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News > Latin America

Colombia's Indigenous Wiwa Fight Back Against Jehovah Witnesses

  • The Wiwa community

    The Wiwa community | Photo: EFE

Published 22 October 2016

In an act of self-determination, the Wiwa tribe expelled the religious organization for contributing to their “cultural and spiritual extermination."

The Wiwa Indigenous community in Colombia has expelled a group of missionaries from a church built by Jehovah's Witnesses inside their territory, which had been perceived as a threat to the culture, traditions and beliefs of the group.

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The Wiwa have internal counselors called "mamos" who have deep influence in their communities and decide on relevant matters affecting them, including religious groups that may threaten local beliefs and customs.

Jose Gregorio Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the community, said the Wiwa are worried about religious organizations wanting to indoctrinate them.

"Religion advances in our territories, our children are losing our customs, they don't want to hear about our traditional law," Rodriguez said in an interview in September for RCN.

The Wiwa are mainly located in the northern states of the country and the name means "warm," which in "damana," the group's language, is used to describe those who come from Colombia's warmer lowlands.

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The group ritually use coca leaves as a means of purifying the blood and increasing energy levels throughout the workday. Both religious groups ousted from the territory claim the tradition is "abhorrent" and "satanic."

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In 1998, the Wiwa expelled a group of evangelicals after they set up a Protestant church on their land in the 1950s, aggressively teaching the community to stop following their traditional deities and embrace the Christian faith.

The United Pentecostal Church of Colombia, who have also been expelled by the Wiwa, also targeted the area and began a program of indoctrinating the Indigenous population.

In 2014, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed an executive order that bestows a degree of autonomy on the country's Indigenous peoples, enabling communities to manage their own financial, health, educational and religious issues.

According to Colombia's Ministry of Culture, the Wiwa are a population of just 13,627 people, of which 6,872 are men and 6,755 are women. Seventy-nine percent of their population are under 30 years, and only 2 percent are adults older than 60 years.

The Wiwa mainly work in agriculture and grow and harvest cassava, yams, taro, bananas, corn, beans, sugar cane and cocoa for family consumption. Coffee is their main source trade.

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