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Land of winds > The people > Culture | Issue 06. Jul.-Ago.2011
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

The Nasa or Páez people

The Nasa or Páez people
The Nasa are an indigenous people settled in the department of Cauca, in the Andean region of south-western Colombia. They mostly live in the municipalities of Toribío, Páez and Caldono, though there are groups of Nasa immigrants in other departments such as Valle del Cauca, Tolima, Putumayo, Huila,Caquetá and Meta. The Cauca River toponymy –which retains a lot of place names in Nasa Yuwe language– suggests that the Nasa would be native to this region. The term “páez” is the Spanish version of the word pats, “to the right [of the Cauca River]”. The system of encomienda established by the conquistadors during the colonization efforts undertaken upon the Americas in the XVI century created a labour force of the Nasa people who rebelled against the Spanish domination and put up a fight of resistance that would lead to an agreement with the Spanish Crown in the early XVIII century. Through this agreement, the Nasa people got certain autonomy in their “resguardos” (indigenous reservations) in exchange for their acceptance of colonial rule and Christianity. The Nasa people were allowed to mine copper in their territories and earn some money through their handicraft works. But the few rights they were allowed to exercise were restricted even further and, as time passed, the reductions in freedoms and territory became more and more evident. Their autonomy diminished and their lives and security were threatened. Since the beginning of the XX century the Nasa people have been involved in violent struggles for their rights, autonomy and territory. Many of their leaders have been persecuted and killed and their community organizations, systematically destroyed.
According to the 2005 Census (DANE, National Administrative Statistics Department, Colombia), there are around 186,000 Nasa people, mostly engaged in agriculture. They grow maize and, depending on the area, also potatoes, coffee, bananas, cassava and beans. Besides agriculture, livestock, poultry raising and traditional craftwork constitute other major sources of income. The Census numbers show that the Nasa suffer high rates of illiteracy and experience most of the problems traditionally associated with deprived rural indigenous populations.
The same source indicates that 41% of the population speaks their mother language, Nasa Yuwe. It is not only the means but also the substance of their oral tradition heritage. The legends, myths, folk tales, customs and first person stories that are handed down from generation to generation in Nasa Yuwe language manage to perpetuate themselves and the Nasa people’s unique worldview. They see the universe as a house inhabited by mankind and a set of spiritual beings such as Eakathe’ (the thunder), Pxthus (the rainbow), Wejxa (the wind) o Kixum (the goblin).
Their music is played by small ensembles that perform the flute kuvy and the drum kweeta or kauth. Among their dances, the cxucxa ku’h (“chucha dance”) and the nxusxa ku’h (“sugar cane dance”) are performed during the inauguration ceremony for a new house, while the uwe ku’h (“wedding dance”) is danced at weddings.
At present, Nasa communities are being displaced and repressed in their own lands by armed groups operating in Colombia, especially in the Cauca River valley. As many other neighbouring indigenous societies, they are victims of gross and systematic human rights violations and, in many cases, of genocide.


Paez people, in Wikipedia.
Los Nasa o la Gente Páez (The Nasa or Páez people), in Geografía Humana de Colombia [es].
Caracterización del Pueblo Nasa (Characterization of the Nasa people), in Ministerio de Cultura de Colombia [es].
Nasa Páez community’s blog [es].
Páez language, in Wikipedia.
Linguistic resources in Páez language, in SIL [es/en].

Video 01. Some Nasa customs.
Video 02. Nasa people speaking in Nasa Yawu.
Video 03. Trailer “Testigos de un etnocidio: Memorias de resistencia” (Witnesses of an ethnocide: Memories of resistance).
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