Colombia's Indigenous Awá Caught in the Crossfire


The indigenous Awá people live in the forested foothills of Colombia's Andes mountains where the sparse vegetation of the mountains gives way to the steep, forested foothills that descend gradually to the Pacific coast. Until the beginning of the Century the region was relatively untouched by the country's armed conflict. The ELN guerrilla group did maintain a presence, but combats and military activity were quite rare.

In 2002 however, as the peace negotiations between the Pastrana government and the FARC were falling-apart, FARC guerrillas appeared in the foothills. They established themselves, displacing the ELN. With the presence of the FARC, coca cultivation also came to the region with all the problems that that entailed. Soon frequent clashes between the Colombian Army and the FARC followed and more of their territory was sewn with landmines. In 2006, during one of those clashes, many from the Awá communities fled to the small town of Ricaurte. Uprooted from the territory that is as central to their cultural identity, as it was to their central to their sustenance, the Awá lived very much hand to mouth in the town. Some from the community worried that their children's indigenous identity was being diluted as they grew up in a mestizo town culture, far from their traditional communities.

This video short & the images were done on assignment for the Secretariado Nacional de Pastoral Social (Colombia) and the CAFOD (UK), an NGO, over three days in 2010. The displaced communities were being accompanied by the Hermanas de la Madre Laura, a Catholic religious order that had accompanied the Awá in the region for decades. Of those Awá that fled the territory during the combats of 2006, the majority did not return to the reserves of Magüí & Pialapí. They remain living in Ricaurte.
Looking towards the Magüí resguardo - the territory from where the Awá had been displaced.
An Awá woman rides a truck along the main highway that runs close to the reserve of Magüí from where indigenous families have been displaced by combats and mines. A couple of hours previous to passing along this road, the Army had defused a roadside gas cannister IED left by the guerrillas.
Porfirio Nastacuas Ortiz (28) & his wife Fidelina García Guanga (26) with their children (l-r) Natalie (2), Jainer (5), Diana (10) y (atrás) Niecer (8). The family was displaced from Pialapí.
Maria Teresa Canticus (38) & her family displaced from the Awá reserve of Magüí and living in Ricaurte. (l-r): Magaly Adriana (12), Edith Carolina (14), Roberto Horacio Nastacuas Guanga (40), with Gisela Anahi (3), Maria Teresa Canticus, Maritza Yuleini (18), Eiber Roberto (14).
Edith Carolina (14).
Nightfall in La Foresta neighourhood in Ricaurte where many displaced Awá families live.
Carolin Nastacuas Ortiz (20) with her children Eibin Andres (5) y Karen Tatiana (3) & her neice, Geini Marleny (13) in the home they rent since they were ordered to leave the Pialapí community.
Awá girls.
Sister Doris, from the Missionaries of the Mother Laura religious order, gives a class about good nutrition to expectant Awá mothers before distributing State and international food assistance to the displaced families.
María del Carmen Valenzuela Chirán (23) holds photos of her two brothers, (l-r) John Jairo Valenzuela Chirán (27) & José Antonio Valenzuela Chirán (29), both of whom disappeared during combats between the army & guerrillas on the 6th September 2006.
Pedro Leonel Guanga loads sugar-cane on a plantation. Many Awá men must work on the plantations to pay food and rent whilst living as displaced people in the towns; costs they did not have to carry in their territory.
Libardo Nastacuás, a indigenous Awá man whose family has been forcibly displaced by combats between armed groups and the presence of land mines.
The main highway between the port of Tumaco & Pasto, which would form part of the Trans-Amazon Highway project linking Belem in Brazil with the Colombian Pacific.
Families return temporarily to the Magüí reserve to tend crops, collect produce and maintain pathways.
Above: Travelling to the reserve to clean paths and collect crops & (right) on the road to Magúi.
Right: Troops in Altaquer, a weekend R&R for the raspachines, coca pickers. On the road to Magüí.
Above > clockwise : Magaly Adriana (12). María Guanga Casticus. Nover Alexander Guanga Pai (13) whose father, Ademilio Guanga Paí, died the 7th November 2006 in a minefield. An Awá baby in a hammock in Altaquer
Working on small sugar cane plantations for less than the legal minimum wage.
A young boy cares for his infant sibling in a home made of plastic sheeting. The boy's parents are away working in waged labour and cannot take their children to work with them, as they would be able to do on the resguardo, where kids also attend school.
Martha and her daughter in a clothes workshop, set up by the "Lauritas" nuns, where she and other mothers can earn a small wage.
The forested foothills of the Andes Mountains, the territory of the Awá indigenous people in Nariño Department.