The Influence of the Capuchin Missionaries in the Arhuacos Indigenous community

Image by Peace Farm Coffee

By Juliana Guzman 

In Colombia, there are hundreds of earthly paradises, but only a few preserve the architecture, customs and traditions of indigenous people. One place rich in history is located just in the northern side of the country, in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. This place is called Nabusimake, the spiritual capital of the Arhuacos indigenous community, which is considered as a sacred territory where the community inhabits from ancestral times and have been growing coffee organically as part of their cultural tradition to protect mother nature and all living species.

The cosmovision of the Arhuacos though was jeopardized in the early 1900s when the Colombian government sent the Capuchin mission to teach and implement the principles of evangelism. During the 19th century, the Capuchin Fathers began their mission of evangelization throughout Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta to the Arhuaco community. The Capuchin Fathers imposed their customs by forcing the Arhuaco community to learn and change their lifestyle.

The Arhuaco community allowed their entry as their priority was to be able to learn how to read, write and learn the basics of mathematics. However, the Capuchin mission became problematic for the indigenous community, as churches, congregational and educational institutions were built around their territory implementing their idealism of civilization.

The Arhuaco children who were forced to be educated under the rules of the Capuchin fathers no longer wanted to speak their native language or dress according to their cultural traditions. As a consequence of 60 years of the Capuchin mission, children lost respect for their ancestors creating tension among them. In addition, the Capuchin fathers established marriage and evangelization.

Late in the century, the community realized that something needed to drastically change in order to recover their territory, their own people, and their pure cultural principles from ancestral times to preserve their land and future generations. Without the support of the Colombian government, the Arhuacos fought back by creating the Cabildo Gobernador,which gave the community the power to reestablish them as an organization to defend themselves from the Capuchin mission and protect their values and land.

As a consequence from this empowerment, the Capuchin Fathers were expelled from Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in 1982. Today, the Mamos who are spiritual leaders of the Arhuaco indigenous community would refuse the entry of any person in their land, unless the visitor respects their traditions, their community and their cosmovision.

Hence, many families from the Arhuaco community have been successfully producing organic, exotic and special coffees to the world while improving their quality of life and well-being of their community. Their coffee has a pronounced aroma, high body, good bean size, low acidity, prominent notes of dark chocolate and toasted almonds, and its production is guided also by an ancestral culture. The community continues to spread wisdom to the world and serves as examples of originality, cultural traditions and respect for Mother Earth. 

Image by Peace Farm Coffee

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