Leonor Zalabata


*Human Rights Commissioner for the Tayrona Indigenous Conferederation  and Representative for the National Commission of the Indigenous Peoples of Colombia.



Indigenous people built the world with 5000 cultures and with our cosmovision we recreate the Earth, maintain the spirit, the roots of all of all the goods and beings that make up this world.  These beings are our own families, our reason for being.  The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, where the Arahuacos, Koguis and other peoples live, is the heart of the world.  Here is where our spirits rest and remain.


The lives and nature of the Sierra Nevada's indigenous peoples, like those of the 83 indigenous communities of Colombia, are not protected by the Colombian state. We are victims not only of armed conflict in Colombian but also of the political system which, through measures which oppose the peoples, goes against this way of being and thinking.  In spite of the generalized horror of this war, not all of us suffer the consequences in the same way.  The constant attacks we bear not only aggress our physical being, they violate the existence of different cosmovisions, different ways of being, of thinking, and of relating to nature. Violating the nature of our territories endangers the existence of future generations of indigenous peoples. 


Our culture −like our traditions, usages and customs− have taught us to maintain a peaceful relationship with 'the other' and his difference.  War is not our way of seeing life, or of feeling towards 'the other'. We have never been interested in exterminating peoples. What indigenous cultures say with regards to others is that they −not only humans but animals and plants as well− are our brothers.


The Coca, the hayo -as it called by the Aruahaca culture- is the only female plant in our culture.  Trees are men and we women are the earth (N.T.: Tierra is also the term for soil) and the trees’ splendor depends on the Earth’s fertility.  The Earth cannot be fertile without the shade given by the trees.  We are all important, all necessary, men and women.  But Coca is the only feminine plant, it is a woman, it is part of our culture.  This is why women do not carry Coca; it is men who carry Coca.  It is our men's companion. It is a symbol of our culture which signifies the male's complementary element. It is a sign of indigenous peoples' identity.  It is a sign of brotherhood among individuals and indigenous peoples. Among us, each man carries the Coca and the poporo (N.T: gourd containing a mixture used to activate the alcaloide) in his mochila (N.T.: cotton knit shoulder bag).  Men greet each other in brotherhood by exchanging a handful of Coca leaves. In many cases it is a medicinal plant with curative properties for certain pathologies, it helps to ease the pain. Finally, it is a sacred plant in our ancestral practices.  Its existence is consecrated from when it is a seed, when it is planted, its productive and the reproductive moments. Its use is governed as of the Law of Origin, as of traditions.  It is regulated throughout the human development cycle.  There is a moment in their development when people, men, can carry Coca, can consume Coca.  This plant is a part of life, of the identity of indigenous peoples.


We could justify it as a delinquent plant. The hayo's existence, we could prove that this plant has generated chaos in the world. It would be more realistic were we to recognize that what is delinquent and illicit has to do with the failure to build an ethical world, where we recognize that many inventions and many situations lead to the degeneration of the human world and that double standards justify its bad use leading to economic distortions, political corruption, increased violence, health problems, environmental pollution, poorer salaries, the destruction of a cosmovision and of the values behind many usages and customs. This is why combat against this bad use, these double standards, should keep in mind consumption in the North and the West, the business or commerce between the North and the South of the chemical products needed to produce cocaine and opium, and strong measures against money-laundering.  Addressing the Coca issue solely by means of chemical aerial fumigation −which the only thing it has brought is to involve a large number of poor peasants− it is not a solution.




Translation Mama Coca

MM Moreno


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