Ethnolinguistic Groups of Colombia’s Pacific Region

The Pacific Region of Colombia stretches in a curved, arc-like fashion from Panama to Ecuador, encompassing an area teaming with natural beauty and rich biodiversity. Traveling inland from any point along the way will take you on an ascent from which a lush jungle coastline leads to high Andean mountain peaks. Divided into the departments of Chocó, Valle de Cauca, Cauca, and Nariño, the region is little known to outsiders; rather, its reputation is that of a hotspot for horrific violence and crime. Drug traffickers and armed insurgent groups alike have for many years found refuge in this wild frontier as the Colombian government remains unable to exercise control over most of it. This region is home to many tribes speaking a multitude of indigenous languages inhabiting village communities spread far and wide with varying degrees of communication with the outside world. The connection many of these tribes have to this land extends back long before the Spanish conquest of the Americas. Today, they find themselves captives of different geographic realities that all the same are life giving and fraught with danger. Many have fallen victim to the endemic vice and violence. Many have also chosen to participate in it. As warlords and gangs connected to illegal drugs production and illicit extractive activities compete for territory, conflict between warring parties is common. At times indigenous communities get caught in the cross fire, forcing families to flee from their homes and into the jungle. Largely as a result of this Colombia today has one of the world’s greatest concentration of internally displaced peoples (IDPs). Little understood by most, Colombia’s Pacific Region is one of complexity and contrast. On the part of many who live there it is also one of fear and great spiritual despair.

I have had the privilege of living at times within Wounaan and Embera tribal villages on the Panama side of the restive border region – the Darien Gap. I have also endured long travels through the mountains of Cauca and Valle del Cauca in Colombia while visiting tribal Guambiano (Misak) and Nasa (Paez) communities. Tensions can run high in these volatile areas as control can quickly switch between the government and insurgent groups. The experiences I have had here have greatly informed my understanding of the region and its people, enriching my work as a geographer as I map the human/cultural dimensions of this and other world regions. This along with the years of research I have dedicated to Colombia and its indigenous tribes, I designed this map to help facilitate Bible translation projects among tribes that still do not have access to God’s Word in their own language. I am grateful for such opportunities to focus my talents and abilities to enhance and guide the work of making disciples of every ethne!

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