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This Great Emptiness We Are Feeling - Toward a Decolonization of Schooling in Simunurwa, Colombia

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“This Great Emptiness We Are Feeling”: Toward a Decolonization of Schooling in Simunurwa, Colombia

Christian Andrews

Cultural Anthropology 101-01


Located 5770 meters above sea level, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta houses the Arhuaco community in present-day Colombia.  One of the smaller indigenous groups in the country, the approximately 17,000 Arhuaco descendants are the subject of constant acculturation in regards to sociopolitical outputs and education standards.  In lieu of the 100-year struggle for education autonomy, Professor Luz A. Murillo of the University of Texas Pan American frames a century-old discussion of the minorities' "traditional epistemologies inherited from European traditions and the Colombian state.” (Murillo, 421) Over a 14 month period, Professor Murillo finds distinguishable values in how these people’s culture is worth preserving within their own form of education and a global form of education.  In appropriating Western forms of knowledge while retaining Indigenous practices and beliefs, the Colombian government's assimilation of state educators in the Sinunwa school is both a blessing and a burden due to the cultural factors and ramifications of introducing modern-day theory through the languages of Spanish and Ika.

Teaching in both the national dialect, Spanish, and the native language, Ika, may cause problems for both students and teachers alike.  However, the first issue I want to address is with the methodology of treating traditional epistemology within the Spanish language.  In detailing the issues of pedagogical hermeneutics, Professor Luz A. Murillo uses "the concepts of 'translocality' and 'transculturation' within the many efforts of transforming the school into a safe place devoid of the traffick and violence that threatens these people's livelihood."  In doing so, Professor Murillo puts into perspective the anthropological research of the assimilation process from a researcher's perspective, that is, from an unbiased perspective devoid of the influence of the Colombian government. The linguistic tensions that make certain materials indeterminable are based in symbols that are often dynamic counterparts: those things that determine internal and external forces. It is often difficult to attribute external forces as anything, but unwelcome entities of a state that wants nothing but to take from people. Of course, misattributions in the economic structures and the inability to articulate certain degrees of selfishness and altruism are maladaptive when considering the many forms that could be possible within the native language of Ika.  However, such learning is necessary not just in locating fertile land but in determining the best (probabilistic) reason for not just this farming community, but those similar farming communities.

Translocality, according to Ayora Diaz (2007), considers local forms of knowledge without restricting them to specific places, making possible the analysis of interactions between global and local forms and between multiple 'localities.'  “A translocal analysis of schooling thus includes Indigenous actions that cannot be categorized as purely local because they involve the appropriation and use of languages of wider communication, among other non-Indigenous forms of knowledge'.” (Diaz, 2007) Transculturation describes changes that took place “as a result of the extremely complex transmutations of culture”, namely the influences from the spanish language both on a national and global scale. (Ortiz, 1970)  In accounting for the allotment of hermeneutics on a small scale within a farming community that shares its territory appropriately with four other indigenous populations, all translations are considered and those points that seem determinable are those new definitions that a national government takes into consideration.  The more serious subject of debate, then, is not necessarily with how the indigenous populations communicate with one another, but rather how the national government’s Catholic influences direct the central command of learning as to promote a ‘general republic of security’ that does not promote inalienable policing.  (Though I speak primarily as an American citizen on such subjects, I want to promote only the same principles and ideologies of the same democratic diplomacy that I have learned and loved.  Correct any and all biases if considered too harsh or ‘wordy’.)

As stated previously, the Arhuaco people are from the Sierra Nevada, which is neatly split amongst themselves, the Kogui, the Wiwa, and the Kankuamo.  The majority resides within the Arhuaco resguardo, a land reserve granted by the Colombian government that is located primarily within the departamento (state) of Cesar and also in the neighboring states of Magdalena and Guajira. (Frank 1990)  As an order of themselves, the four native tribes cohabitate in accordance to all necessary national regulations.  The influences of foreign Catholicism is that which needed reconsidering after years of violence led to the passive protests of the Arhuaco people.  The first agreements in 1916 by the Colombian government had a new station of Capuchinos (Franciscans) running an Indian mission and boarding school.  (Vinalesa 1952)  These Franciscans enforced radical changes in material aspects of Arhuaco culture, including dress, systems of production, and social relations.  The worst first-person accounts are those of elders who were savagely beaten and ridiculed after not adhering to the Capuchinos’ strict conduct.  All points considered, the experiences of Vicencio Torres Marquez, as detailed in this article, are a fervent encapsulation of the very worst the Catholic teachings promoted in hindsight of the Second Vatican Council. (Torres Marquez 1978:34)

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