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Arhuaco Indigenous Reserve of the Sierra Nevada, Colombia



The Pueblo Arhuaco is located in northern Colombia, in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (SNSM) mountain range. In the Arhuaco Indigenous Reserve of the Sierra Nevada there are 54 settlements. Three of them are are included in this ICCA registration: Gun Aruwun, Ikarwa and Seykun. They are located in the area of Cesar, Gun Aruwun and Ikarwa in the Tropical Dry Forest, in the Guatapurí river basin (traditionally known as the Dwamuriwa River) and Seykun on the Tropical Humid Forest, in the El DiIuvio river basin.

Arhuaco ancestral territory

The Arhuaca worldview is based on the traditional ordering and management of the territory, which incorporates areas from the snow-capped peaks to the lower areas. The combination of all these spaces forms the ancestral territory of the four towns of the Sierra Nevada, delimited by sites and sacred spaces known as the "Black Line"*.

The peoples of the SNSM aim to advance in the recovery and protection of their ancestral territory. For this reason, different lines of action have been taken, some of which are physical and some spiritual. The settlements of "Talanquera peoples" in the lower areas strive to stop the advance of colonisation and pressure on the territory. The establishment of the Gun Aruwun, Ikarwa and Seykun is the result of these territorial recovery processes.

*It is the base of the ancestral territory and is translated into Jaba Seshizha (kogui), Shetana Zhiwa (wiwa) and Seykutukunumaku (arhuaco). The particle "Shi" (kogui) means thread or connection and refers to the spiritual or energetic connections that unite sacred spaces, land, coastlines and continental and marine waters of the territory and all aspects of nature and people. "Shi" (kogui) are the veins or "zhiwa" (wiwa) - water, which interconnect the different dimensions of the ancestral territory, similar to the veins in the body. "Se" (kogui), "She" (Wiwa) and "Sey" (Arhuaco) is the spiritual world in Aluna, the early black space before dawn. In this sense, the Black Line is the connection between the material world and the principles of the origin of life. It is the sacred fabric of the territory and guarantees the maintenance of interrelationships of the territory, culture and nature that is the basis of life (...) The Black Line is the last ring of sacred spaces that delimits the territory of the peoples of the SNSM as a protection principle ”. Decree 1500 of August 6, 2018 - Ministry of the Interior.


These communities are located in ecosystems such as Dry Forest, an area where sacred spaces and fundamental materials for the physical and cultural survival of the Arhuaco people are found. Among them is the So'kunu tree, from which the wood is used for Poporo stick**. This ICCA covers 15,000 hectares of Dry Forest and 6983 of tropical humid forest, for a total of approximately 21,983.6 hectares.

**Symbolic element of a relationship between a man and a woman, which is delivered as a symbol of adulthood and development as a person. The man is represented by the so’kunu stick and the woman by the gourd.

Registration Process

The participation of traditional authorities, women and youth from the communities of Gun Aruwun, Ikarwa and Seykun has permitted the registration process of this ICCA. USAID's PRN Natural Wealth Program has accompanied this ICCA process in the Dry Forest area with the communities of Gun Aruwun and Ikarwa, while the UNDP GEF Small Grants Program supported the process in the Seykun community. This combination of the PRN and Small Grants Program have both contributed to this registration process. An agreement is maintained with PRN which helps guide the accompanying actions defined by the Arhuaca communities in the ICCA area.

From these two ICCA areas registered by the Arhuaco people, spaces for dialogue and agreement with other Arhuaco settlements are opened so that they know the registration initiative on the network and after an internal analysis they can independently define if they want to join also this international movement of the Territories and Areas Conserved by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities- ICCA-.

Thus, by means of the reaffirmation of the mandates of the Elders and our cultural practices framed in the ancestral exercise in the territory, we will be able to stop latent threats and have the support of friendly peoples and allies of the world for the conservation of nature and culture.

This content was provided by Confederación Indígena Tayrona, and published by UNEP-WCMC in June 2020.