Guambiano - History and Cultural Relations

After the Indians of the valley of Popayán had been conquered by the Spaniards, the natives of Guambia, located in the richest and most fertile territories of the region, were given in encomienda (grant of Indians for tribute) in 1562 to Francisco de Belalcazar, son of the conqueror of Popayán. In 1589 the encomiendas of Ambaló and Usenda, with a Guambiano population, were given to Lorenzo Paz y Maldonado and his wife, Catalina de Belalcazar, granddaughter of the conqueror. Historical documents show that there was exploitation of Guambiano labor from the very beginning of the Conquest and that the entire colonial period was marked by bad relations and conflicts between natives and the hacendados (owners of large landed estates) to whom they were given in encomienda. Belalcazar's heirs, encomenderos (holders of encomiendas) of Guambia, who also owned property in various other parts of the region, continuously removed Indians, assigning them to other exploitative enterprises such as sugar mills and mines. There were constant complaints on the part of the Indians, who maintained that they had to neglect their own fields because the encomenderos left them no time to work their land. Despite these remonstrations, the Indians were taken in chains to Popayán to comply with their obligations.

In 1700 King Philip V granted Indians, represented by the legendary chief Juan Tama, three resguardos (protected territories) and the rights to the land contained in them: Guambia, Pitayó, and Quichaya, the last two with a Páez Indian population. Although the population within the Guambian reserves was numerically small and debilitated, the economic backwardness of the region and the protectionist policies associated with Indian reserves allowed Guambiano to slowly recuperate demographically and, above all, culturally and politically. Even though the reserves of this region of Colombia survived, the development of White haciendas at the expense of reserve lands was destructive and uncontainable from the beginning. The Indians, dispossessed of their land, were reduced to the condition of tenant farmers on the haciendas of Whites, where in exchange for living in a small hut and planting a piece of land, they had the obligation to work on the owner's land for several days a month. It was in protest against this situation of servility, abject poverty, and complete lack of ownership of land, that the Guambiano rose up and still continue their struggle. Displaying great sociocultural flexibility throughout the years, they have adopted new cultigens, new techniques, new tools, and new housing and have accepted the Spanish language and Catholicism. Despite the great number of extraneous elements introduced into their culture and the familiarity with which they move in the White world, they continue to be Guambiano, speaking their ancestral language and reinterpreting events in the light of Guambiano thought.

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