A photo of an Embera Chami jaibana (shaman) conducting a spiritual cleansing ritual at the Karmata Rua reserve in northwestern Colombia. EFE/ Luis Eduardo Noriega A.

Colombia indigenous community pins hopes on ethno-tourism to preserve identity

By Jeimmy Paola Sierra

A member of the Embera Chami indigenous community guides a group of tourists at the Karmata Rua reserve in northwestern Colombia. EFE/ Luis Eduardo Noriega A.

Jardin, Colombia, Jul 21 (EFE).- The Embera Chami indigenous community is turning to ethno-tourism as a vehicle for preserving its culture and identity, a plan that involves opening the doors of its Karmata Rua reserve in the Colombian municipality of Jardin.

James Tascon, a member of the Embera Chami indigenous group, shows photos of community leaders to people visiting the Karmata Rua indigenous reserve in northwestern Colombia. EFE/ Luis Eduardo Noriega A.

That tourist program consists of an ancestral route that allows visitors to immerse themselves in the culture of these native people, sample their gastronomy and familiarize themselves with their cosmovision and way of life.

This initiative of the Comfenalco family compensation fund, in partnership with Embera Chami elders, offers visitors a tourism alternative filled with rituals, mystic experiences and spaces to connect with nature.

It was devised as a means of preserving Embera Chami traditions while providing that indigenous group with an alternative source of revenue.


El Crucero, one of 10 stops along the route, marks the start of a journey to the heart of Karmata Rua (Land of the Pringamosa), a territory of mountains and rivers that is inhabited by 520 families who keep alive their people’s traditions through dance, painting and handicrafts.

Before the tour begins in earnest, tourists make a stopover at the San Bartolo stream for a cleansing ritual led by a “jaibana” (shaman), one of whom, Jose Arnulfo Vaguiaza, told Efe that visitors must release “bad energy” before entering the reserve.

They then embark on a hike along a steep path before reaching La Cruz and El Atrio, where they become acquainted with the Embera Chami cosmovision through that indigenous group’s myths and legends.

Later comes an introduction to that community’s gastronomy, starting with a typical breakfast consisting of wrapped corn cakes and spiced eggs and then followed later in the day by a sampling of arepa de mote (a kind of cornbread) and chicha, a fermented beverage.


A tour of the colonial territory, stores and a trapiche (a mill for extracting sugar cane juice) give visitors a taste of artistic and cultural life in Karmata Rua.

Handicrafts for sale include bead bracelets and necklaces, while local indigenous paintings are displayed in the Dojura Warrana art school.

“In this magical space, we work with children, young people and adults, keeping alive our traditions,” Kamukara Kau, the reserve’s cultural leader, told Efe. “With poetry and stories, face paintings … also with indigenous theater and dance.”

Tourists can choose to have their faces and bodies painted with an extract of the jagua fruit and share in a tradition closely linked to the Embera Chami’s conception of the world, according to James Tascon, a indigenous artist.

“What I do has a cosmic element, the mountains, the paths,” he said while applying his art to a tourist’s skin.

“We hope people go away with an experience of ancestral culture, that they see where we’re from … because we’re a mixture of campesinos and indigenous people,” Tascon said.

The ancestral route ends at Dojura Lagoon, where a final plant-based steam ritual led by jaibanas serves as a spiritual send-off for the visitors. EFE