Following the Anaconda’s path

Following the Anaconda’s path
2021. Traditional dance of prevention and healing in the Department of Vaupés, Colombia. Photo: Emilia Cardenas © Sinergias ONG

Following the Anaconda’s path

The indigenous communities settled along the different river basins following a distribution defined since the origin, where each group received a territory. The tale narrates how they arrived in an anaconda canoe that carried the different peoples throughout the territory, leaving some at the headwaters and others at the mouths of each basin.

Because of this distribution, many communities can only be reached by river, and it can take several hours or days to get there from the urban center of Mitú, the departmental capital. Some communities must even be reached later on foot, which makes communication and access to health services very difficult. 

The communities are inhabited by about 30 families. Traditionally, the men stay in their communities and the women, who are generally from another ethnic group, go to live in their partners’ communities. The ethnic group is inherited by the father. Most of the inhabitants of a community belong to the same ethnic group, although, due to the progressive modification of the patterns of settlement and sedentarization, many of the communities are now multiethnic.

The Department of Vaupés has more than 27 different indigenous peoples who, although several of them are part of what is known as the great cultural complex of Yuruparí, each has its own language and its own traditions and customs. This becomes a great challenge to work in intercultural health systems. Here, continuous dialogue and openness to learn about different ways of understanding and inhabiting the world are the key to jointly building health processes appropriate to the territory.