Emberá - Orientation



Identification. The Emberá are a South American Indian group located in Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador. Called "Chocó" by Spanish settlers, they call themselves "Emberá," a word that signifies "people."


Location. When the Spaniards arrived, the Emberá occupied the upper basins of the Atrato and San Juan rivers in what are today the departments of Chocó, Risaralda, and Antioquia in western Colombia. Their modern habitat extends over more than 1,000 kilometers along the Pacific coasts of Panama, Colombia, and northern Ecuador, areas of superhumid tropical jungle that reach to the eastern slopes of the Colombian Cordillera Occidental, including various enclaves in the interior of the country.

Demography. The Colombian census of 1958 listed 41,653 Emberá. It is estimated that there are an additional 8,000 in Panama and Ecuador; in 1600, 1768, 1793, and 1951 their numbers were put at 50,000, 36,000, 15,000, and 5,800 respectively.

Linguistic Affiliation. The language of the Emberá, markedly Carib, has been classified as belonging to the Paezan Language Family. Nine dialects have been identified: Saija, Baudó, Río Sucio, Tadó, Chamí, Catío, San Jorge, Río Verde, and Sambú.


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