Stories to preserve the memory of the land

These are the stories of people who reflect Colombia’s diversity and who are united by the pain wrought by the armed conflict, and through a shared hope for a true and lasting peace.

One night, Isabelino Valencia, Doña Flora and Ruqui Ruqui, three leaders who are thought of as guides, great historians and fighters of the Nayan people, shared jokes, stories, and history told to them by the elders in the oral tradition, as a way of preserving the memory of the land.

San Francisco was the first town in Naya, its story goes back several centuries.  It is a very rich mining area, mainly gold.  When news of their natural riches reached the ears of the European colonisers, the first exploitations began.  In earlier times, the Naya river had been inhabited by indigenous peoples, but from 1775 the local population was decimated by the persecution that took place, and people originating from the African continent began to arrive, and were kept in forced labour in the mines under their Spanish slave-masters.

“Our ancestors were not slaves; but yes, they were enslaved”, Isabelino comments. San Francisco became one of the main mining exploitation centres at the time.  Despite the abolition of slavery in Colombia in 1851, people continued to be exploited in the mines. The Afro-Nayeran population was dispersed throughout the whole region to remake their lives, whilst the territory was formalised as the municipality of Gran Cauca in 1883.


“Our past comes from tens of African countries who were forced into submission by colonialism, but our present is here where we were born; displacing the people who live in the river basin again means repeating the same abuses as centuries ago, denying the possibility that the future continues to be Colombian”, Doña Flora adds.

The cultural resilience that characterises the Nayan people has manifested itself on many occasions.  The most recent achievement is the collective title which recognises the territorial rights of the Afro-descendant and indigenous people of Naya, after a 16 year legal battle.

After the displacements to Buenaventura caused by the paramilitary incursion of 2001, people went back to their own homes.  “We knew that the nightmare wasn’t going to stop, so we decided to build some shelters, to not be displaced again.  In 2008, during the armed fighting, we sought refuge in other spaces; people stayed there for weeks, but once the shooting was over, we came back to our houses”.  Some of these shelters became classrooms for the Peace University.

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San Francisco

Today in Naya, traditional practices continue such as artisanal mining. The Naya river is one of the few in the region that has not been affected by excavators, people can fish and bathe in it.

Delphine and Mario wrote the stories for the ‘Beautiful madness’ after a trip to the Naya river basin in June 2016.  During that journey they accompanied the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission (CIJP) and met with women and men from indigenous, Afro-descendant and farming communities from around Colombia, and witnessed the inauguration of the University for Peace’s first campus, the beginning of an initiative that seeks to generate initiatives that will bring peace to the territories.

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