The Siona Amazonian indigenous people, also known as Ganteyabain, Ganteya, Ceona, Zeona, Kokakanú or Katucha-Pai, are located in the Colombian Amazon, Putumayo department, in the border area with Ecuador, where they occupy part of the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. In the 1970s, the Siona community ran out of Siona shamans, affecting life itself, according to their worldview. However, in recent decades there has been a reactivation of shamanic practices by the natives of this ethnic group.
Siona territory and population
The Siona territory has traditionally been located in the upper and middle basins of the Putumayo River. They are also found on the banks of the Piñuña Blanco Blanco and Cuehembí rivers and in the middle and lower Putumayo, in the municipalities of Puerto Asís and Puerto Leguízamo, in the border region with Ecuador. According to the National Population and Housing Census of Colombia (2019), 2,599 indigenous people belonging to the Siona people were self-identified (Republic of Colombia, DANE, 2019) (5).
On the other hand, according to Amazon Frontlines (2022) (1), the Siona nationality in Ecuador has been divided into three groups: Aguarico, Cuyabeno and Putumayo, since the displacement of the Siona as a result of the rubber fever and the slave trade at the end of the 19th century. In Ecuador, this community is located in the province of Sucumbíos, in the northeast of the country. Its population is estimated at about 400 individuals dispersed in several communities, being very vulnerable to extinction.
Their beliefs are based on man’s relationship with the land and spirituality. From his worldview, Airu is the natural habitat or the place that provides all the necessary elements to guarantee subsistence and cultural development, which allows the existence of an ancestral and autochthonous system of organization and management of the territory and its resources to satisfy the needs of the members of this indigenous ethnic group (ONIC, 2022) (4). Therefore, the territory represents mother nature and life itself.
The Siona language belongs to the Western Tucano linguistic family (Republic of Colombia, Observatorio del Programa Presidencial de DH y DIH, n.d.) (7).
Social and political organization
The Siona have traditionally maintained itinerant and dispersed settlement patterns along riverbanks. According to the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Colombia (n.d.) (6), traditionally, the Siona have organized themselves into clans; so that the clans of the Katucha-Paio Siona, were the Yaiguaje, people of the jaguar; Maniguaje, people of the mojarra; Piaguaje, people of the ají; Ocoguaje, people of the water; Payoguaje, people of the corn monkey and Amoguaje, people of the armadillo. Currently the nuclear family is the cell of their social organization and the Cabildo is the institution that sustains the political organization, being represented through the Association of Indigenous Councils of the Siona People -ACIPS-, attached to the Zonal Indigenous Organization of Putumayo -Ozip.
Likewise, the Siona are grouped in the Organization of the Siona Indigenous Nationality of Ecuador (ONISE), which in turn is a member of CONFENIAE and CONAIE (CONAIE, 2014) (2). However, according to CONAIE (2014) (2), the social and political cohesion of the Siona people is currently very weak, due to the dispersion of the population and the power exercised by oil companies, as well as other illegal actors present in the Amazon rainforest.
Shamanic practices of indigenous people Siona
The Siona shamans are in charge of officiating the ceremonies of this indigenous culture, healings and administering yagé or ayahuasca. ayahuasca elaborated from Banisteriopsis caapi, a sacred plant of great importance in their ancestral culture because it allows communication between the shaman and the spiritual beings that direct the universe, cure disease and bring together the Siona community to make decisions as a unit.
However, in the 1970s, there were no curacas (shamans) Siona to lead these community ceremonies, because the Catholic missionaries were opposed to these practices and also traditional learning was hindered after the death of the shamans; therefore, the rituals were carried out by shamans. Cofan e Inga to cure diseases and other purposes of interest. Consequently, the Siona attributed the failures of hunting or fishing to the absence of the curacas and to the lack of community rituals of yagéand the lack of this leadership to maintain social control and harmony between the members of the community and the invisible forces (Langdon, 2020) (3).
Subsequently, in the last three decades, shamans have re-emerged Siona as leaders of the sacred rituals of this indigenous group, acting as traditional doctors and at the same time reinforcing their role as cacique-curaca or political leaders in community decisions, highlighting the culture of their people as a source of wisdom (Langdon, 2022) (3).
Traditionally, the Siona have practiced itinerant slash-and-burn subsistence farming, which provides them mainly with cassavarice, corn, chontadurobanana, plantain, yam, pineapple They also hunt, fish and gather wild fruits, and complement all these activities with timber exploitation and the production of handicrafts such as basketry, pottery, necklaces, bracelets, weavings, hammocks, and canoes, among others.
However, since the 20th century, with the advance of neo-extractive economic activities, the expansion of the agricultural and livestock frontier, as well as the intensive and illicit cultivation of coca as a raw material for the production of alkaloids, it is not excluded that some families of the indigenous nationality Siona have been integrated into this new economic model imposed by settlers, peasants, transnational economic agents linked to oil extractive activities and other illegal actors or groups (Republic of Colombia, Observatorio del Programa Presidencial de DH y DIH, n.d.) (7).
Documentaries about the Siona
- Amazon Frontlines. 2022. Siona nationality. Retrieved from https://www.amazonfrontlines.org/es/quienes-somos/nuestros-companeros/nacio-siona/.
- Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, CONAIAE. 2014. Siona. Retrieved from https://conaie.org/2014/07/19/siona/.
- Langdon, E.J. 2020. Configurations of Siona shamanism: modes of performance in the 20th AND 21st centuries. Maguaré, 34 (1), 17-47. Retrieved from https://revistas.unal.edu.co/index.php/maguare/article/view/90387/76632.
- National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, ONIC. 2022. Siona. https://www.onic.org.co/pueblos/1141-siona.
- Republic of Colombia, National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE). 2019. Indigenous population of Colombia – Results of the National Population and Housing Census 2018. Retrieved from https://www.dane.gov.co/files/investigaciones/boletines/grupos-etnicos/presentacion-grupos-etnicos-2019.pdf.
- Republic of Colombia, Ministry of the Interior. S.f. Siona people. Retrieved from https://pruebaw.mininterior.gov.co/sites/default/files/upload/SIIC/PueblosIndigenas/pueblo_siona.pdf.
- Republic of Colombia, Observatory of the Presidential Program on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. S.f. Diagnosis of the situation of the Siona indigenous people. Retrieved from https://2014.derechoshumanos.gov.co/Observatorio/Documents/2010/DiagnosticoIndigenas/Diagnostico_SIONA.pdf.
Economist (Central University of Venezuela). Full professor and researcher attached to the “Edgar Abreu Olivo” Agrifood Research Center, Universidad de Los Andes. Doctor from the University of La Laguna (Spain). Award “One of the 10 most consulted authors of the Saber ULA university portal” (2005); prize in the III Essay Contest of the Central Bank of Venezuela BCvoz Economico, 2016, with the work “Theobroma cacao: transformation and consumption of the “food of the gods” in Venezuela and the world” (co-authored).
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