During the last two weeks I have been talking to scholars who are interested in contemporary Muisca groups, and who have introduced me to some spiritual and political leaders of both officially recognized and non-recognized communities.
But let’s start from the beginning: who are Muisca?
Muisca was -or should we say is?- an indigenous “prehispanic culture” that inhabited the territory that today covers the regions of Cundinamarca and Boyaca, in central Colombia. As the flat-highlands of central Colombia became the land where the main Spanish settlements were established, the Pre-hispanic groups that lived and worked there were eradicated or forcefully displaced to the outskirts of the main cities. Although there are very scarce architectural remains of Muisca settlements, the landscape still has evidence of past occupation: rock art, ceramic deposits, votive offerings locally known as tunjos, and earthworks. This material has been studied by professional archaeologists, who are more interested in the scientific aspects of archaeology than on interpretation, leading to a very vertical approach to the past that has produced limited results.
But it seems that there are some Muisca around in 2013. Five Muisca groups have been recognized by the Colombian government and there are many more Muisca cabildos (associations) not yet officially recognized. Membership to some groups depends on lineage and a continued use of the land, while others care more about cultural traits: religious belief, group cohesion, personal ornamentation and traditional medicine, among other factors.
I am exploring how these contemporary Muisca communities interpret the landscape where their prehispanic ancestors lived, in a process that they call “land re-signification”. The process has provided alternative and very interesting interpretations of the landscape but also disputes among the different groups. I have observed that each group legitimizes some interpretations and rejects others as a result of inter-group conflict and the extent to which each community follows the New-age movement.
Yesterday, for example, I went to the “Catedra Carlos Mamanche”, a series of conferences organized by Mariana Escribano, a new age author who writes about Muisca language and its relation to the esoteric world. Interestingly, members of some of the Muisca groups agreed with the conference, while other criticized it. In addition, probably more than half of the participants were upper middle class Bogotans who are not part of any indigenous community.
The photographs below show the entrance to the auditorium where the conference took place, one of the slides presented by the speaker and the cover page of two books made by community leaders about the re-signification of the land.