The Jiw and Sikuani indigenous peoples are engaged in a lengthy battle for the return of ancestral lands where, in keeping with their culture and traditions, they wish to subsist by hunting and fishing. Historically a nomadic people, during periodic migrations they traversed Meta and part of Guaviare.
The department of Meta, nestled between the Andean mountains and the Amazon rainforest, in a region of Colombia generally known as the “Llanos Orientales” (Eastern Plains), is largely comprised of savannahs. Directly south, in an area covered by Amazon rainforest, is the department of Guaviare.
In the mid-twentieth century, European colonisation of the region triggered the displacement of indigenous communities towards the southern areas of these departments. The civil war between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party in the 1940s and 1950s, a period known as “La Violencia” (The Violence), and the subsequent internal armed conflict spanning more than half a century, forced indigenous peoples to flee to more remote and isolated jungle areas in a bid for survival.
In the south of the department lies the municipality of Mapiripán, a region immersed in conflict following the respective incursions of the FARC guerrilla in the 1980s, and the Meta Bloc of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) during the 1990s.
Emblematic of the violence which took place during this period is the Mapiripán Massacre. Between the 15th and 20th July 1997 paramilitaries from across the country, together with members of the Colombian Armed Forces, tortured, dismembered and murdered at least 49 people (77 according to the Attorney General). In 2005 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights condemned the Colombia State for its responsibility in the collusion between members of the Colombian Army and paramilitary groups during the massacre.
According to the Unified Registration System on Displaced Population 12,812 people were forced to flee Mapiripán between 1997 and 2007, abandoning almost 73 thousand hectares of land. For this reason the government has prohibited the sale of land belonging to displaced persons.
The return of peasant farmers and indigenous communities to their territory following the Mapiripán Massacre has been complicated by the presence, since 2008, of the multinational Poligrow, which specialises in the production of palm oil.
Much of the ancestral land within the municipality of Mapiripán is now occupied by industrial palm oil plantations belonging to Poligrow. The multinational is currently under investigation for its role in the illegal appropriation of land and for causing environmental damage. The indigenous population has reduced dramatically in size: in 2000 it was registered that out of an initial 10,000 indigenous inhabitants of Mapiripán, only 800 remained.
Today there are four indigenous reservations in Mapiripán; two belong to the Sikuani, and the remaining two to the Wanano and Jiw (also known as guayaberos) respectively. In 2009, the Constitutional Court, via Resolution 004, declared the Jiw and Sikuani peoples in danger of extension due to the armed conflict.
Although the Sikuani community’s reservation in Caño Ovejas (Mapiripán) has been legally recognised, the indigenous peoples, just like the JIW, find themselves living in crowded conditions. The community has been petitioning for the restitution of approximately 62,000 hectares of land since 1989.
Furthermore there are third parties occupying these ancestral lands, having settled there during the 1990s and 2000s. In 2014 a tribunal ordered the Land Restitution Unit to carry out a census of these third party occupants, while granting the indigenous community’s appeal for the restitution of its territorial rights. Both indigenous communities are demanding space to continue performing their rituals in addition to hunting, fishing and harvesting the land – all of which are fundamental to their physical and cultural subsistence.
The Jiw community, which comprises approximately 600 people, has been living in cramped conditions in temporary accommodation since 2012. The land, which is close to the town centre of Mapiripán, does not satisfy the community’s basic needs with regards to health, education and access to clean water. Despite the Constitutional Court’s ruling (Resolution 173-2012), which orders the National Land Agency to coordinate the timely implementation of a comprehensive land restitution process for the community, no progress has been made to date and the indigenous people continue to live in undignified conditions.
In land which once belonged to their ancestors, the indigenous communities continue to fight for their cultural survival.
Lara Pardo Fernández and Petra Langheinrich
 Interior Ministry: Plan de salvaguardia del Pueblo Indígena Sikuani del Medio Río Guaviare, 2013, page. 82
 Ivonne Rodríguez: Despojo, baldíos y conflicto armado en Puerto Gaitán y Mapiripán (Meta, Colombia) entre 1980 2010.estud. socio-juríd, January-June, page 329
 FIDH: Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos condena a Colombia por masacre de Mapiripán, 13 October 2005; Ivonne Rodríguez (2014) Despojo, baldíos y Conflicto armado en Puerto gaitán y Mapiripán (Meta, Colombia) entre1980 y 2010.estud. socio-juríd, Bogotá, 16(1): 315-342, January-June 2014, page. 328; Centre for Memory, Peace and Reconciliation: El horror de Mapiripán descuartizado y una explicación desconocida, 15 July 2015
 CIJP: Los claro oscuros del grupo palmicultor Poligrow en Colombia, 2015, page. 15
 Ibid., Los claro oscuros del grupo palmicultor Poligrow en Colombia, page 23
 El Espectador: Contraloría pide que se investigue a Poligrow por acumulación de baldíos, 9 May 2017; El Espectador: Carlo Vigna Taglianti, director de la multinacional Poligrow, va a juicio, 6 May 2017
 Gobernación del Meta: E.O.T Mapiripán, año: 2000, page. 294.
 Constitutional Court: Auto 004/2009
 Second Civil Court belong to Specialised Land Restitution Circuit in Villavicencio; Noticiero del Llano: Reconocerán servidumbres y 62 mil hectáreas para indígenas de Caño Ovejas, en Mapiripán, 10 October 2014; Llanera.com: Juez admite la demanda de Restitución de los derechos territoriales de comunidad indígena Sikuani de Caño Ovejas, 9 October 2014
*Cover photo: Beatriz Puerta Santos