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    Land of winds > The people > Culture | Issue 20 (Jul.-Aug. 2014)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

The Misak or Guambiano

The Misak or Guambiano

The Misak (also known as Guambiano) live in the highlands of Cauca department, south-western part of Colombia, especially in the municipality of Silva (but also in the municipalities of Totoró, Jamabló, Caldono and Morales-Cauca). Immigrant groups can be found in the neighbouring Huila department (municipality of La Plata), and a number of others live in Bogotá. They identify themselves as misak, "people" or namuy misak, "our people". Occasionally they call themselves Wampi-misamera, whose translation would be "Guambiano, human being from the Guambía", Guambía being one of the traditional lands of this people.

The Misak's Pre-Hispanic history is still being documented and several hypotheses have been proposed. Despite their strong resistance, they had already been defeated by Spanish troops by the end of the 16th century, and were subjugated under colonial rule. Ever since they have suffered invasion, the plunder and dispossession of their lands and resources by colonists and landowners, in a process that tries to be reversed by this people's work to recover their traditional land. According to the 2005 General Census of Population of Colombia, more than 21,000 people identify themselves as Misak; most of them (over 90%) live in Andean rural areas, at more than 2500 metres above the sea level, maintaining their traditional way of life.

They usually live in small villages with single-family houses; where the old rectangular houses made of adobe brick and topped with thatched roofs have been replaced by brick buildings with red tile roofs and whitewashed walls. The centre of the house is the kitchen, which they regard as a primarily female space, where the entire family gather together.

The Misak or Guambiano

In general, agricultural labour remains their main economic activity: they grow maize and vegetables in the lowlands, and potatoes, olluco, barley, garlic and onions in the highlands. They trade their products in local markets, where Misak people are easily recognized by the bright colours of their attire. Rearing of cattle is also a very common practice.

According to their founding myths, the Misak are "water people"; the first generation of Misak emerged from the joining of the lakes Nupise (Piendamó) and Ñinpisu (Ñimbe), when their waters where hit by the rays of the kosrompoto, the rainbow. Another myth states that the pishau, the Misak's ancestors, rose up out of the slopes' failures after water had leaked through their cracks.

Sacred places are located in the Andean paramo, including lakes; and it is there where the murbik or traditional doctor prepares himself. Misak cosmogony is dual: the universe is regarded as being divided into complementary pairs. Natural is controlled by spirits, which can be beneficial or destructive. Among the dangerous spirits there are Ure (sometimes in the shape of a pig) and Nuguaymasig; while among the beneficial ones there are Kallim and Pishimisak, the creator pair that joins together male and female, goodness and evil.

The Misak maintain old traditional customs such as the minga (communal work, people gather together to accomplish certain type of tasks, planting, harvesting, etc.) and characters like the murbik, who knows the uses of medicinal herbs and plants, and conducts the cleaning ceremonies pishimaruk. They continue wearing their traditional clothing and performing their music with flute and drum ensembles, from which stems the tradition of the Cauca's "chirimía" (or "chirimía" caucana).

Their language, Wam, is known as Wampi-misamerawam ("Wampi-misamera's language"), and its classification remains uncertain: some linguists think it would be linked to the Totoró and Coconuco languages, while others believe that it is an isolated language. Bilingualism (Wam-Spanish) has increased since the 1940s, mostly among men.

Misak, in Wikipedia.
Article. "Guambiano", in Dirección de Asuntos Indígenas del Ministerio del Interior de Colombia [es].
Article. "Guambianos: una cultura de oro", by Luis G. Vasco Uribe [es].
Article. "Diagnóstico de la situación del pueblo indígena Guambiano", in Programa Presidencial de Derechos Humanos de Colombia [es].
Article. "Misak – Guambianos", in Portal de Lenguas de Colombia [es].
Article. "Los Wampi o la gente de Guambía", by Ximena Pachón C. [Geografía Humana de Colombia. Región Andina Central. Tomo IV, vol. II]. In Virtual Library "Luis Ángel Arango" [es].

Books about Misak culture and languge, in "Lenguas y culturas de Colombia – SIL" [es].

Picture 01. Misak old woman.
Picture 02. Misak man.
Picture 03. Misak woman.
Picture 04. Misak children.
Picture 05. Misak.
Picture 06. Misak women in the market.
Picture 07. Misak authorities.
Picture 08. Misak men 01.
Picture 09. Misak men 02.
Picture 10. Misak young persons.

Video 01. "Kollelei May – Los caminos del pueblo Misak" (documentary film).
Video 02. "El origen del tambor Misak".
Video 03. "Misak - Los hijos del agua y la palabra".
Video 04. "Comunidad Misak", by Proyecto "En mi idioma".
Video 05. Misak dance and flute ensemble
Video 06. "Semana cultural Guambiana" (interview, part 01).
Video 07. "Semana cultural Guambiana" (interview, part 02).

Picture A | Picture B

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