Identification. The Páez live in southwestern highland Colombia and speak the Páez language. They call themselves "Nasa" to distinguish themselves from neighboring ethnic groups, including the Guambiano, the Guanacas, and the townspeople of mixed Spanish and indigenous or African descent.
Location. The Páez heartland of Tierradentro in Colombia is comprised of some 1,300 square kilometers, located on the eastern slopes of Cordillera Central, at 2°30′ N and 76° W. Páez settlements can also be found on the western slopes of the cordillera, and some Páez colonists have recently settled in the Caquetá lowlands to the southeast. Over 80 percent of Tierradentro lies above 2,000 meters in elevation, with one-third of the territory in the páramo, the high northern Andean swampy plateau that begins at 3,000 meters. This cold, mountainous country is crosscut by deep valleys, most notably those of the Páez, Moras, and Ullucos rivers, confining settlements to the mountain slopes overlooking these waterways. In Tierradentro, the rainy season extends from May to November, with the heaviest rains in May to June and October to November; on the western slopes of the Cordillera seasons are reversed.
Demography. The 1972 census calculates a Páez population of only 35,724 persons, with 40 percent living in Tierradentro. Nevertheless, most experts estimate that there are between 60,000 and 80,000 Páez. An excessively high rate of infant mortality on the western slopes of the Cordillera has resulted in a negative rate of population growth in some communities.
Linguistic Affiliation. There is no agreement among scholars on the affiliation of the Páez language. Although it has been traditionally associated with the Chibchan Family, some linguists hesitate to classify Páez as a Chibchan language; it has been suggested that it is a linguistic isolate, together with neighboring Guambiano. According to some estimates, 75 percent of the Páez are bilingual in Páez and in Spanish, and 25 percent are monolingual Páez speakers. But in many communities more than half the population is composed of monolingual Spanish speakers. Páez is an unwritten language, and native linguists are beginning to develop an alphabet for purposes of bilingual education.
History and Cultural Relations
At the time of the 1537 Spanish invasion, the Páez were organized in a series of warring chiefdoms coexisting in Tierradentro with other ethnic communities, including the Guambiano, the Pijao, and the Yalcón, and linked with them through relations of warfare, trade, and marriage. During the first century of the Conquest, the aboriginal population of approximately 10,000 was halved through war and disease. The Spanish forced the Indians into centralized villages so that they would be more easily exploitable as a source of labor and tribute. Communities began to migrate to the western slopes of the cordillera, founding new towns. In the early eighteenth century native leaders validated their political authority and the territories under their dominion through the creation of reservations, or resguardos, legitimized through titles granted by the Spanish Crown. During the nineteenth century the communal landholdings of the resguardo were challenged by non-Indian landowners, by gatherers of quinine bark, by the ravages of civil war, and by national legislation that sought to privatize landownership throughout the country. At the turn of the century the Páez joined a political movement led by sharecropper Manuel Quintín Lame, who fought to reclaim lost lands and to free Indian sharecroppers from paying rent for the plots they tilled. Non-Páez sharecroppers evicted from their lands in neighboring regions colonized Tierradentro in the 1930s, arousing heightened militancy among the land-poor Páez. During the 1950s, Tierradentro was beset by violence and civil war, and some communities were forced to disperse.
The Páez live in twenty-one settlements with populations ranging from 100 to 4,500 inhabitants. Although most communities are marked by towns, the majority of the population follows a dispersed mode of settlement, building adobe or wattle-and-daub houses with tile or thatch roofs, located near their fields on the mountain slopes. Some towns are composed of only ten to twenty sporadically inhabited houses, a school, a church, and a few tiny stores, whereas others are regional urban centers with large non-Indian populations and a governmental infrastructure. All of these towns are built in the traditional Spanish style, with a central plaza and, if there is more than one street, in a grid pattern. Most settlements are linked by unpaved highways constructed in the 1970s and 1980s; individual households are connected to towns by bridle- and footpaths.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Páez are peasant farmers; they raise potatoes, coffee, or hemp (depending on the altitude at which they live) for sale and grow plantains, manioc, maize, or Andean tubers for domestic consumption. There is also some coca grown in the lower reaches of Tierradentro, consumed by the ever-shrinking number of older people who still chew it. Crops are generally cultivated with hand tools available on the regional market; commercial technology is used for processing hemp and coffee for sale to intermediaries. Crops raised for domestic consumption are generally grown on small plots, using slash-and-burn techniques; coffee, coca, and hemp are more permanent crops. In the nineteenth century quinine bark and laurel wax were gathered in many communities; most of the quinine forests were severely depleted at this time. Domestic animals include pigs, cattle, turkeys, and chickens.
Trade and Labor. In most settlements a number of small stores stock commercial goods, but the population sells most of its produce and purchases goods at regional markets. Individual households are also connected by barter relationships with other communities, as well as with the neighboring Guambiano. Some of these relationships provide households with products grown in other ecological zones, as in the exchange of coca for potatoes. In other instances, exchange relationships link households on the two slopes of the cordillera, thus ensuring a steady supply of maize even in times of shortage between harvests. The Páez economy is also characterized by multiple modes of labor exchange that connect households in a web of reciprocal obligations; festive labor exchanges also characterize communal work projects. In some communities a considerable proportion of the population has migrated either temporarily or on a more long-term basis to nearby cities, as well as to coffee plantations to work as wage laborers.
Land Tenure. Seventy percent of the land in the Páez region is resguardo territory, meaning that it is communal land granted in usufruct to community members and administered by an elected council, or cabildo. The vast majority of the Páez are resguardo members, although between 15 and 20 percent are landless; land-claim activities have done much to integrate the land-poor into the community economy, especially on the western slopes of the cordillera.
Kin Groups and Descent. The most basic social and economic unit of Páez society is the nuclear family. Families are related to one another through networks of exchange of labor and agricultural products, community political processes, and ritual. Members of each community have a limited number of surnames. Although some scholars have suggested that in the pre-Columbian era descent was patrilineal, among the contemporary Páez descent is bilateral, and this also appears to have been the case in colonial times. Exchange partners are recruited out of each individual's personal kindred.
Kinship Terminology. Although Páez kinship terminology displays many of the characteristics of the Dravidian systems found in the Colombian northwestern Amazon, there is no indication that it was ever accompanied by bilateral cross-cousin marriage.
Marriage. The Páez marry, for the most part, within their own communities or with individuals from neighboring resguardos; marriages seldom take place between Páez from distant communities. There are almost no instances of marriage with the neighboring Guambiano or with local non-Indians, and it is said that Juan Tama, the Páez culture hero and an eighteenth-century chief, ordered his people to marry only within their ethnic community. Marriages are performed by Roman Catholic priests based in the urban centers of each municipality. Residence is virineolocal: after a short period of residence with the husband's parents, a couple will build its own house, generally in the husband's community.
Domestic Unit. The domestic unit is usually composed of a nuclear family that shares a house and works the land communally. The average domestic unit has 5.5 members, although with an infant mortality rate of 36 percent in some communities, many more children are born to a family than survive to adulthood.
Inheritance. Inheritance of resguardo land is regulated by Colombian law. Use-rights are legitimized and passed from one individual to another through the mediation of the cabildo. The cabildo is also authorized to mediate disputes over the inheritance of movable property.
Socialization. Infants and children are raised by the members of the nuclear family. Children accompany parents in all activities. Into the 1930s women were confined at childbirth and first menstruation to a small hut and isolated there for a specified period of time, whereas young men were initiated at sacred lakes. Primary schools have been built in most communities, frequently under the supervision of the church, and most children are now receiving at least two to three years of formal education.
Social and Political Organization. Páez sociopolitical Organization is similar to that of other native highland populations in Colombia because it conforms to the dictates of national Indian legislation. The Páez live in resguardos, the boundaries and historical legitimacy of which are founded on eighteenth-century titles granted to native communities by the Spanish Crown. The cabildo, elected annually, serves as an intermediary between the Colombian government and the native community, administering usufruct rights to communal lands. Eighteenth-century cabildos enjoyed considerably more authority than do their modern counterparts. Cabildo authorities receive no remuneration for their services, and all men are expected to serve at least once in their lifetime. Cabildo members carry staffs of office to identify themselves as community authorities, a Spanish symbol ubiquitous throughout the Andes. Parallel to the cabildo is the capitán, or captain, whose office is hereditary; the capitán organizes communal work projects to maintain bridle paths, churches, cemeteries, and other community holdings.
The Páez resguardo differs from its counterpart in other native communities in its ideological underpinnings. It is based on an oral history that centers around culture heroes and heroines and the chiefs (caciques), who are said to be of supernatural origin and to have saved the Páez from indigenous and European invaders, founded the resguardos in which the Páez live, and then disappeared into highland lakes. The mythic narratives that recount the exploits of the caciques are elaborations upon the Spanish resguardo titles, the contents of which provide a framework for recasting Conquest-era mythology.
Social Control. The cabildo mediates disputes over land. Other areas of social control have been usurped by the non-Páez political authorities appointed by the Colombian government, although until the late twentieth century cabildos still used stocks and whipping to punish minor offenses. Colombian police, mayors, judges, and the army clash frequently with cabildos in struggles over the means of social control.
Conflict. Memories of valiant Páez warriors have led members of the dominant Colombian society to enlist Páez participation in the conflicts of the broader society. The Páez fought in the civil wars that raged throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries. Tierradentro has also been a stage for political organizing by the Indians themselves, who recently formed pan-Indian ethnic rights organizations to reclaim land and political autonomy. Because of the success of their agenda, the Páez have become targets in the political violence that characterizes contemporary Colombia.
Religion and Expressive Culture
The majority of the Páez were converted to Roman Catholicism by the eighteenth century, and a church stands in each Páez town. A significant number of people have been converted to evangelical Protestantism.
Religious Beliefs. Although the Páez have been Catholic for at least three centuries, the landscape of Tierradentro is populated with a variety of supernatural beings. Seventeenth-century Spanish chroniclers noted the importance among the Páez of highland lakes, sometimes the abode of Kpish, the Thunder. Colonial sources also mention hilltop oracles into which the sun rose and set. Pre-Columbian ceramics display images of snakes and serpents. Many of these ancient symbols are articulated today in the political arena. The mythic caciques are the children of the star, a wedding of the pre-Columbian symbol of divine heavenly bodies with the legal titles that legitimize post-Conquest communal landholdings. Those caciques not fished from the waters in which they float are transformed into serpents that eat villagers. The caciques defend their people with slings given to them by Kpish. They disappear into highland lakes from whence they have returned to defend the Páez against interlopers, just as Kpish sometimes does. In addition to these politically inspired beings, there are numerous water and mountain spirits that inhabit the landscape, inflicting harm on unwary passersby. Pre-Columbian burial sites are considered to be the abode of the pijao, dangerous spirits of the ancestors.
Religious Practitioners and Medicine. Just as myths of caciques and Kpish are political expressions of the belief system, shamans operationalize this wedding of myth and politics in everyday life. Called to their profession by the caciques, shamans perform divination and cure diseases caused by supernatural beings, assist the cabildo in ceremonially cleansing its staffs of office each year, and act as intermediaries between the supernatural and the human worlds. They are, moreover, active participants in the ethnic-rights movements through which land claims and cultural revitalization are coordinated.
Ceremonies. Each Páez community celebrates a number of Catholic saints' days, as well as Christmas, Easter, and Corpus Christi; festival sponsors go to great expense to organize communal festivities. Each January cabildos used to withdraw to highland lakes to commune with their caciques and bless their staffs of office; in the late twentieth century this custom is being reintroduced by the ethnicrights movement. Important ceremonies take place on such occasions as the completion of the construction of a house, when mythic history is reenacted by households.
Death and Afterlife. The Páez bury their dead in shaft-tombs, after having given them a Catholic wake. Shamans are charged with ceremonially cleansing the house of the impurities that come with death.
Findji, María Teresa, and José María Rojas (1985). Territorio, economía y sociedad páez. Cali: Universidad del Valle.
Hernández de Alba, Gregorio (1946). "The Highland Tribes of Southern Colombia." In Handbook of South American Indians, edited by Julian Steward. Vol. 2, The Andean Civilizations, 915-960. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 143. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.
Ortiz, Sutti (1973). Uncertainties in Peasant Farming: A Colombian Case. London: Athlone Press.
Rappaport, Joanne (1990). The Politics of Memory: Native Historical Interpretation in the Colombian Andes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sevilla Casas, Elías (1986). La pobreza de los excluidos: Economía y sobrevivencia en un resguardo indígena del Cauca-Colombia. Quito: Ediciones ABYA-YALA.
"Páez." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 11, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/paez
"Páez." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved November 11, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/paez
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
ALTERNATE NAMES: Nasa (people)
POPULATION: 68,487 (1980)
1 • INTRODUCTION
The Páez Indians of Colombia resisted the Spanish conquerors who arrived in the sixteenth century. One of the first Spanish explorers to enter southwestern Colombia, where the Páez live, was Sebastián de Belalcázar. He found many Amerindian peoples there. The Pasto Indians in the Nariño region were peace-loving. In contrast, the Pijao fought many bloody battles with the Spaniards. Eventually, they were completely killed off. The Páez of southwestern Colombia, in the present-day state of Cauca, also resisted the Spanish. They were badly beaten, but their rugged mountain homeland saved them. They were able to avoid being destroyed by the Spanish or assimilated (mixed) into the general population by retreating into the mountains.
2 • LOCATION
The Páez Indians have lived for centuries in southwestern Colombia, in the present-day state of Cauca. They make their home amid the rugged mountain ranges and high plateaus of the Andes Mountains. The eastern portion of this region is called Tierradentro. It is an extended reservation with widely scattered settlements. The main centers are Inzá and Belalcázar.
3 • LANGUAGE
The Páez language is related to many other Amerindian languages. Most of those languages had died out by the late 1990s, but the Páez still speak their own language.
One of the traditional Páez names still in use is Calambás. It is the family name of a famous Páez hero and chieftain.
The Spaniards found that the Páez had not only male chiefs, but also female chiefs. A famous female chief was Taravira. Today, her name is still in use, along with those of her brothers, Avirama and Esmisa. Names like these are often used alongside Spanish names.
4 • FOLKLORE
Juan Tama, called the "Son of the Star," is an important figure in Páez folklore. According to legend, when he was a baby, he was found in a gorge one day when the Morning Star was shining. He was nursed by several women and grew up to be very strong. Eventually, he married a female chief named Doña María Mendiguagua. He became the Indians' chief and teacher. He showed them how to guard their land and advised them to avoid white people.
Juan Tama appointed Calambás as his assistant, but Calambás turned out to be rebellious. Juan Tama defeated Calambás, but he later forgave him because Calambás was so brave. When he knew that his death was near, Juan Tama went to the lake on the high, cold plateau of Moras and disappeared into the water.
5 • RELIGION
Members of a Roman Catholic religious order, the Jesuits, were sent by leaders in Spain to convert the Amerindians of southwestern Colombia to Roman Catholicism. Much later, this task was taken up by other missionaries, who arrived in 1905. They learned the Páez language, and they still run missions among the Páez. Modern Páez religious customs and beliefs combine with aspects of Catholicism. The Páez still have their own shamans (holy men).
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
The Páez celebrate Roman Catholic holidays, including Christmas and Holy Week (the week before Easter, in late March or early April). They also have their own music and include some of their own traditional rites. Although they observe many Roman Catholic rituals, they do not allow the Roman Catholic priest to attend their own traditional celebrations.
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
When a woman is about to give birth, she stays in a special hut. She gives birth either alone or with the help of a female relative.
From very early childhood, both girls and boys learn adult skills by imitating their parents. Adults form their own households and live in family units at a distance from the homes of other families.
The discovery of funeral urns and elaborate burial caves suggests that in earlier times the Páez were cremated. Important people were given elaborate funerals. Páez burial customs, like other aspects of Páez culture, include both traditional and Christian elements. Before returning home from a burial, both men and women traditionally bathed, fully dressed, in a stream. This was done to wash out the spirit of death.
8 • RELATIONSHIPS
The Páez are a reserved people. Some occasions require very formal greetings. A boy has to approach his godfather in a respectful manner when greeting him. A visitor or guest is given a formal "gift of affection." This is usually food, such as a chicken or an egg, and also includes some vegetables and coffee beans.
The Páez do not engage in Western-style dating. However, their traditions include one-year trial marriages. This year is called the amaño or adaptation period. During this time, the young man observes the qualities of the young woman, and she also observes him. If either partner turns out to be unsuitable, the trial marriage can be ended.
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
The Páez live in poor farming communities. They make do with the basic necessities required for survival. Their lifestyle is simple.
Traditional houses are rectangular with thatched roofs and walls of cane and sticks. Newer houses have walls made of adobe blocks or bricks, with roofs of corrugated zinc or cement. Houses are usually divided into two rooms. One is for sleeping and storage. The other is for eating and sitting around the fire to talk and keep warm. The more modern houses have one or two open windows. These are covered with wooden shutters during bad weather and at night.
10 • FAMILY LIFE
The father has nearly absolute authority or power in a Páez family. Families often have more than three children. (This is true of all Colombian families.) Small children are given affection and much freedom. However, after the age of six or seven, they are expected to behave more quietly and obediently.
Marriage customs blend both Spanish and Páez cultures. Either the boy or his parents select a prospective bride. The boy and his parents and godparents, or compadres, visit the girl's family at their home to ask for her hand in marriage. If the girl's parents consent, her father is offered a half-bottle of aguardiente (a local drink). Her mother is then offered another half-bottle. The boy and his family then take the girl to their home to begin a year of trial marriage. If all goes well, the couple is usually married in the Catholic Church.
11 • CLOTHING
A woman's traditional clothing consists of two pieces. A heavy woolen skirt pleated at the back is held in place by a woven sash. A blouse made from a single rectangular piece of woolen cloth is fastened at one shoulder, but it is more common for women to wear cotton blouses.
Many women buy ready-made clothing. Women may sew their own blouses or skirts if they have a sewing machine powered by a foot pedal or hand crank to use, since electricity is usually not available. Women wear necklaces with eight to ten strands of tiny white beads.
Young girls wear a simple one-piece dress. Young boys wear a long shirt and short pants. Older men and women wear a plastic, straw, or felt hat—even indoors. Younger people are less apt to wear hats, although baseball caps are popular.
A practical garment for the cool weather of the Andes Mountains is the ruana. This is a type of woolen cloak or poncho worn in many parts of the highlands. Ready-made sweaters and jackets are now common as well. Women wear tennis shoes, plastic sandals, or low shoes. Men often wear rubber or plastic boots. Children often go barefoot until they go to school.
12 • FOOD
The basic diet of the Páez includes potatoes, corn, and other vegetables that grow in the Andes. A traditional, hearty Páez breakfast begins the day; the only other large meal is dinner. A typical breakfast dish, called mute (MOO-the), is a stew of boiled cabbage, corn, potatoes, and squash. During the day, the Páez drink fresh fruit juices or juice that has been fermented to make guarapo. For special occasions, there are rich stews of vegetables, potatoes, and chicken or roasted meats.
Food is cooked either over a wood fire or on a dried mud or brick stove. The food for large gatherings is cooked in heavy, shallow metal pots large enough to hold food for up to one hundred people.
13 • EDUCATION
Children attend primary school from the first through third grades, and sometimes through the sixth grade. When farm activities require their help, children often skip school. Young people who hope to go to high school often must live with family friends or relatives in order to be near a school. Some earn high-school diplomas by taking courses broadcast on the radio. The teacher dictates the lessons over the radio. Students travel to a central location in their region when it is time to take examinations. Either way, a high-school education involves expense.
Members of the Páez community want to preserve their native language, so some schools have agreed to teach classes both in Spanish and in the native language.
14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE
The Páez play traditional music for all special occasions, including religious celebrations. Their musical instruments include both short and long flutes (chirimías). They also play drums made from hollowed-out tree trunks and animal skins. Some of their music has absorbed elements of Colombian folk tunes, such as the bambuco. Guitars are popular with young men. Dance is another important traditional form of expression for the Páez.
15 • EMPLOYMENT
The Páez today live mainly in farming communities. Each Páez farmer must donate work days for collective (group) projects. These include planting, road-building, and bridge-building, and working in the villages. Men and women cultivate plots of land together.
Weaving is done only by women. Husbands must obtain permission to sell any of the goods their wives have made.
16 • SPORTS
Soccer is a very popular sport among young men, and teams compete on Sunday afternoons.
The main traditional sport among the Páez was a type of war game. It was performed as a rite to honor the dead after a community feast. There were two teams, each led by a chief. The teams attacked each other with bows and arrows. Sometimes there were deaths, but they were accepted as part of the ceremonial game.
17 • RECREATION
The Páez sometimes make market day into a special occasion. After the buying and selling have taken place, people enjoy drinking and chatting with their friends.
On feast days, the church is decorated with candles and flowers. Members of the community, carrying offerings of food, form a kind of parade to lead the priest to the church. The priest is greeted with much fanfare, sometimes even with fireworks and rockets. There may also be a chirimía orchestra of flutes and drums. After vespers (an evening service), the celebration continues outside the church. There is music and dancing all night.
Small transistor radios and cassette players, or boom boxes, are carried everywhere for entertainment and as status symbols.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
Páez crafts once included pottery, weaving, and basketmaking. Older women continue to weave long, colorful sashes with red wool yarn on a white cotton background. The sashes are decorated with geometric designs and human or animal figures.
The Páez make jewelry, such as beaded necklaces. Metalworking is a traditional craft in southwestern Colombia. Inexpensive earrings are popular among Páez women, as well as barrettes for holding their long hair in place.
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
Guerrillas (private armies) have waged war for many years in Colombia, and the Páez have sometimes suffered at their hands. In addition, they have been hurt in raids by drug barons and by the actions of some police forces. In December 1991, a group of Páez Indians, including women and children, were massacred as they sat down to their evening meal.
The Páez are active in the council of Indian communities of the Cauca region. The Amerindian groups in Colombia have representation in the national congress. However, the struggle for a decent life with sufficient autonomy (self-rule) continues.
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
DuBois, Jill. Colombia, Cultures of the World. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1991.
Hanratty, Dennis M., and Sandra W. Meditz, eds. Colombia: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1990.
Rappaport, Joanne. The Politics of Memory: Native Historical Interpretation in the Colombian Andes. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990.
Embassy of Colombia, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available http://www.colombiaemb.org/, 1998.
Ruiz-Garcia, Pedro. The Latino Connection.[Online] Available http://www.ascinsa.com/LATINOCONNECTION/colombi.html, 1998.
World Travel Guide. Colombia. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/co/gen.html, 1998.
"Páez." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 11, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/paez
"Páez." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved November 11, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/international/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/paez
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
ALTERNATE NAMES: Nasa (people)
LOCATION: Colombia : POPULATION: 60,000 (20th century estimate)
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism; evangelical Protestantism
The Páez Indians of Colombia, unlike their ferocious neighbors, the Pijao Indians, resisted the Spanish conquerors that arrived in the 16th century and have survived until now. One of the first to explore southwestern Colombia, where the Páez live, was Sebastián de Belalcázar, who undertook an expedition from Quito, in Ecuador, into what is today Colombia. He found many tribes there, among them the Pasto Indians in the Nariño region, who were docile and easily conquered, whereas the Pijao fought many bloody battles with the Spaniards and were eventually exterminated entirely. The Páez of the Cauca region resisted, and although decimated and impoverished, their rugged mountain retreats saved them from both complete assimilation and complete extermination.
Páez are known for their skills in the art of crafting. Their work on pottery, weaving, and baskets has received special recognition. The Páez people were estimated to number about 60,000 in the late 20th century.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
The Páez inhabit the high mountains and plateaus of Colombia. This Amerindian tribe has inhabited southwestern Colombia for centuries, in the middle of the rugged mountain ranges, along both eastern and western slopes in the state of Cauca and high plateaus of the central range (Cordillera Central) of the. Andes Mountains, and north of the headwaters of the Magdalena River. Ethnologists think that the Páez originally migrated in an east–west direction to the territory where their descendants still live, and that by the time of the Spanish conquest they had been settled in this mountainous region of forests, crags, and rivers for about 300 years.
The eastern region is generally referred to as Tierradentro and today is, in effect, an extended reservation with widely scattered settlements, of which the main centers are Inzá and Belalcázar. These are modest settlements that are also missionary centers and include churches and church schools. At the beginning of the 20th century, some Catholic missions were founded by the Lazarist Brothers.
Regarding their subsistence, an intensive horticulture using the slash-and-burn method was commonly used in the region. A variety of crops, including manioc, maize, sweet potato, bean, as well as vegetables and tropical fruits, were basic staples in these lands. Sometimes cotton was grown in some areas. This form of horticulture, usually done by men, produced abundant food. Antillean Arawak, Chibcha, Jirajara, and Páez, among other cultures, included irrigation and even occasional terracing, evidencing a great farming development. The main crop grown by Páez people is potatoes, but they also grow non-traditional crops, such as wheat and coffee.
In 1992, the Colombian government created the Fondo Páez, the largest indigenous group in the country. Its main goal was to recuperate the ancestral agricultural knowledge as well as to promote and preserve the Páez culture. Páez community leaders work with the non-profit organization Fundacion Colombia Nuestra. The members of Fondo Páez have created a workable, sustainable, and holistic vision for their indigenous communities. Fondo Páez currently helps to process, market, and export Páez crops, such as their coffee. However, this non-government organization does not get involved in the internal decision-making process.
The Páez language is related to the language spoken by the Chibcha Indians who settled in the valleys and plateaus of the eastern range of the Andes, around the region of Santa Fé de Bogotá, which is the capital of Colombia today. Although the Chibcha language and many other related languages in the region are now extinct, the Páez still speak their own language today. It is believed that around 75,000 people speak the language.
One of the Páez names still in use is Calambás, which is a family name of a famous Páez hero and chieftain and is still used by his descendants today.
The following are some common Páez words, first in English and then in Páez language:
An important part of Páez folklore relates to a hero called Juan Tama, also called the Son of the Star. The legend says that one day when the Morning Star was shining, a group of Indians found a child in a gorge, which was later named the Gorge of the Star. This baby was Juan Tama, who was nursed by several women and grew up to be very strong. Eventually he married the female chief of the Huila region, Doña Maria Mendiguagua, and became chief of all the Indians. He became their teacher and showed them how to guard their land and advised them not to mix with White people.
Juan Tama appointed Calambás, a chief from Pitayó, as his administrator. Calambás proved rebellious and Juan Tama defeated him, but later Juan Tama forgave him because Calambás was so brave. Juan Tama accorded Calambás the right to rule over the Páez Indians of Vitoncó. Juan Tama, knowing that his death was near, went into the lake on the Páramo (the high, cold plateau) of Moras, where he disappeared into the water.
The name Calambás still exists today among those who claim descent from the rebel chief, and even the modern councils that exist today in the Tierradentro region appoint certain people who descend from early Páez chiefs. Lineages are still very important among the Páez.
Jesuits were originally given responsibility for converting the numerous tribes of southwestern Colombia. They established some mission centers but were stubbornly resisted by the Páez. After centuries of comparatively meager results, from the missionaries' point of view, the task was taken up by the Lazarists. These missionaries began to work among the Páez in 1905. They learned the Páez language and still maintain missions among them. The result today is a rather unique blend of Páez religious customs and beliefs and important aspects of Catholicism. Currently, the Páez still retain shamans. Some Páez Indians have also become Catholic priests.
Since the 1930s there have been organized groups of evangelical Protestants among the Páez. There is a New Testament published in the Páez language.
The Páez celebrate several religious Catholic holidays, including Christmas and Holy Week, and they have set their own stamp on them. They have their own music and include some of their own rites. Interestingly, they do not allow the presence of a priest during some of their celebrations, although they also attend and participate in aspects of church worship in the missionary centers.
RITES OF PASSAGE
When a woman is going to give birth, she retires to her own special hut, set apart from the family hut, where she gives birth either alone or with the help of a female relative. From very early childhood, both girls and boys learn the skills appropriate for their future responsibilities by observing and imitating their parents.
Adults form their own households and live in family units distanced from other family homes, in high places among the sierras that are often lonely and of difficult access. The Páez are very independent and often dislike living in villages; they prefer to live among their own families, separated from others, and only come together on special occasions, to discuss matters related to the well-being of the tribe as a whole or to their relations with the state authorities, or during major celebrations. However, they take part in local markets held once a week where they buy, sell, or exchange produce and acquire other basic necessities.
Some of the Páez in recent years have moved into villages or small towns. Some travelers to the Páez territory have occasionally reported interesting burial practices. The presence of funeral urns and elaborately decorated burial caves found by archaeologists in the area suggests that in earlier times people were cremated and important personages were accorded splendid funerals. Since then, burial customs have changed and are even now still undergoing a slow process of adaptation and change. José Péres de Barradas, who traveled to Tierradentro in the 1940s, quotes a Dr. Burg who witnessed burial rites for a young girl:
In the Indian cemetery, the men dug a hole in the ground. Meanwhile, the women were in the house with relatives and godparents. The dead girl was lying on the ground, on some cowhides, lightly covered by a ruana (a type of cloak or poncho widely used in Colombia by Indians and non-Indians alike). The body faced east, so that the soul would see its way to heaven more easily. By her feet were laurel-wax candles, and by her head, another three candles and a bamboo cross. To her right were her necklaces, and at her feet, all her goods, including her clothing and girdles or sashes, and some fruit including plantains, as well as some chicha to drink. Children played by the girl's side, and they were not afraid if they fell on top of her.
The girl's father prepared a bamboo barrow and the women arranged some white clothing for the girl. They combed the dead girl with great care, and because the hair was quite stiff it produced laughter among everyone, even the father. Once she was dressed and placed in the barrow, the father and godfather of the girl took her to the cemetery, followed by rest of the men and women.
The father placed the girl in the ground, lit candles and placed food and chicha (a drink made from fermented corn) at her feet, then covered her. During this time, the mourners prayed aloud. The father threw four clumps of earth with his left hand over his daughter and took his leave of her, wishing her a good journey. Then the men, and afterwards the women, did the same. It is believed that at this point the soul begins its journey to heaven. The women continued covering the buried girl with the earth, and the men completed the task, stamping on it with their feet.
Before returning to the family home, the men and women bathed fully dressed in a stream to wash out the spirit of death, and then took part in a funerary banquet. For nine days they left a cross and flowers, between two candles, where the head of the dead girl had lain. It is customary to leave a gourd filled with water in those places that were once familiar to the person, so that the wandering soul will not suffer thirst.
After one or two months, there is a new purification of the house by the shaman, who sweeps it clean with two pigs' feet and then ensures that this special broom is buried. Afterwards he chews special leaves and spits at the four walls. Then everything is ready. The shaman breaks off a piece of meat and gives it to a dog to eat. Then he does the same with a corn tortilla. If the animal is fine, this is a signal that all may eat, and this is the second funeral banquet.
This account vividly illustrates the mixture of Christian and Amerindian elements in the Páez culture.
The Páez are a reserved people, and there are quite formal greetings required in varying circumstances. A boy has to approach his godparent in a respectful manner when greeting him. A visitor or guest is given a formal "gift of affection," a custom that some think dates back to Spanish colonial times and was incorporated into the customs of the Páez. It usually takes the form of a food offering, such as a chicken or an egg, and includes some vegetables and coffee beans.
The Páez do not engage in Western-style dating as such, but their traditions include trial marriages of about a year for young people who intend to undertake formal marriage and the founding of a family. This year is called the amaño, or adaptation period. During this time, the young man observes the qualities of the young woman, and she also observes him. If either partner proves unsuitable, the trial marriage can be ended.
Socially, Páez families farm their own land but the fields that belong to the church are cultivated by the community. Their residences are commonly dispersed among each other's and the most common materials used to build houses are poles, mud, and stones.
Another characteristic of Páez culture is the high value that this people give to punishment as an educational tool. For instance, to whip adulterous tribal leaders along with their mistresses is a common accepted practice. In spite of the acceptance of punishment as a legitimate form of penalty, Páez people are a pacifist culture. For instance, they have refused to be part of Colombia's armed conflict, which has been going on for the past decades.
The Páez are not affected by malaria or other tropical diseases, as the Andean highlands provide a generally healthy climate, and the abundant streams and rivers provide plentiful access to clean water. There is a rainy season that can sometimes be severe and can affect the general state of health of the people. The cold, damp weather often leads to bronchial problems and tuberculosis. Babies and small children occasionally suffer from gastrointestinal problems.
At various times, the Páez were affected by a shortage of salt, which was difficult to obtain, but this is no longer the case. The Páez, although they now have access to some health centers, still depend in many cases on their shamans, who are also medicine-men, to cure them of illnesses.
The lifestyle is simple, even spartan. The Páez today are basically relatively poor farming communities who make do with the basic necessities required for survival. Water is generally carried to homes from springs, water holes, or streams. Occasionally, a small cement tank is built near a house or settlement to which water is piped from a spring.
Traditional houses are rectangular and are constructed using basic and locally available materials. They have thatched roofs and walls of cane and sticks, although they have also adapted the more solid bahareque style that includes reinforcing the walls with rocks and mud amid double rows of sticks. This is attributed to Spanish influence.
As they deteriorate, the traditional houses are giving way to those with walls made of adobe blocks or bricks and with roofs of corrugated zinc or cement. Houses are generally divided into two rooms, one for sleeping and storage, and the other, the kitchen, for eating and sitting around the fire to converse and keep warm. There are no windows in mud-walled houses. More modern houses have one or two window spaces that are covered with wooden shutters during bad weather and at night. Floors are of hard-packed earth or, occasionally, of cement or wooden planks. Instead of roof gutters, a shallow ditch surrounds the house to prevent rainwater from entering.
Furnishings are sparse—wooden beds covered by a cowhide, sheepskin, or straw mat, with woolen blankets for covers; a few plain wooden chairs with the back and seat of wood or cowhide; low wooden, carved stools; and perhaps a small table. In addition, a very small rustic temporary shelter with a roof but no walls is set up in the fields where some family members stay to protect their crops at harvest time. Most homes do not have access to electricity, although it is available to some degree in municipal centers and is in the planning stages to become more widely available.
The system of house-building is cooperative: relatives and neighbors come together to help an individual family who is building a house. This system, prevalent among many communities in the Andes, is known as the minga. Although the main centers, such as Inzá and Belalcázar, are communal focal points, as are other communally built pueblos or villages, the majority of the Páez do not actually live there. They use these places as meeting points to buy and sell goods in the markets and to exchange news or to discuss communal matters, after which they withdraw to their own family homes, separated from others.
When the Páez have to travel outside the reservation on communal business or, in some cases, for the purposes of trade, they will use buses. Locally, some pack animals, such as mules or horses are used, and on many occasions the Páez travel on foot.
The Spanish chroniclers who gave us the earliest descriptions of the Páez and other groups reported that there were not only male but also female chiefs, indicating that in some communities the women not only occupied important leadership positions, but that the communities were also matrilineal. The chroniclers also reported that in southwestern Colombia many women went to war alongside the men.
Today, the Páez family unit places definite and, in some cases, nearly absolute authority in the hands of the father, whose wishes and commands must be obeyed by his wife and children. Families often include more children than the typical Western household of parents with two or three children; this is also true of many Colombian households generally. Small children are shown affection and given much freedom in how they behave, until the age of six or seven when they are expected to act with more restraint.
Marriage customs blend both Spanish and Páez cultures. Usually either the boy or his parents select a prospective bride and visit her family home in the company of the boy's godparents or compadres and ask for her hand in marriage. If the girl's parents consent, the father is first offered a half-bottle of aguardiente (a drink made from fermented sugarcane), and subsequently the mother is offered another half-bottle. The boy and his family then take the girl to his home to begin the year of trial marriage. If all goes well, the couple is then usually married in the Catholic Church, and the wedding feast, which includes a hearty banquet and music (usually flutes and drums), lasts for several days.
The Páez keep a variety of pets and farm animals, including dogs, hens, ducks, and turkeys, as well as pigs, and some horses, cows, and sheep.
The cool weather of the Andes mountains has produced some practical and warm clothing, especially the ruana, a type of woolen cloak or poncho worn, with local variants, in many areas of the highlands. Wool is sheared and processed by the women, then it is spun into thread for weaving ponchos and skirts on hand looms braced against the outside wall of the house. While walking along the trails or resting from other work, it is common for women to spin wool or cotton yarn, holding the loose ball of wool or cotton in one hand and the simple spindle in the other, or to weave carrying bags by threading long string through loops in the bag. Women are seldom idle. Currently, many women buy ready-made clothing or make blouses or skirts if a treadle sewing machine is available. Some men learn to sew trousers.
A woman's traditional dress consists of two pieces: a heavy woolen skirt (called anacus) pleated at the back and held up by a woven sash (chumbe) and a blouse that is a single rectangular piece of wool cloth fastened at one shoulder. The wool was traditionally woven on a simple loom made of two upright and two horizontal poles. The process—from shearing sheep, cleaning and carding the wool, and spinning the thread, through the weaving—took much time. Now it is more common for women to wear a cotton blouse and a skirt that falls below the knees. They wear necklaces of 8–10 strands of tiny, hard, white beads.
Young girls wear a simple one-piece dress; young boys wear a long shirt and when away from home, short pants. Mature men and women wear a plastic, straw, or felt hat (even inside the house). Younger people are less apt to do so now, though baseball caps are popular.
Because of the cold, everyone usually carries or wears a poncho. Ready-made sweaters and jackets are now common as well. Women wear tennis shoes, plastic sandals, or low shoes. Men often wear rubber or plastic boots. Children often go barefoot until they go to school.
The basic diet of the Páez includes potatoes and corn as well as other vegetables that grow in the Andes, including arracacha and cassava, beans, and fruits. For special occasions, rich stews with vegetables and potatoes as well as chickens or roasted meats are cooked. Food is cooked either over a wood fire in the center of the kitchen floor, with pots balanced on three stones, or on a dried mud or brick stove on a raised platform by a wall, with a trough for the firewood and several holes in the top large enough to support a cooking pot. The food for large gatherings is cooked in heavy, shallow metal pots large enough to hold food for up to 100 people. While cooking, the food is stirred with large wooden spoons that have bowls about 10 cm to 15 cm (4–6 in) long and 2.5 cm (1 in) deep, and handles 50 cm to 75 cm (20–30 in) long. Plates, bowls, and cups are usually made of enamelware, and food is eaten with enamelware or wooden spoons.
A traditional Páez breakfast is hearty and provides the main meal of the day until dinnertime. It is called mute (pronounced "moo-the") and is really a soup of boiled cabbage, corn, potatoes, and squash. During the day, the Páez drink fruit juices in their natural state or fermented as guarapo.
Because there are times of scarcity, the Páez learn early to endure hunger while working hard on difficult terrain in their fields, which are cultivated without machinery.
Traditionally, the Páez have resisted education for girls in the mission schools (formerly it was thought that they did not need education for their duties at home), but in the last few decades a process is slowly going forward in the villages where schooling, at least at the primary level, is offered to both girls and boys. Under pressure from the Páez communities themselves, more schools are now bilingual, whereas the custom had been for teachers to teach only in Spanish, and children were not allowed to use their own language in class or at play. The result was that few learned to read with understanding. Bilingual education is being encouraged now by some communities and churches. Previously this has meant merely having a bilingual teacher's aide help monolingual Páez-speaking children, but now, along with Spanish, there is more interest in teaching children to read in their mother tongue.
Children attend primary school from first through third grades, sometimes through sixth grade. Young people who aspire to a secondary education may go to a regional center or larger non-Páez town where they rent lodging, usually with family acquaintances or relatives. Some have earned diplomas through a high-school-by-radio program where the material is dictated over the radio and exams can be taken in a regional area or the state capital. Either way, a high school education is not altogether free, and if parents cannot afford to pay, the student usually finds work to cover expenses while studying. When farm activities require their help, children often skip school.
The Páez have musical instruments that include short and long flutes (chirimías) as well as drums made from hollowed-out tree trunks and animal skins, and they play their music during all special occasions as well as during religious celebrations. Many Páez Indians play the flute. Their music can be melancholy, with something of their reserve and love of solitude in it. Their strong attachment to their music has meant that even in the churches of their villages it prevails, since the Páez never accepted the traditional Gregorian music of the Catholic Church.
Some of their music today has incorporated popular elements of Colombian folk tunes prevalent in the Andes, which are a blend of Amerindian and Spanish courtly music, such as the bambuco. This music has a gentleness and a sweetness that does not reflect the earlier, warlike reputation of the Páez feared by the early Spanish conquerors and settlers. Guitars are now very popular with young men.
Dances have been an important form of expression for the Páez, and early reports of the Páez include descriptions of a wide range of dances that formed part of all major ceremonies, including the dance known as the Itsa kó, which celebrated a girl's coming of age. Earlier songs also celebrated the feats and deeds of warriors, but they have not survived.
The Páez today are mainly farming communities. The land is owned communally by the different communities, and the Indian council, or cabildo, assigns some land for each individual's use. Some tasks must be undertaken communally, and free work days must also be given by each Páez farmer for collective planting as well as for road-or bridge-building and work in the villages.
Since travel in this rocky and mountainous terrain, full of rivers and torrents as well as canyons, is often difficult, the Páez were traditionally proficient bridge-builders, using local materials to allow for passage on foot. The bridges were flexible and made of cane and vines, and some of these traditional bridges are still constructed and regularly repaired today. As the traditional bridges fall into disrepair, new ones are being constructed with steel and cement to accommodate motor vehicles. There are also some unusual bridges covered with thatched roofs, built out of strong logs with supporting stones and sticks, and with floors of wooden boards. They are practical and sturdy and can support the passage of loaded pack animals such as mules, which are often used in the highlands because they are so sure-footed.
Weaving is exclusively done by women, and the husband must obtain the wife's permission to sell any goods she has made. Men and women cultivate plots together.
Many families have their own press for rendering sugarcane stalks into liquid form by pressing them between heavy wooden cylinders that are anchored close together in a straight line. The outside wheels go clockwise while the center one moves counterclockwise. Fastened to the press is a long pole that is tied at one end to a horse or mule who moves in a circle, forcing out the liquid. This is collected below the press. The juice is cooked in large cauldrons over an open wood fire outdoors. After the hot liquid is run through a sieve, it is poured into molds and allowed to harden into blocks of brown sugar. Some of the fresh-squeezed cane juice may be poured into a hollowed-out section of a wooden tree trunk set horizontally on the floor, where it is left to ferment somewhat before being drunk.
Although some ball games were introduced at the mission schools for the Páez, traditionally sports did not play a significant role in their lives. They mainly practiced a sport that was a type of war game. There were two teams, each led by a chief. The teams attacked each other with bows and arrows, and even if there were deaths, apparently they were accepted stoically and not resented. This war game was performed as a rite to honor the dead after a community feast and is not practiced today. Some young people today are not even familiar with this piece of their history.
Soccer is a very popular sport among young men, and teams compete on Sunday afternoons.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
Aside from important religious or communal celebrations or major family events, such as weddings, the Páez sometimes make a special occasion out of market days. Many villages hold particular markets days, and after the buying and selling has taken place, the Páez enjoy drinking and chatting with their friends and compadres.
Priests who visit some communal pueblos on the eve of a particular feast day are greeted with much fanfare, even with fireworks and rockets, as well as a chirimía orchestra of flutes and drums. The community leads the priest to the church and takes generous food offerings there. The church is then decorated with candles and flowers. After Vespers, a celebration continues outside by the church door, and the people play music and dance all night. Some travelers who have witnessed these evening festivities have commented on the decorum and reserved behavior of the Páez, even on these occasions, describing a dignified style of dancing where they never touch each other and dance in a very orderly fashion.
Children play and entertain toddlers with whatever they find at hand—sticks, string, or discarded household items. Little girls roll a corn cob in an old cloth then tie it on their backs in the way their mothers carry babies and toddlers. Small transistor radios, cassette players, or "boom boxes" are carried everywhere for pleasure and as status symbols.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
Páez crafts formerly included pottery, weaving, and basket-making. Weaving is becoming a lost art. Older women continue to weave long colorful sashes with geometric designs and stylized figures of birds, animals, or persons with red wool yarn on a white cotton background. They find that their daughters do not want to learn to do this anymore. The belts are used as sashes for their skirts and for tying babies and small children in a cloth on their backs when they are walking or rocking the baby to sleep. Young children, both boys and girls, often carry the babies and entertain them while their mothers are occupied with their work.
The Páez also make jewelry, such as beaded necklaces. There is gold in this area, and metalwork is a traditional craft in southwestern Colombia. Earlier jewelry included nose-rings and breastplates, but today inexpensive earrings are popular among Páez women, as well as barrettes to hold their long hair in place.
Colombia's social and political problems have affected the Páez communities. Guerrillas have waged war for many years in Colombia, and the Páez have sometimes suffered at their hands. In addition, there have been incursions by drug barons and actions by some police forces. In December of 1991 a group of Páez Indians, including women and children, were massacred as they sat down to their evening meal. It is thought that the killers were either working for a local landowner trying to drive the Indians out of the region, or were working on behalf of drug dealers or even the police.
The required one-year military service for 18-year-old males in the country is waived for the indigenous people, although a few Páez young men choose to enter the military to experience life in the world outside their communities.
Although the Páez have lived in this area for centuries, and additionally have had land grants dating back to colonial times, the struggle for land has always existed, and at various times local landowners have tried to drive them out. Father Alvaro Ulcué, a Páez Indian who became a Catholic priest, played a role in defending Indian rights and was murdered on his way to a baptism in 1984. Other human rights activists who have acted on behalf of the Páez have also been killed.
Today, the Páez are active in the council of Indian communities of the Cauca region, and the Amerindian groups in Colombia have congressional representation, but the struggle for a decent life with a sufficient degree of autonomy continues.
During the last years, Páez tribes have blocked the principal highways that connect Bogota with Ecuador in order to pressure the Colombian government to recover their ancestral lands.
Even though the father has nearly absolute authority in a Páez family, the Spaniards found at their arrival that the Páez had not only male chiefs, but also female chiefs. A famous female chief was
With the escalation of conflict in Colombia, indigenous peoples came together to create the Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca (association of indigenous governing councils of North Cauca, ACIN), led by Páez women, who are playing a key role in denouncing human rights abuses in the country such as rape, kidnappings, and killings. In the spring of 2001, ACIN and other Indigenous organizations, fed up with violence, staged a massive peace-and-protest march. Some 30,000 people walked from Santander de Quilichao to the neighboring city of Cali, Colombia's third largest city to denounce human rights abuses.
Arcila Vélez, Graciliano. Los indígenas Páez de tierradentro Cauca, Colombia: descripción enográfica y lingüística de estos aborígenes en el año de 1940. Colombia: Universidad de Antioquia, Departamento de Publicaciones, Editorial Universidad de Antioquia, 1989.
Pérez de Barradas, José. Colombia de Norte a Sur. Madrid: Edición del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores, Relaciones Culturales, 1943.
Steward, Julian Haynes, ed. A Handbook of South American Indians. New York: Cooper Square, 1963.
U'sxakwe sa'tkwe ena's umnxi (el tejido de la vida de las mujeres y hombres nasa). Colombia: Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca, 2004
Wilches-Chaux, Gustavo. Proyecto Nasa: la construcción del plan de vida de un pueblo que sueña. UNDP, 2005
—revised by C. Vergara.
"Páez." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 11, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/paez-0
"Páez." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. . Retrieved November 11, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/paez-0