Guambiano - Orientation

Identification. The Guambiano, a South American Indian group in Colombia, call themselves "Wampimisamera" or "people of Guambia." The mestizos of the area frequently call them "Silveños," referring to the people in the environs of Silvia, a small town in the heart of Guambian territory.

Location. The Guambiano live in the municipalities of Silvia and Jambaló. A few others are to be found in the municipalities of Totoro, Caldono, and Toribio in the department of Cauca in the southwestern part of Colombia on the montainous foothills of the Cordillera Central. The average elevation of the area varies between 2,000 and 3,000 meters, making it an extremely cold and rainy area with a mean temperature of 12° C and an annual precipitation of 13.7 centimeters. The vegetation of the region was formerly richer and more varied; nowadays it is scarce. Overexploitation of the land and the kind of agricultural techniques employed have resulted in the exhaustion of primary vegetation. Cutting down the woodlands of the mountain ranges has caused the disappearance not only of traditional vegetation but also of the animal species that used to live there.

Demography. Demographic information is not very reliable, and often it is contradictory. Schwarz has made a careful survey of population growth in Guambia during the twentieth century and believes that in 1900 the population included 1,500 men and in 1970 consisted of 7,030 people (Schwarz 1973, 240). Government sources speak of 10,180 people in 1980, whereas the Organización Nacional de Indígenas de Colombia, (National Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Colombia, ONIC) reports for 1980 a figure of 18,000 Guambiano. An analysis of existing census data shows a population structure that is eminently "young," with a median age of 22.63 for men and 21.26 for women. Data suggest a heavy burden of dependency on the reproductive sector and a considerable effort by this segment to ensure community survival. Census data analyzed on the basis of age groups show that the number of women decreases with age; thus, females in Guambia have a higher mortality rate and a lower life expectancy than do men.

Linguistic Affiliation. The language of the Guambiano, Wampi-misamera-wam, has been classified within the Guambino-Kokonuco Group of the larger Chibcha Language Family. According to more recent investigations, it is believed to be an isolated language and of dubious classification (Matteson 1972). The majority of the Guambiano speak Spanish, especially the young people. Although they consider Spanish essential to survive in and withstand the hostility of the White world, the Guambiano nonetheless resist losing their own language, which is an essential aspect of their ethnic and cultural identity.

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