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 to the Pacific coast. Up until the beginning of the Century the region was relatively untouched by the country's armed conflict, and despite the presence of left-wing guerrillas from the National Liberation Army (ELN) combats and military activity were quite rare.

In 2002 however, as the peace negotiations between the government of Andres Pastrana and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla movement were falling-apart, the guerrillas left the zone demilitarised for the negotiations as this was terminated and marched over the Andes Mountains in order to establish themselves in the Awá's territory on the other side of the cordillera. In their wake came coca-leaf cultivation, and cocaine production and exportation, upon which the FARC levied “taxes”. Soon thereafter clashes between the Colombian Army and the FARC became frequent, and the Awá communities often found themselves caught in the crossfire.

In 2006, during one of those clashes, many Awá communities abandoned the lands which are central to their identity to flee to the small town of Ricaurte. There, without the land that gave them sustenance, they were living a precarious hand to mouth existence, dependent on low-paid day labour.

This video short & the images were recorded over three days in 2010 whilst on assignment for the Secretariado Nacional de Pastoral Social (SNPS-Colombia) and the Catholic NGO, CAFOD (England and Wales). 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.