment of more than 900 hectares of land. For years, military checkpoints restricted the flow of food between families. AS if that wasn’t bad enough, paramilitary groups—who were often the same members of the military—came to the Yukpa villages at night to terrorize the community.
“They abused and humiliated us,” says Vence. “I think it was all in the hopes that we would open our mouths and say something that gave them the right to murder us.”