ColombiaOne.comCultureExploring the Enigmatic Pijaos: A Journey into Colombia's Indigenous Past

Exploring the Enigmatic Pijaos: A Journey into Colombia’s Indigenous Past


Pijaos people Colombia
The Pijaos’ rich heritage remains an essential part of Colombia’s cultural tapestry. Their history, language, and customs enrich the nation’s cultural diversity. Credit: Ambi-Ka/CC BY-SA 4.0

The Pijaos, also known as Pi’pyshavy in their native language, are an Amerindian group hailing from the region of Tolima, Colombia, and the surrounding territories. These indigenous people have a rich history and a unique cultural heritage that has been integral to the fabric of Colombia. Let’s delve into the fascinating world of the Pijaos.

In the pre-Columbian era, the Pijaos inhabited a vast territory in present-day Colombia. Their ancestral lands stretched across the Central Mountain Range of the Andes, enveloped by the snow-capped peaks of Huila, Quindio, and Tolima. This region encompasses the upper valleys of the Magdalena River and the Cauca River. Unlike some other indigenous groups, the Pijaos did not form a centralized state; instead, they had a federation of towns, each with its own unique character and customs.

Distinctive Aesthetics

The Pijaos were known for their distinctive body aesthetics, which set them apart. One remarkable practice was skull modification using orthopaedic splints. They began this process shortly after birth, resulting in cranial deformations that contributed to their fierce appearance. This practice was similar to that of the Tumaco people, with both groups using clay figures to emphasize these cranial features. The Pijaos also altered the shape of their limbs through the use of tightened pitas, ropes made of intertwined fibers.

Their personal adornments were colorful and varied. They wore bracelets, modified their noses by fracturing the nasal septum, and adorned them with decorative gold ornaments. To the Pijaos, these body ornaments were known as “balaca.” They also donned crowns, masks, feathered headbands, bracelets, nose rings, and other earrings. During communal events, they painted their bodies red using bija dye, creating a striking and unique appearance.

The Name “Pijaos”

The name “Pijaos” is not their original designation but rather a term attributed to them by outsiders. The Paeces, another indigenous group, referred to the Pijaos as “Ambiguexs,” signifying “Witches” or “Bipxaus.” These days the Pijaos are recognized by the name “Pi’pyshavy” in their native language. They were formidable warriors who controlled extensive territories in present-day Tolima, and they were known for their cultivation of tobacco, which they used for various purposes and traded as a valuable commodity.

Social Structure and Agriculture

The Pijaos organized themselves into chieftan societies, and their villages were typically constructed from bahareque. These structures were built near one another, reflecting their emphasis on community living.

Agriculture was central to their subsistence. They cultivated an array of crops, including potatoes, arracachas, beans, and cape gooseberries in the mountainous regions. In warmer areas, they grew maize, cassava, coca, tobacco, cotton, cocoa, chili, achiras, avocados, and more. Additionally, they possessed expertise in animal domestication and maintained various species of aquatic mammals, birds, primates, foxes, and grazing animals. These animals played essential roles in hunting and gathering activities.

Pijaos people Colombia
Allegory to the pijao dances Matachines dance. Credit: Sanjuan/Wikipedia Public domain

Preserving an Ancient Culture

The Pijaos’ lineage is marked by deep reverence for their ancestors, whom they refer to as “Tata.” Their spirituality and healthcare systems included “mohán” or shamans and “Tegua” healers or doctors, each playing unique roles within their society.

The Pijaos’ rich heritage remains an essential part of Colombia’s cultural tapestry. Their history, language, and customs enrich the nation’s cultural diversity. It’s through these unique indigenous groups that Colombia showcases its cultural wealth, and the resilience and traditions of the Pijaos will be honored for generations to come.

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