ETHNONYMS: Caca Weranos, Chamila, Chimile, San Jorge, Simiza, Simza, Shimizya
The Chimila today occupy only marginal areas of what was once a vast territory, hardly explored until the eighteenth century, when government expeditions were sent to put down native uprisings. At present the lands where the Chimila live are occupied by large cattle ranches and oil wells, since in the 1950s the region was found to be rich in petroleum.
There are 300 to 400 Chimila Indians who live primarily in the Chamí Margen Izquierda R.S. Juan Indian reservation in the Colombian department of Magdalena. When contacted in 1525 by Spanish explorers, the Chimila inhabited the region west and south of Santa Marta. They speak a language belonging to the Macro-Chibchan Family. There are essentially two large Chimila groups; they live apart, and each regards the other as an enemy. There are another 8,000 who claim Chimila heritage, but who are very acculturated and who do not speak the Chimila language. These people live in the departments of Antioquia, Caldas, Risaraldas, and Valle, and live as farmers. Though all Chimila usually work for settlers, many are settled and work primarily as subsistence farmers who grow maize and sweet manioc, while others are nomads who primarily work for settlers.
The Chimila have become so acculturated and integrated into the regional economy that they can no longer be considered a tribe with a defined language, culture and social system. Nevertheless, Chimila families settle in groups when they can, often on the large ranches that now occupy their territory, where they become sharecroppers. These groups have little stability because they are permitted to farm a piece of land only at the pleasure of the landowner. The harvest is subdivided: part to pay rent to the landowner, part to satisfy reciprocal obligations to other families, and some to sell for cash to buy necessities, so there is often little left to feed the family. For this reason Chimila men hire themselves out for manual labor, usually for wages considerably lower than mestizos earn for similar work. Chimila often fall into debt peonage when they are given advances on their wages in food or merchandise.
Traditionally, the Chimila were migratory. Each family lived and moved alone, going from one area to another as the seasons changed. They were agriculturists who depended upon their crops of sweet manioc, maize, potatoes, onions, beans, sweet potatoes, avocados, and later the introduced species of sugar cane, plantains and oranges. When the soil became exhausted, they moved to a new field. Their fields were small, less than 0.1 hectare, and a family usually had 2 to 5 of them, each at a different elevation and growing different crops. Hunting and fishing were unimportant, largely because the Sierra Nevada have little fauna. Traditional Chimila houses were oval. Transportation was originally by foot, and all goods were carried on the back.
The indigenous religious system was very complex, and to become a priest required nine years of training. The priests used their secret knowledge as well as songs and dances to influence supernatural forces in order to cure sickness. Religious ceremonies were primarily concerned with the seasons, and were used to moderate excesses in the weather associated with each season.
Bolinder, Gustaf (1924). Die letzten Chimila-Indianer." Ymer 2:200-228.
Dostal, Walter, ed. (1972). The Situation of the Indian in South America. Geneva: World Council of Churches.
Telban, Blaz (1988). Grupos étnicos de Colombia: etnografía y bibliografía. Quito: Ediciones ABYA-YALA.
Tobón, Carlos Alberto Uribe (1987). "Chimila." In Introducción a la Colombia amerindia, edited by François Correa and Ximena Pachón. Bogotá: Instituto Colombiano de Antropología (ICAN).
NANCY M. FLOWERS