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.