NASA LEGACY: saakhelu
The Nasa are one of Colombia’s largest indigenous people, who predominantly inhabit the western department of Cauca, a region central to the country’s civil war. The region is dominated by sugar plantations, which are surrounded by the country’s two great mountain ranges. The Nasa claim that the plains were taken from them by force in 1915, and that many were then pushed up into the poorer land of the mountains to make way for the sugar industry owned by the white, wealthy aristocracy that has always ruled the country.
In the last decades, the region became a strategic corridor for the trafficking of drugs onward to the Pacific coast. Drug gangs, militias and paramilitaries have made this one of the most dangerous places in the world for indigenous rights campaigners and environmental defenders. The fundamental cause of the violence in the region is the same as it has been for centuries – land – and the victims are those who defend it.
Nasa people reaffirm and protect their territory on a daily basis, not only through legal means, working or fighting for the land, but also through the defense of their cultural heritage and the celebration of sacred ceremonies like the Saakhelu, one of the five major rituals of the Nasa cosmogony.
The ritual takes place during the full moon in August and its purpose is to thank nature for its wisdom, for allowing the indigenous Nasa people to live in it. The ceremony represents an offer to the spirits of the mother earth, the sun, the moon, the rain, the wind, the fire, the condor, the hummingbird, and the seeds to keep living in abundance and harmony, avoiding famines in the territory.
During three days, indigenous Nasa people coming from all over the Cauca region camped in Cerro Tijeras, a Nasa sacred place in the Suarez province. On the 25th of August 2018, they went to the wood and cut a big tree that the men carried on from the wood to the place where the ceremony was going to be celebrated. They planted the tree again and they sacrificed a cow in its honor that a young man from the community hoisted on the top of the tree. The Nasa people spent hours dancing around the tree and making offers of cooked meals and fresh products from the countryside, while they chewed coca leaves to harmonize the territory.
Photographs taken under the "Proyecto Cerrando Brechas" (Closing Gaps Project), led by Blumont Global Development and funded by the Government of the United States.