By Miguel Rojas-Sotelo
Recently, in Cauca, in the highlands of Southern Colombia, the Nasa people called on the Kiwe Thegnas (the Indigenous Guard) to protect their communities from the aggression of armed state and private forces looking to promote and develop resource extraction megaprojects on their ancestral territories. The Indigenous Guard is an expression of Nasa organizing to defend their rights of autonomy and their social and communitarian control over their territories. Today, armed only with the symbolic bastón de mando (a wooden stick), the Indigenous Guard fights the heavy weaponry of armed actors in the Colombian conflict, in many instances literally clashing as a collective body against them. Between bullets, mortar fire, air bombings and guerrilla and antiguerrilla tactics from the National Army, paramilitaries, guerrillas and organized crime squads, the Guard symbolizes centuries of resistance to the war-machine of modern actors.
The genealogy of decolonial thinking and action is pluriversal, not universal, and situated. As such, each knot on the web of this genealogy is a point of delinking and opening that reintroduces languages, memories, economies and social organizations. A collective voice, body and expression is rising as a chain of events— actions bringing the actual to the table of the global. Their call touches the colonial wound and rephrases the neocolonial moment that is progress in the form of peace treaties, public policies, drug wars, never-ending paramilitary/guerrilla and mafia presence, democracy and a popular culture that enjoys the spectacles of narco-telenovelas, news shows and futbol while others extract massive amounts of natural resources.
Historically, the Nasa and Guambiano peoples of South- ern Colombia were some of the last to be integrated by European colonialism in the region. Names such as La Cacica Gaitana and Juan Tama represent Indigenous resistance and territorial gains of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  Simón Bolívar’s program recognized Indigenous resguardos and would have been conducive to the return of lands usurped. This program, however, was not met, and Cauca landowners harassed the Nasa for land, reducing their territories through institutional corruption and violence.
During the twentieth century, Manuel Quintín Lame (1883–1967), Nasa and Guambiano, became the reincarnation of Tama. He directed the struggle by using official documents and laws as well as occupation; these actions usually began peacefully, but often ended in confrontation and violence. The leader was imprisoned 108 times in his lifespan, persecuted and exiled from Cauca, and died in poverty as a landless exile. 
Álvaro Ulcué Chocué (1943 – 1984), was the first Indigenous priest in Colombia, a Nasa, an outspoken advocate for the Indigenous cause, who in many instances suffered discrimination in order to demand the dignity of his people. Ulcué was murdered by paid assassins, “sicarios,” in November 1984, after meeting with military leaders the day before and after members of his family were injured and killed by the police in a peaceful occupation of Indigenous lands in 1982. He created the Proyecto Nasa (Nasa Project), in the framework of Catholic utopianism, which was a process of thinking, asking, deciding and acting. His death has not been resolved.
In the 1970s, the Nasa organized the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) to recover and defend the land, and to achieve cultural autonomy. At the time, the reclamation took on two faces: community organization and guerrilla tactics. On the one hand was the CRIC; on the other, a guerrilla commando named after Quintín Lame led the MAQL (or “Quintineros”) front.  Their struggle, marked by repression, massacres and the assassination of leaders, has recovered 544,000 hectares in Cauca.
The Nasa are strategically located in a corridor that connects the isolated western piedmont plains and Amazon jungle — where illegal crops (coca and poppy) are cultivated—and the Andes and Pacific coast, where illegal drugs are processed and shipped to global markets. In addition, in their ancestral territories old and new mining resources (gold and copper) are in line to be absorbed by local and transnational companies that with new technologies such as open-pit and top removal practices, are the new frontier of development in a state with a lack of regulation.
Today, there are no individual leaders like La Gaitana, Tama, Quintín Lame or Ulcué. The Nasa understand that a vertical organization is easily destroyed, that modernity has created a cult of individuals, and that basing their struggle around a single person is too fragile a foundation. That is why they have called upon the Kiwe Thegnas, which is composed of about seven thousand Nasa, young males and females. They are in a constant process of learning and sharing their history and struggle. This collective body is the most visible image of a community organized by the deep roots of communal, spiritual and political vision. They work voluntarily for two years at a time, and during that time are trained culturally to be the collective voice of their people, spiritually to represent the values of Indigeneity and the protection of Mother Earth, and politically to understand and share their rights and obligations as Indigenous citizens. While the Thegnas is not a military organization, it has recently been involved in the dismantling of military posts in their territory, the expulsion of military and guerrilla forces and the political mobilization across Cauca.
The Khabu or Tama (bastón de mando, “the stick,” in Nasa language) is not only a symbol of power but also carries the spirit of the community, and the ability to govern is transmitted to the wearer. It commands respect towards the commoners. Usually the Khabu is made of black wood from the Chonta Palma and is decorated with braids of wool or coloured ribbons (it formerly also bore a silver handle). To hold a Khabu is a commitment to and with the community; rather than granting power over others, it orients subjectivity toward a higher cause. Today as before, the Khabu symbolizes a connection to nature. The fruit of the chonta palm, chontaduro, is a staple of the Nasa diet, and its power is vested in rituals performed by traditional healers in the lakes, where the sticks are washed in sacred waters and given to the bearers to decorate, as bonding in a relationship. They become the common object that replaces weapons as a symbol of pride. Even small children are vested with them, to start a process of training and responsibility to the community. That is how the long temporalities of Indigenous struggle in Colombia, as well as in the rest of the continent, are actualized.
It is by accessing ancestral knowledge, delinking from a linear history in a clear, transmodern move, and keeping autonomous organization (i.e., the cabildo and the resguardo) that communities such as the Nasa share decolonial strategies. The Guard has been stigmatized by the Colombian broadcast and print media as barbaric, uncivilized and uncooperative in the fight against terrorism in which the country is so invested. They ask why Indigenous people have to be treated with exception, if what they need is to be considered and treated as normal Colombians. Violence is still directed at the Nasa’s most visible leaders and aims to dismantle their organizations. What the local and central governments as well as technocrats and the military do not know about the Nasa is that they have been involved in a process of empowerment in their communities that can teach us more about participatory democracy than any other experience in contemporary Colombia.
 La Cacica Gaitana was Yalcón from Huila, who in 1540 led a united Indigenous force to resist the Spanish colonizers. Juan Tama de la Estrella, a Nasa from Cauca, stopped violent confrontation and used colonial law and documents to negotiate autonomous Indigenous territories.
 Quintín Lame developed a system of sharing political knowledge called proyecto de vida, which is described in his manuscript El pensamiento del indio que se educó en las selvas colombianas (The thoughts of the Indian educated in the Colombian forests). The text was completed in 1939 but published only posthumously in 1971 as En defensa de mi raza (In Defense of My Race). It immediately became the “red book” of political organization for Indigenous peoples in Colombia.
 Some followers of Quintín Lame, after the assassination of Father Ulcué, joined the Ricardo Franco guerrilla group (a former FARC platoon) to form the MAQL. It was demobilized in 1991 thanks to the new Constitution in Colombia, which recognized the fundamental rights of Indigenous peoples. Just four months after the signing of the new Constitution, on 4 July 1991, twenty Nasa people, including children, were massacred by paramilitaries over a case of recovery of lands.
Miguel Rojas-Sotelo is an art historian, visual artist, activist, scholar and curator. He holds a doctorate in visual studies, contemporary art and cultural theory. Rojas-Sotelo worked as the visual arts director of the Ministry of Culture of Colombia (1997–2001) and indepen- dently as an artist, curator and critic ever since. He currently works and teaches at Duke University for the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. Rojas- Sotelo is the director of the NC Latin American Film and New Media Festival.
When we begin to see our seemingly disparate present-day cultures and political and socioeconomic realities through a decolonial lens, we can reclaim traditions by reconnecting our endurance of five centuries in the Americas to our future, ultimate liberation. Decolonial African American cuisine is an ownership and a repossession of African food history that unapologetically positions the Atlantic Slave Trade and its pervasive legacy as a central point of global decolonial discourse. —Berlin ReedContinue Reading...
When I first met Arlan, he was more of an anarchist and more confrontational, although always friendly and with his mea- sured way of seeing, thinking and acting. It was 1996 and Colombia was in the midst of devastation, bloodshed everywhere, paramilitaries and guerillas kidnaping and killing, corrupt governments focusing on their pockets and image, and we art professionals still somehow transfixed by contemporary art, the white box and the international scene. Arlan’s contribution to the national Salon of Colombian Artists that year was a kettle of black vultures, which he painted on the cornices, corners, borders and edges of the exhibition space. The title of the piece was Phoenix, 1995-1996.
A few years later, we saw each other again in Manizales, a small colonial city (in every sense of the word) embedded in the central mountain range of the Colombian Andes. Arlan was a professor at the National University there. He was still the same, dressed in black, as anarchist as ever and even more outspoken politically. His light came on when he was in good company. Surrounded by brilliant minds, many of whom he helped polish, Arlan was, as much as anything, a jeweler, with great intuition and always in search of raw gemstones. Always sharing everything and commit- ted to his gregarious role, he worked for the benefit of the crowd so that others would shine, while he remained behind the scenes.
We met again in Havana in 2006. Both of us had been expelled from Colombia. He had served tables, washed dishes and done odd jobs in NYC until he grew tired and moved, undocumented, to Toronto. I had learned carpentry and plumbing amongst other things, which I never had a use for in the arts, but proved useful for life. In the heat of Cuba, Arlan never stopped wearing black, not there nor in Merida, Yucatan, at 40 degrees in the shade (although he did take off his Converse, replacing them with Mayan sandals).
I think that it was in Toronto where Arlan perfected his method. He couldn’t have been in better company: Julieta, his brightest star, a piece of the Caribbean in the cold North. He rapidly built a network. Exile brings about the best of you (sometimes also the worst). His America became clearer, his interests expanded: New media, art that is socially and politically committed, work that is carried out in networks, horizontally and collaboratively. Along with Julieta, he founded e-fagia. These spaces that were created digitally (with one’s fingers, as we say in the south to underscore an element of precarity in this work) are testimony of his commitment.
After our encounter in Havana, we saw each other repeatedly. Always with clear objectives, without excuses, we would act, build, collaborate. Arlan was clear about something: the ones who have survived and have possibilities are in debt to the ones who have none, who have no voice. We dedicate our efforts to the ones who have been made subordinates. With humility, without mediation, with the heart.
Compa, as the Phoenix — until next time,
– Miguel Rojas-Sotelo
On Thursday 23 May 2013, Arlan Londoño, the co-founder and curator of e-fagia organization, passed away suddenly in his home in Toronto. Arlan has been one of the pillars of our organization and an inspiration to all of us. As an artist, curator and activist, he struggled everyday in the arts to create projects at an impossible rate; projects that established a dialogue with their social context and were rooted in the real experiences of daily life. He was a friend like no other — always acting as a bridge, linking diverse communities, artistic disciplines and activists around his projects.
His activities in these last few years are almost too many to list: co-founder of e-fagia; co-founder of No Media Collective; originator of interdisciplinary art projects like DystoRpia, Sub_version, In_dependence and Displacement; organizer of new media exhibitions like the Digital Event series (2006–2013), Videophagy (2009) and Pan-Americas (2010); editor of numerous publications with e-fagia and of the web issue of Disfagia Magazine; photography and video workshop facilitator; web developer; member of the board of di- rectors and programming committee of the aluCine film and media festival; collaborator of the Colombia Action Solidarity Alliance, to name only the most significant ones.
As the architect for the sym- posium on Decolonial Aesthetics of the Americas, Arlan was deeply invested in thinking through the meaning of decolo- nization as linked to culture, politics and aesthetics. We watched his enthusiasm in initiating this project, and it is in his hon- our that we bring it to fruition.
As his friends, we will always remember him as a generous, endless conversation partner, a frustrated dancer, a polemicist, a drinker of coffee with rum, a music and film enthusiast, an insatiable and imaginative reader, a joker, a confidant. We will miss his smile, his laughter and his way to challenge us with his honest criti- cism. Goodbye, Arlan. You will always be in our hearts.
– e-fagia organization
A donation in memory of Arlan Londoño can be made here: https://www.paypal.com/ca/cgi-
For several years I have remained disturbed by three aesthetic actions: Rebecca Belmore’s yell as a prelude to a panel discussion; Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s threat to decapitate a woman during a work of performance art; and Terrance Houle’s presentation of his naked, fleshy belly in photographs and performances. —David GarneauContinue Reading...
As part of FUSE’s popular States of Postcoloniality series, the artists and writers in this issue explore decoloniality in aesthetic practice across the Americas and the Caribbean. Produced in partnership with the e-fagia organization.Continue Reading...
I did not feel that the issues were too complex to stop making work. I still feel this today. —Avram Finkelstein of ACT UP and Gran Fury, in conversation with Alex McClelland and Geneviève TrudelContinue Reading...
A figure often seen wandering through the imaginary postapocalyptic landscape, the zombie, could be described as a defective or dysfunctional survivor, hopeless, devolved — a body in a chronic state of decay, deprived of its consciousness, senselessly perambulating the city, the countryside or even the suburban mall. — Richard MoszkaContinue Reading...
Page optimized by WP Minify WordPress Plugin