Colombia: Recovery and Promotion of Indigenous Knowledge

Looking to strengthen the role of traditional Arhuaco healers (Mamos) in Colombia and to support their dialogue with western science, CIET has partnered with the indigenous health organization Dusakawi EPSI and the Centro de Estudios Médicos Interculturales (CEMI), a non-governmental organization of Colombian medical practitioners advocating for intercultural health policies and practices.

Pacheco –left– an Arahuaco surgeon, with Mamo Munévar Niño, one of the oldest and most respected Arhuaco healers in Colombia who died in May 2007. CIET supports their work to revive traditional knowledge and medicines.

The Arhuaco live in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region of northern Colombia and are among the most traditional indigenous groups in the country. Dusakawi EPSI is one of the few indigenous-managed health services in Colombia.

All three partnering organizations believe in protecting and strengthening traditional medical systems, and in carefully articulating them with western medical services, as a sound strategy to improve health outcomes among indigenous populations without further destroying their culture and environment.

In March 2007, and as a result of their working agreement, the three partners implemented a seminar on intercultural health policies. Twenty-five Arhuaco leaders, mostly from indigenous health services, attended the seminar in Valledupar, Cesar Province.

Also in the context of this partnership, CEMI is carrying out a diagnostic study of the health, cultural, and environmental situation among the Arhuaco people. CIET gives technical support and some funding for this study, which will lay the foundation for training Arhuaco health promoters as community health agents, with particular emphasis on traditional health knowledge and its articulation with western scientific practices. (Click here for more details on the community health agents project in Colombia.)

The partnering organizations will also help revive and promote traditional Arhuaco ceremonies.