Title Page
 Table of Contents
 Part I: Geography and anthropo...
 Part II: History and governmen...
 Part III: The economy
 Part IV: The culture
 Part V: International relation...
 Part VI: Bibliography and...


The Caribbean : contemporary Colombia
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00100619/00001
 Material Information
Title: The Caribbean : contemporary Colombia
Added title page title: Contemporary Colombia
Physical Description: xix, 342 p. : map. ; 24 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Wilgus, A. Curtis ( Alva Curtis ), 1897-1981
University of Florida -- School of Inter-American Studies
Conference: Conference on the Caribbean, 1961
Publisher: University of Florida Press
Place of Publication: Gainesville, FL
Publication Date: 1962
Copyright Date: 1962
Subjects / Keywords: Colombia   ( lcsh )
Genre: non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Bibliography: Includes bibliographies and index.
General Note: "Series one, volume XII."
General Note: "A publication of the School of Inter-American Studies which contains the papers delivered at the twelfth conference on the Caribbean held at the University of Florida, December 7, 8, and 9, 1961."
Statement of Responsibility: edited by A. Curtis Wilgus.
 Record Information
Source Institution: University Press of Florida
Holding Location: University Press of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 28083227
System ID: UF00100619:00001

Table of Contents
        Page i
        Page ii
    Title Page
        Page iii
        Page iv
        Page v
        Page vi
        Page vii
        Page viii
    Table of Contents
        Page ix
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        Page xix
        Page xx
    Part I: Geography and anthropology
        Page 1
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    Part II: History and government
        Page 47
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    Part III: The economy
        Page 103
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    Part IV: The culture
        Page 181
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    Part V: International relations
        Page 251
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    Part VI: Bibliography and reference
        Page 319
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Full Text






A publication of the
which contains the papers delivered at the twelfth conference on the Carib-
bean held at the University of Florida, December 7, 8, and 9, 1961

-5 110 103 100 95 90 85 0o 775 70 65 60

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o ; 4;0 0oo B;0 Ao OoMETERS *W=TA

i tol 105 l00 9 95 90 8 5 80 75


edited by A. Curtis Wilgus



A University of Florida Press Book

Copyright, 1962



L. C. Catalogue Card Number: 51-12532

Printed by


CARLOS ANGULO V., Director, Instituto de Investigaci6n Etnol6gica,
Universidad del Atlantico, Barranquilla
ROBERT L. CARNEIRO, Assistant Curator, South American Ethnology,
American Museum of Natural History, New
JAMES EDER, Mechanical Engineer and Industrialist, Stamford, Con-
GUILLERMO ESPINOSA, Chief, Music Division, Pan American Union,
ORLANDO FALS BORDA, Dean, Facultad de Sociologia, Universidad
Nacional de Colombia, Bogota
CARLOS GARCdS O., Dean, Facultad de Agronomia e Instituto Forestal,
Universidad Nacional, Medellin
FEDERICO G. GIL, Professor of Political Science, University of North
Carolina, Chapel Hill
HELEN N. GILLIN, Member of the Board of Directors, Overseas Edu-
cation Fund, League of Women Voters, Wash-
ROBERT L. GILMORE, Associate Professor of History, Ohio University,
ERNESTO CARLOS MARTELO, Director, Empresa Colombiana de Tur-
ismo, Bogota
D. R. MATTHEWS, United States Congressman from Florida, Wash-
ZEB MAYHEW, Executive Vice President, International Petroleum Com-
pany, Limited, Coral Gables
ELEANOR MITCHELL, Library Consultant and Art Specialist, Washing-
LuIs MONGUI6, Professor of Spanish, University of California, Berkeley
MADALINE W. NICHOLS, Specialist in Latin American Affairs, Al-
buquerque, New Mexico
THEODORE E. NICHOLS, Associate Professor of History, Long Beach
State College, Long Beach, California
MAURICIO OBREG6N, Diplomat and Industrialist, Bogota
E. TAYLOR PARKS, Office in Charge, Research and Guidance Review,
Historical Office, Department of State, Washing-

vi The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia
J. WAYNE REITZ, President, University of Florida
ANDRES URIBE C., United States Representative, National Federation of
Coffee Growers of Colombia, New York
ROBERT C. WEST, Professor of Geography, Louisiana State University,
Baton Rouge
A. CURTIS WILGUS, Professor of History and Director, School of Inter-
American Studies, University of Florida


plan inaugurated last year of emphasizing the importance of the
countries on the periphery of the Caribbean Sea. This year the Re-
public of Colombia is examined by experts from business, govern-
ment, and educational organizations. Although contemporary
Colombia is emphasized, the backgrounds of environment and his-
tory are treated so that a balanced picture results.
The subject of the Conference is especially appropriate for the Uni-
versity of Florida because for a number of years our College of
Agriculture in particular has had numerous contacts with individuals
and organizations in that country. It has been a pleasure, therefore,
to welcome to our campus leading men and women from Colombia
who have made such effective contributions to the content of these
sessions. We feel sure that this volume of conference proceedings will
have a wide and effective use as a book of reference concerning one of
the leading South American states.
For the second time the School of Inter-American Studies enjoyed
the cosponsorship of the International Petroleum Company, Limited,
while for the first time we had the honor to have as a second cosponsor
the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia, which added
prestige to the meetings. It is a pleasure to express here our apprecia-
tion for their splendid cooperation. Appreciation is also expressed to
the University of Florida Press for the high standard it has maintained
in the publication of this series of conference volumes.
In this second decade of Caribbean Conferences, we look forward
to the continued growth and influence of our inter-American pro-
gram, which has developed steadily in scope since the formation in
1950 of the School of Inter-American Studies.

J. WAYNE REITZ, President
University of Florida

The Caribbean Conference Series

Volume I (1951): The Caribbean at Mid-Century

Volume II (1952): The Caribbean: Peoples, Problems, and Pros-

Volume III (1953): The Caribbean: Contemporary Trends

Volume IV (1954): The Caribbean: Its Economy

Volume V (1955): The Caribbean: Its Culture

Volume VI (1956): The Caribbean: Its Political Problems

Volume VII (1957): The Caribbean: Contemporary International

Volume VIII (1958): The Caribbean: British, Dutch, French,
United States

Volume IX (1959): The Caribbean: Natural Resources

Volume X (1960): The Caribbean: Contemporary Education

Volume XI (1961): The Caribbean: The Central American Area

Volume XII (1962): The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia



Map of Caribbean Area .. . . ... Frontispiece
List of Contributors . .... .. . v
Foreword-J. WAYNE REITZ . ... .. . ... vii

COLOMBIA . . . . . . . 22
NORTH COLOMBIA .. . . . 35

5. Robert L. Gilmore: COLOMBIA, THE NATIONAL PERIOD . 75

CULTURE .. ... . .. 105
BIA'S TRADE . . .. . . . 1.59

CENTURY . . . . .. 214
LIFE . . . .. . . . 234


x The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia
UNITED STATES . . . . . 253
(1819-1830) . . . . .... 279
17. Ernesto Carlos Martelo: TRAVEL IN COLOMBIA'S INTERNA-
TIONAL RELATIONS . . . . . 291
AMERICAN RELATIONS .. . . ..... 310

INDEX . . .. . . . .. . 337



IT IS SINGULARLY APPROPRIATE that, in a conference de-
voted to the Republic of Colombia, cultural and educational activi-
ties should be emphasized. Not only has Bogota been referred to for
several generations as the "Athens of America," but the country as a
whole has produced innumerable scholars and writers of prose and
poetry, history and fiction, and essays of a high order. The President
of the Republic, Alberto Lleras Camargo, is himself a widely known
author and for a number of years he served as Secretary General of
the Pan American Union where he initiated and carried out a num-
ber of cultural and educational activities.
In the chapters that ensue, the participants in this conference have
made a real contribution in the field of Colombian life and culture,
not only by emphasizing the contemporary scene but also by intro-
ducing background material of historical and geographical signifi-
cance in the development of the country. The educational system of
Colombia has been discussed in detail in one of the chapters and has
been mentioned in others. However, there is one significant develop-
ment in education in Colombia that deserves special notice and
emphasis. It is the establishment of the Universidad de los Andes in
Bogota which has achieved a unique position in the national educa-
tional system. It seems fitting, therefore, in this introduction, to

xii The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia
examine this institution rather closely and to indicate something of its
nature and influence at home and abroad and its significance as an
example to educational leaders in Latin America who wish to bring
their institutions and organizations into harmony with educational
trends in the United States and Europe.


The idea of the University of the Andes began in the mind of
Mario Laserna, a young Colombian who had a great thirst for knowl-
edge. He was a brilliant young man, willful, hot-blooded, and, as
some thought, an impractical dreamer. Because of his restlessness,
his father sent him off to New York City where he attended Columbia
University. There he proved to be a brilliant student. But not content
with the education he received there, he went to Heidelberg, where he
finally won a doctorate degree.
At Columbia University he became fascinated with the concept of
academic freedom and he felt that here was a germ of an idea which
should be planted in his native land. At the University he was
amazed at the stability of the educational system, and at the lack of
revolutionary ideas among students and faculty. He realized that in
Latin American countries the one characteristic which was lacking
in most educational institutions was stability. He conceived the idea
that a university might well be formed by the will of the people who
create and support it. These ideas were presented to some of his
fellow students and professors at the University; later he mulled
them over in his mind on a bicycle trip from the French coast to
Paris, always trying to find a practical way to establish such a school.
When he returned to Colombia he made a nuisance of himself
arguing for his idea among his friends. They knew that such a uni-
versity, as he conceived it, would be contrary to the educational tradi-
tions in Colombia and indeed in Latin America. He discussed his
ideas with industrialists, journalists, government officials, church
people, educators, and others, many of whom were young men like

This group of friends often met in the office of Laserna's father,
a wealthy man who derided his idea, always arguing that in Colombia
there were already thirteen universities. Out of these meetings grew
a "declaration of principles" that has guided the University since its
founding. Because of his attendance at Columbia University and be-
cause of his knowledge of other United States universities, Laserna
felt that the University of the Andes should have ties with North
American institutions and adopt the method and spirit of these in-
stitutions in its educational system. He believed that science and engi-
neering should be stressed but that at the same time the humanities
should be offered. The school must be coeducational.
Among the persons to whom Laserna talked was seventy-year-old
Roberto Franco, an internationally known physician in Colombia.
He was finally persuaded to serve as the first rector of the University;
this at the very beginning put the institution on a high educational
level. Among his successors as rectors were Dr. Eduardo Zuleta Angel
and Dr. Alberto Lleras Camargo.


Finally on April 24, 1949, when Laserna was about twenty-five
years of age, the University opened with the blessing of the Ministry
of Education and of Laserna's father, who gave some financial assist-
ance. Total funds available for the project amounted to about
60,000 pesos. Seventy-eight students entered at this time, and the
faculty numbered twelve teachers.
The University was located some 9,000 feet above sea level on
the grounds of an old prison on a steep, rocky slope of the Andean
Mountains, overlooking the capital, Bogota. At the top of the moun-
tain is the Shrine of Guadalupe; lower down, the buildings of the
school are scattered on hilly ground with trees and shrubs growing in
profusion. Even though the school seems far away from the center of
Bogota, it can be reached in a few minutes.
Two years after the University was opened the so-called study-
abroad program was inaugurated. In this program qualified engi-


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

neering students are sent to North American universities for their
junior and senior years. Scholarship money is borrowed from a ro-
tating-loan fund, the loans being repaid at a rate of from 10 to 20
per cent of the monthly salary when the students return to Colombia
and obtain positions.
Arrangements have been made with North American universities,
including the University of Illinois, University of Pittsburgh, Univer-
sity of Texas, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to take the
young engineering students at the beginning of their junior year.
Other universities in the program are Michigan, Notre Dame, Van-
derbilt, Arizona, New Mexico, and Kansas. The University of Il-
linois, the oldest of the collaborating schools, has graduated over a
hundred Colombian students.
From the very beginning, the study of English was required of all
students. This makes it somewhat easier for scholarship students to
fit into university life in the United States. However, it frequently
takes some time for these students to become accustomed to what
they consider the frivolous side of campus life: the teenage behavior,
the casual dress, and what appears to be a lack of close family ties.
The Colombian students return to their native land eager to take on
various occupations, some even hoping to become professors in the
University of the Andes.
One way in which the University is striving to become more like
North American universities is in the organization of its faculty. In
most Colombian universities, and in other Latin American universities
as well, the faculty consists of part-time persons who usually have oc-
cupations which provide income, while their teaching is more in the
nature of a hobby. More and more teachers are now engaged in
full-time teaching and it is the objective of the administration of the
University eventually to have all teachers on full-time schedule. At
present there are 143 teachers, of whom 67 are full-time. Ninety-
seven are Colombians while the others came from the United States,
Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Great Britain, and Hungary.
The University has no official government connection and is non-
denominational. It receives support from student tuition (about $200
a year for each student) and from various grants and gifts from in-
dividuals and industries, most of the latter operating in Colombia.



One of its consistent supporters is the International Petroleum Com-
pany, Limited, affiliate of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey.
This company is employing many of the school's graduates.
There are between 700 and 800 carefully selected students at the
University at the present time. Some 48 per cent come from Bogota,
about 51 per cent come from the remainder of Colombia, and about
1 per cent from other countries. About three times this number are
regularly turned away because of the lack of teaching facilities. As it
is, many professors have to use corners of classrooms as offices. There
are about 200 girls attending the University.
Classes begin at seven o'clock in the morning and, since there are
no dormitories on the campus, students commute in cars and buses,
some from a considerable distance. The school day is long, but the
students seem not to mind. Classes are held in corridors, attics,
Quonset huts, and temporary structures. Engineering classes are held
in a building that once was set aside for women prisoners. The library
is in a classroom and there are frequently not enough chairs on which
to sit when studying. The new science building, however, built by
funds from the Rockefeller Foundation, is one of the most notable on
the campus. Student life goes on much as in the United States. Cou-
ples stroll among the shaded walks and grounds, attend dances in the
Quonset hut auditorium, hold picnics on the lawn, and go to the
cafeteria for coffee-breaks and soft drinks.
The administration of the University consists of the faculty and the
rector, who strive to maintain high educational standards. Faculty
members are dedicated men who serve at low pay and undergo many
inconveniences for the sake of associating themselves with such an
interesting project. It is believed that by keeping the enrollment low
and by making careful selection of students high standards of instruc-
tion can be maintained.
With the aid of an Advisory Board consisting largely of leading
United States scholars and of a Board of Trustees of highly regarded
Colombians, the present rector (December, 1961), Dr. Jaime Sam-
per Ortega, is eager to expand the facilities and influence of his uni-
versity. He looks forward to a program of publishing textbooks and
scholarly works. He would like to bring high school teachers to the
University in order to train them in science. He would like to make


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

further contacts with universities in the United States. Dr. Samper
has been adviser to the University since its earliest days and he was
a close friend of Mario Laserna.
The University of the Andes is today probably the only truly pri-
vate university in all of Latin America. It is composed of six schools
and nine different departments: the schools of architecture, eco-
nomics, engineering, fine arts, philosophy and letters, and sciences.
Within these schools, but autonomously organized, function the de-
partments of bacteriology, biology, chemistry, humanities, modern
languages (other than Spanish), mathematics, physics, Spanish, and
a premedical department. There are also university extension courses
where part-time students can study a variety of subjects ranging from
Sanskrit to interior decoration. For these extension courses a cer-
tificate of attendance is given, whereas full-time students enrolled in
any of the schools receive regular degrees recognized by the Ministry
of Education of Colombia. It is thus possible for the young graduate
from the six-year secondary system in Colombia to enter the Univer-
sity of the Andes as a freshman and pursue studies in the field of his
choice. The University encourages a continuation of studies beyond
the traditional level of college work and places particular stress on
research work in its graduate school. Graduate research at the Uni-
versity of the Andes is offered in the school of science where research
on mycology, bacteriology, plant pathology, embryology, cellular
physiology, and protozoology is pursued.
In 1961 the Ford Foundation, after careful study of the University
and its most crying needs, gave a grant of $736,000. Of this, $436,000
is for the establishment of a College of Arts and Sciences, effective
in February, 1962, through which all students will have to go re-
gardless of what career they eventually choose. The College of Arts
and Sciences will therefore be a buffer between secondary education
and university studies proper. This is a completely new idea for
Colombia and it is hoped that it will be successful.
The remaining amount of the grant ($300,000) was given for a
Work Study Center which the University will build in 1962. This
will house the new library, language laboratories, seminar rooms, and,
of great importance, small offices for full-time faculty, who now have
no place to work when they have finished their classes. This sum of



$300,000 must be matched by Colombian donations, and a cam-
paign for this purpose is now under way.


Some of the most important graduate investigations have been
carried on, since September 1, 1958, in the Centro de Estudio sobre
Desarrollo Econ6mico (CEDE). This was organized by Dr. John M.
Hunter from the United States who was invited to the University
of the Andes for this purpose. The first investigative function in the
Center for Studies in Economic Development was to examine the
economic structure of Colombia. A second function was to provide
research experience and training for young people interested in
various problems concerning the Colombian economy. To accom-
plish this a library collection has been established in the Center build-
ing and bibliographies on various topics of development in the
Colombian economy are being prepared. In all of its activities CEDE
works closely with the Facultad de Economia.
The Center was established as a result of a Rockefeller Foundation
grant to the University to include the salary and travel expenses of a
director, to provide needed books for a library collection, to assemble
statistical equipment, and to employ foreign specialists. For the first
two years the Rockefeller Foundation made grants matched by the
University of the Andes. In consequence, such matching funds had
to be found by the director. If and when the Foundation grant is
discontinued, it is hoped that the people of Colombia will be so
interested that they will wish to provide funds for carrying on CEDE.
From the very beginning it was decided that CEDE was not to
conduct business research but only economic research. This meant,
as Dr. Hunter asserted, that they would not do research which was
primarily designed to improve the profit and loss position of a single
firm, since a number of business concerns were engaged in their own
research on a commercial basis.
One of the immediate functions of the director was to recruit per-
sonnel and to train staff members. The first staff consisted of three
young men with some research experience, whose work was done
under the supervision of the director. An intensive study of Colom-


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

bian economic problems then began. Through the preparation of a
bibliography, the dearth of materials on Colombian economic affairs
was immediately discovered. The first bibliography to appear was
annotated and contained several hundred items dealing with econom-
ic development in general and the Colombian economy in par-
ticular. A series of monographs based on research was soon begun.
Library materials were rapidly assembled and by June, 1960, there
were 1,151 books and 1,411 reprints and pamphlets in the collection.
Also a number of periodicals were regularly received. However, all
activities were limited by the budget. Since there was no money for a
librarian, the use of unskilled services was necessary for the library.
By the middle of 1960, when his term ended, Professor Hunter
believed that CEDE had more than justified its two years of existence.
Certainly, as President Kennedy's Alliance for Progress begins to
move along economic lines, the CEDE of the University of the Andes
will undoubtedly play an important part in helping to decide the
economic needs of Colombia and how the economic problems may be
solved. This will more than justify its creation.


Today the University of the Andes is at a significant crossroads in
its history. It has fulfilled the hopes and plans of its founders. It now
receives an annual contribution of about 70,000 pesos from the na-
tional government, this subsidy being made possible by a law which
provides a small fund to all college-level institutions in Colombia.
Something less than one-fourth of the four million pesos annual budg-
et comes from student fees. The Rockefeller Foundation has been
more than generous. Besides providing for a physics laboratory some
years ago, it provided in 1957, by a grant of $570,000, for the estab-
lishment of a premedical school. An increasing number of business
concerns in Colombia are providing modest funds for special pur-
poses. But still the University is not free from financial worries. It
needs more buildings so that more students can be brought to the
campus. This will mean more faculty and a larger salary budget.
From time to time the University has made attempts, with varying
success, to seek funds from private sources in the United States. But


with all its worries and problems, the administration of the University
of the Andes is determined to carry on and to expand its program of
training leaders in business, the professions, and government services
so that it may provide an ever-increasing educational function in the
cultural life of Colombia.

School of Inter-American Studies

Bibliographical Note. Information for this survey comes chiefly from publications
of the University of the Andes; from the International Petroleum Company,
Limited; Semana (Bogota), December 2, 1958; The Lamp (Standard Oil Com-
pany of New Jersey), Fall, 1959; New York Times, July 16, 1961 (report by
Juan de Onis); The United States Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agri-
cultural Service, M-113, April, 1961; The Rockefeller Foundation Annual Report,
1960 (New York, 1961); John M. Hunter, "Colombia's New Economic Research
Center," International Development Review, June, 1961, pp. 38-42; and from
the office of Dr. Jaime Samper Ortega.

Part 1




IN TERMS of both its natural environment and its people, Colom-
bia is one of the most difficult of the Latin American countries to
describe and analyze. Few other nations of similar size in the world
have such a diversity of land configuration, climate, culture groups,
and economies. Physically and culturally there are in reality many
Colombias. This fact is reflected by a keen regional consciousness
found everywhere in the country, and by political separatism that has
sometimes erupted in civil strife. From a geographer's viewpoint the
chief physical reasons for Colombia's complex pattern of landscape
are seen in the highly varied land surface combined with its position
within tropical latitudes. The cultural reasons for Colombia's geo-
graphical diversity are more complex. One may be the varied histori-
cal development and relationships of three racial groups and their
cultural heritages: the native Indian of many different cultural levels;
the Caucasian invaders of Spanish descent; and the African Negroes,
imported as slaves into various parts of the country during the colo-
nial era. Another cultural reason for diversity may be the prolonged
isolation of particular groups of people within given areas due to
difficulties of transportation and communication over rugged ter-
rain and long distances.
In general the present political territory of Colombia is charac-
terized by two greatly different areas. The western third of the coun-
try is the rugged northern Andean Cordillera with its three high

4 The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia
ranges separated by deep longitudinal valleys and fringed on the
north and west by coastal lowlands. This is the most complex and
important part of the country. Here live 98 per cent of Colombia's
14.5 million people. Since preconquest times much of this area has
been one of the most densely settled and economically significant
sections of South America. The eastern two-thirds of the country is
Colombia's "empty quarter"-the vast, sparsely settled lowland
plains of tropical grass and rain forest that have not yet been effec-
tively incorporated into the national life. The contrast between
western and eastern Colombia is fundamental in the country's geog-

I. The Natural Regions of Colombia

In order to simplify the presentation of Colombia's geographical
diversity, many geographers have attempted to divide the country
into various regions.l* Below is the author's concept of Colombia's
main "natural regions," which, for the purpose of this discussion, are
based principally on physical criteria, such as land configuration,
climate, and vegetation. In some instances, such regions at present are
closely associated with a given culture group or a particular economy.
It should be recognized, however, that cultural areas in the an-
thropological sense and natural regions in the geographical sense
rarely correspond exactly, and that two peoples with different cul-
tures or cultural values may utilize and transform a given physical
setting in quite different ways. As shown in the outline below and in
Figure 1, Colombia may be divided into five major natural regions.
Only the more important subregions, however, are listed and mapped.
I. The Andean Core
A. Cordillera Oriental
1. The Altiplano
2. Santander Highlands
3. Suarez Basin
4. Western Versant

*Notes to this chapter are on page 21.

B. The Magdalena Depression
1. The Central Magdalena
2. Magdalena Tolimense
3. Magdalena Huilense
C. Cordillera Central
1. Pasto Plateau
2. Antioquian Massif
D. The Cauca-Patia Depression
1. El Valle
2. Popayan area
3. Upper Patia Valley
E. Cordillera Occidental
II. Caribbean Region
A. El Cend
B. Bolivar Savannas
C. Lower Magdalena and Coast
D. Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
E. La Guajira
III. Pacific Coastal Lowlands
IV. Llanos of the Orinoco
A. Llanos Arriba
B. Llanos Abajo
V. Colombian Amazonia

Of the five major natural regions the Andean Core is by far the
most significant. Physically and culturally it is truly the "core" of
the country. The other four natural regions, which almost surround
the northern Andes, might be considered the "peripheral areas" of the
country; for in terms of population densities, economic production,
and political influence, these sections have been less important than
the Andean area in the geography of Colombia.

II. The Andean Core

The three Andean cordilleras and the two intervening structural
depressions (Magdalena and Cauca) form the physical and cultural
heartland of Colombia. Owing to great differences in elevation, the
resulting climatic and vegetational variations, and the extraordinary
array of landforms, this region is the most complex area of the coun-
try. Here are found the altitudinal temperature zones familiar to
every Colombian of this region: the tierra caliente of the valleys and

The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

Fig. 1. Natural regions of Colombia

lower mountain slopes from sea level to 3,000 feet; the tierra tem-
plada between 3,000 and 6,000 feet; the tierra fria between 6,000
and 11,000 feet; above which lie the pdramos and the snow fields and
glaciers of the highest plateaus and mountain peaks. Throughout the


Colombian Andes two rainy seasons and two dry seasons annually
further complicate the climatic pattern. Since preconquest times
man has utilized the fertile lowland and highland valleys and adja-
cent slopes for farming; the cordilleras have yielded a variety of
economically valuable minerals; but the fantastic ruggedness of this
mountain area has made land transport extremely difficult, and in
the past has often resulted in cultural isolation and stagnation in
certain areas.
Cordillera Oriental. The Cordillera Oriental is the easternmost,
the longest, and the widest of the three Andean chains of Colombia.
It consists chiefly of thick deposits of folded and faulted sandstone,
limestone, and shale, with highest elevations (18,000 feet) in the
snow- and ice-capped Sierra de Cocuy.
Near the center of the cordillera is an area known as the Altiplano,
a series of some fourteen highland basins of 8,500-9,000 feet elevation
that extend for nearly 150 miles from Bogota northward to beyond
Sogamoso in the departments of Cundinamarca and Boyaca (Fig. 2).
Once covered by shallow lakes in Pleistocene times, the flattish floors
of the basins contain fertile lacustrine soils. The largest and the
southernmost is called the Sabana de Bogota, the site of Colombia's
capital city. Culturally these basins are the most significant features
of the Cordillera Oriental. They were the sites of the Indian farming
settlements that formed the Chibcha (Muisca) culture of preconquest
times.2 In the same localities the Spanish invaders of the sixteenth
century founded the cities of Santa Fe de Bogota, Tunja, Sogamoso,
as well as large estates devoted to wheat and cattle production to form
the core of the New Kingdom of Granada. And still today the basins
of the Altiplano can be considered the heart of Colombia-the tra-
ditional political and cultural center and one of the most densely
populated sectors of the country. Most of the rural folk of this basin
are mixed Indian-white (mestizo), who are highly conservative and
reticent, retaining a surprisingly large number of aboriginal traits.
The traditional urban element of the population, although equally
conservative, takes pride in its pure Spanish ancestry.
Northward from the Altiplano are other natural subregions of the
Cordillera Oriental. One is the rugged, highly dissected highlands
of Santander with its low, warm, dry valleys adjacent to steep slopes

The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

Altiplano Basins Lowland x Emerald deposit
P6ramot (above 11,500 ft.) Major rock salt deposit

Fig. 2. Central portion of the Cordillera Oriental and adjacent areas

and high, frigid pdramos, or alpine mountain crests.3 Another is the
temperate limestone basin of SuArez characterized by karstic land-
forms and dry soils where poverty-stricken farmers struggle to culti-
vate subsistence crops in small, scattered, hillside plots. The steep
western and eastern flanks of the cordillera are frayed by deep can-
yons which have hindered transport and communication since colo-



nial days. The most formidable canyon is that of Chicamocha, which
bisects the Santander Highlands and creates a difficult barrier to land
travel between the central and northern portions of the cordillera.
Since the close of the colonial period the heavy forests that once
covered the cordillera's western flank overlooking the Magdalena
depression have been almost destroyed by subsistence farmers who
cultivate tiny fields on slopes of great steepness (45-50). The western
flank also contains one of Colombia's important coffee belts which
lies within the tierra templada zone between 3,000 and 5,000 feet
The thick sedimentary strata of the Cordillera Oriental contains
two special minerals that have given fame to the area since pre-
Spanish times. One is the enormous deposits of rock salt within the
Altiplano; the other, America's only commercially important deposit
of emeralds, exposed at two points (Muzo and Somondoco) on the
western and eastern flanks of the cordillera.4 First exploited by the
Chibcha Indians for trade items, both minerals were extracted by
the Spaniards during the colonial era, and the same deposits are
worked today. At the present time the extensive coal and limestone
deposits of the cordillera and the occurrence of iron ore near Soga-
moso form the physical basis for the recently developed iron and steel
industry of Colombia.
The Magdalena Depression. This depression, which separates the
central and eastern cordilleras, forms an important subregion of
Andean Colombia. Through this low, hot, elongated basin flows the
country's longest river, the Magdalena. Since the beginning of the
colonial period the lower half of this river has been regarded as
Colombia's calle real, the main road connecting the Caribbean Coast
with the interior. Despite its utility as a line of communication, most
of the Magdalena's course is treacherous to navigate. It is a shallow
river with shifting channels, bars, and snags that impede modern
steamboat travel. Moreover, during the two annual dry seasons (De-
cember-March and July-August) the river stage may be so low that
steam transport ceases. During the past one hundred years the
deforestation and cultivation of the adjacent mountain slopes has so
increased sedimentation that the river has become even less navigable.
The head of navigation for large river boats occurs 500 miles up-


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

stream from the mouth, at the first rapids where the old port of
Honda was established in 1560.
Physically the Magdalena Depression may be divided into three
parts. The lower section, often called El Magdalena Central, is a wide
alluvial plain-a steamy tropical zone originally covered by dense
rain forest. Sparsely peopled, this area is now being slowly colonized
by highlanders, and the exploitation of underlying petroleum reserves
has resulted in the recent development of the Barrancabermeja in-
dustrial complex near the river. Upvalley within the department of
Tolima the depression narrows, rainfall decreases, and the natural
vegetation cover suddenly changes to a low scrub and grassland. This
is the Magdalena Tolimense, famed since colonial times for its live-
stock economy evolved on the grassy terraces and alluvial fans that
compose most of valley floor, now being developed for irrigated
agriculture. The upper part of the Magdalena Depression within the
department of Huila is even drier than the Tolima section and the
basin floor is highly dissected by intermittent streams to form a low,
rough, hill land.5 This is the home of the Huilense cowboys, who to-
gether with the cattlemen of Tolima, form a distinctive Colombian
culture group whose traits have been recorded in national literature
and song.
Cordillera Central. Westward from the Magdalena Depression the
Cordillera Central rises abruptly as the highest of the three northern
Andean chains. In contrast to the sedimentary cover of the Cordillera
Oriental, the central range in part consists of geologically recent
volcanoes and immense bodies of granitic intrusions called batholiths.
In the middle sector of the cordillera the snow- and ice-covered
volcanic peaks of Huila, Ruiz, and Tolima rise to heights that meas-
ure from 17,000 to nearly 19,000 feet above the sea. In the south-
ern part of the range some volcanoes, such as Purace near Popayan,
are still active. On the lower flanks of the volcanoes highly fertile
soils derive from the weathering of ash, pumice, and lava, while the
highly mineralized edges of the great batholiths have yielded large
quantities of precious metals, the exploitation of which has formed
significant chapters in the aboriginal, colonial, and modern history of
There are few extensive highland basins or level plateaus within



the Cordillera Central. A rolling plateau surface occurs near the
southern end of the cordillera where it joins the western and eastern
chains to form the high, wind-swept, almost uninhabited Gran Macizo
Colombiano. South of this cold pdramo near the Ecuadorian border
is the Pasto Plateau, a high volcanic zone more akin to the Ecuadorian
Andes than to those of Colombia. Many Quechua-speaking Indians
as well as Spanish-speaking mestizos inhabit the fertile, densely-
settled basin floors and adjacent slopes of this highland area. Cul-
turally the Pasto Region is Ecuadorian, and anciently it formed the
northern periphery of the Inca Empire.
Another plateau occurs near the northern extremity of the Cordi-
llera Central. This is the large Antioquian Batholith, or Massif, whose
rolling, weathered surface lies between 7,000 and 8,000 feet elevation
(Fig. 3). The steep western, northern, and eastern flanks of the gra-
nitic mass are frayed by deep, narrow valleys; the Rio Porce, a trib-
utary of the Rio Nechi, has carved a deep gorge through the middle
of the Massif, dividing the Santa Rosa de Osos Plateau to the north
from the Rionegro Plateau to the south. At the head of the Porce
Gorge is a small, alluvium-filled basin called the Valle de Aburra,
which since the seventeenth century has played a role in Colombian
history far out of proportion to its size; for this valley is the heart of
Antioquia, a cultural and political area that vies with the Altiplano
of Cundinamarca and Boyaca as the economic and political center of
the country. Antioquia, which encompasses the Massif and adjacent
slopes of the Cordillera Central between the Cauca and Magdalena
rivers, is indeed another Colombia.
One of the most significant geologic-geographic aspects of the
Antioquian Massif is the abundance of gold-bearing quartz veins
within and around the periphery of the batholith. Streams, eroding
into the deeply weathered surface, have uncovered many of the gold-
bearing deposits, and have deposited gold dust and nuggets within
their sandy, gravelly beds, forming rich players. Moreover, the deep
weathering of the granitic surface has formed easily worked layers of
clay and gravel rich in gold. Thus the Antioquian Batholith and its
drainage network was the chief source of gold that the Indians of the
area in preconquest times mined and fashioned into ornaments which
they traded throughout northwestern South America. During the

12 The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia


-I) mR




I-.;. . ,.''"i'!.-EirEW ,::.... Arm.wn 9
76 75

... 3000 foot contour MElTierra Caliente
H Antioquian Batholith
SSpread of Antioqueiio Colopization, 1850-1940

Fig. 3. The Antioquian area

i:' P:

:::::::::::~i' LU
' tl



second half of the sixteenth century, the same gold deposits, as well
as the abundant golden artifacts buried in Indian graves, attracted
Spanish invaders into the Antioquian Massif and adjacent rivers,
where they established the third most productive mining area in the
Spanish colonies. During most of the colonial period, the interest of
the Spanish Crown in the New Kingdom of New Granada focused
chiefly on the wealth of gold that came from the Antioquian Massif.6
Isolated from the colonial administrative seat in Santa Fe de
BogotA by long distances over rough terrain and the hot Magdalena
Depression, the Antioquefio miners and their Negro slaves formed the
base for the development of a special culture group in Colombia. Al-
though much miscegenation of blood occurred, later in the colonial
period the whites of Spanish descent kept to the high plateau surfaces,
the Valle de Aburra, and the adjacent malaria-free slopes, ordinarily
above 3,000 feet elevation. The Negroes and mulattoes settled chiefly
in the low, hot river valleys surrounding the Massif. After gold mining
had declined at the end of the eighteenth century, the rapidly growing
Antioquefio highland population began to expand north and south
along the steep slopes of the Cordillera Central within the tierra
templada belt.' There the pioneer farmers felled the dense rain forest
to grow maize and manioc and to plant pasture for their livestock.
Later in the nineteenth century, the Antioquefio farmers became cof-
fee planters, and still today produce the greater part of Colombia's
leading export crop. South of the Massif the Antioquefios founded
the towns of Manizales, Pereira, and Armenia, which today are lead-
ing commercial centers within the coffee zone. The Antioquefio is
still a vigorous pioneer. Owing to population pressure in his home-
land, he has crossed the Cauca Valley to the slopes of the western
cordillera cutting the forest as he went, sowing grass for pasturing
his white, black-eared cattle, and planting coffee for a cash crop.
Within the Valley of Aburra, the site of the capital city, Medellin,
the richer of the Antioquefio families have established a thriving in-
dustry based chiefly on textile manufactures and food processing.
Shrewd and thrifty but friendly and loquacious, the Antioquefio is
widely known as the "Yanqui" of South America. In native dress,
modes of speech, and philosophical attitude he is quite different from
his more conservative compatriots of the Altiplano.

The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

The Cauca-Patia Depression. The Cauca Depression separates the
central and western cordilleras of Colombia. In the lower or northern
half of the depression the Cauca River has cut a deep, narrow valley,
and extensive dissection of former terraces has left little level land.
The middle section of the depression, however, contains the elongated,
alluvium-filled valley commonly called El Valle. Only ten to fifteen
miles wide, El Valle extends north-south for a distance of 120 miles
from near Cali to Cartago. Some 3,000 feet above sea level within
the upper margin of the tierra caliente, this fertile stretch is today one
of Colombia's most productive agricultural districts.8 The stagnant
colonial economy of stock raising has been partially replaced by the
cultivation of sugar cane, cotton, and rice on the well-drained al-
luvial fans that line the valley's eastern side; the low marshy grass-
lands along the Cauca floodplain are devoted to fattening of livestock
shipped in from other parts of the country. Cali, founded on the
western edge of the valley at the terminus of an important but dif-
ficult trail across the western cordillera to the Pacific, has been the
commercial center of the district since its founding early in the six-
teenth century. El Valle is a distinct cultural as well as a natural unit.
The inhabitants call themselves "Vallecaucanos," and since the colo-
nial era the towns of the valley-Cali, Buga, Toro, Caloto, and
Cartago-have felt a bond of political, economic, and cultural unity.
Negroes and mulattoes, products of colonial labor policy and recent
immigration from the Pacific lowlands, make up a large part of the
Vallecaucano population, but old white families of Spanish descent
still hold most of the land in large estates.
Farther south, the Popayan area forms the highest part of the
Cauca Depression. At this point large quantities of volcanic ash and
lava ejected from nearby volcanoes in the Cordillera Central have
partially filled the depression to an elevation of 5,000 feet above the
sea. The cool climate and brilliantly green landscape of this delightful
land contrast with the staid, conservative attitude of the townspeople,
descendants of old Spanish families who once controlled much of the
land in El Valle farther north.
The same structural rift that shapes the Cauca Depression con-
tinues even south of Popayan to form the upper valley of the Patia
River. This small lowland is still another natural and cultural region




of Andean Colombia, for its dry, hot, scrub-covered hills and river
floodplains are inhabited almost entirely by Negroes and mulattoes
who live by subsistence farming and stock raising.
The Cordillera Occidental. This is the westernmost, lowest, but
the most rugged of the three Andean ranges of Colombia. Its crest,
whose maximum elevations rarely exceed 13,000 feet, is composed of
sharp, isolated peaks weathered from a series of granitic batholiths.
The steep slopes are completely clothed in dense forest, except where
the Antioquefio farmers have hewn out small farm plots chiefly on the
eastern flank of the range. Few alluvium-filled basins or plateau sur-
faces occur in this mountain land. In terms of man the chief func-
tions of the Cordillera Occidental have been (1) a barrier separating
the densely settled Andean Core from the almost empty lands of the
Pacific lowlands, and (2) a source of precious metals contained in
the many batholiths and later deposited in the beds of rivers that flow
westward to the Pacific.

III. The Peripheral Lowlands
Around the Andean core of Colombia lie the peripheral lowlands:
to the north, the dry Caribbean area; to the west, the rain-drenched
Pacific Lowlands; and to the east, the vast grass- and scrub-covered
Llanos and a portion of the Amazonian Forest. These are Colombia's
main areas of tierra caliente; except for parts of the Caribbean area,
they are sparsely inhabited; these are the lands that may offer pos-
sibilities for colonizing the expanding highland population and for the
development of scientific tropical agriculture and stock raising.

The Caribbean Area
By far the most important of the peripheral zones is the Caribbean
Area, one of the major natural regions of Colombia. At present it is
second only to the Andean Core as the country's most densely popu-
lated sector, and for the past fifty years it has received substantial
numbers of highlanders as agricultural colonists within the river
floodplains and as industrial workers in the rapidly growing urban
centers. Most Colombians know the Caribbean area as La Costa
and its inhabitants as Costenos, who, like the Cundinamarquenses
and Boyacenses of the Altiplano and the Antioquefios of the Cor-


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

dillera Central, have developed particular cultural characteristics in
dress, dialect, and manner.
Although it contains a variety of landscapes, the Caribbean area
has a semblance of physical unity. Physiographically it consists of low
hills, one high mountain region, and many flattish alluvial basins. Of
these, the wide, marshy floodplain and delta of the lower Magdalena
is the largest, forming the central part of the lowlands. Several low
coastal ranges confine the delta on the west, while immediately east-
ward an isolated mountain mass, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta,
rises abruptly from sea level to elevations of nearly 19,000 feet. The
Caribbean area extends northeastward into the dry, desert-like
Guajira Peninsula, and the alluvial plains of the Sinu and upper San
Jorge rivers form its southwestern periphery. Except for the Sierra de
Santa Marta, the Caribbean area is a hot land, with one half of the
year (November-April) almost completely without rain, the other
half (May-October) moist and muggy. Originally a low semi-
deciduous and deciduous forest with scattered areas of tropical grass
covered the hill slopes and alluvial flats, but today man has so altered
the vegetation of this area that only spots of the natural cover remain.
Since preconquest times the drainage basins of the Sind and upper
San Jorge rivers in the western part of the Caribbean area have been
considered a natural and cultural unit, called El Cenu. Within the
fertile river floodplains lived the Zenu Indians, expert goldsmiths and
farmers, who buried golden artifacts with their dead.9 During the
early sixteenth century, initial Spanish activity in this area was sim-
ply grave robbing; only later were stock ranches established on the
Indian-made savannas. The grasslands of El Cenu and the adjacent
savannas of Bolivar in the lower Magdalena became the cradle of
Spanish cattle raising in New Granada.o0 Stock raising continues today
as the prime activity of the lowlands. As in colonial days, cattle are
still driven overland from the pastures to markets in the Antioquefio
highlands, though many are also taken to ports on the Magdalena for
shipment upriver to the Altiplano. Within the last few decades the
Sinu valley has seen a thriving development of tropical agriculture
based on rice, cotton, and sugar cane, with an influx of farmers from
Antioquia as new settlers. So strong is the feeling of cultural and
political unity and so rapidly has population recently increased that



the area of El Cenu in 1952 was made the new department of
Eastward from El Cenu lie the extensive savannas of Bolivar and
the lower Magdalena; today, as in colonial times, the most important
cattle raising area of Colombia. Here, as well as in the Cenu, stock-
men have destroyed much of the original forest and have replaced the
coarse native grasses with the more nutritious Brazilian and African
species such as guinea, para, and jaragua. In both areas a system of
transhumance has developed in the cattle industry. During the rainy
season when the low areas are inundated, herds are moved to the
well-drained hill slopes planted to jaragua grass; in the long dry sea-
son, when the hill grasses desiccate and the lowland floods recede,
the cattle are driven into the moist river floodplains to pasture on
guinea grass. Today more than fifteen million head of cattle graze on
the planted pastures that fit so well into the climatic and hydrographic
characteristics of the area.'1
Since the sixteenth century the Caribbean area has been Colom-
bia's front door to the outside world. The specific gateways have
been the colonial ports of Cartagena and Santa Marta and the more
recent river port of Barranquilla near the mouth of the Magdalena.
The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a physical anomaly of the
Caribbean area. Since the Spanish conquest its deep valleys and
high, steep slopes have served as refuge areas for Indian groups that
have retained much of their native cultures. In terms of modem
economy, however, the vast alluvial piedmont plains formed at the
base of the mountain mass are of special significance. The western
piedmont south of Santa Marta is the site of Colombia's big banana
plantations; the southeastern piedmont overlooking the Cesar River
basin is an area of recent agricultural colonization.
Finally, the dry Guajira Peninsula, like the Sierra de Santa Marta,
is a refuge area for the populous Guajiro Indians, who since the con-
quest have changed from primitive hunting and gathering peoples to
nomadic herders, breeding Old World goats, cattle, and sheep.12

The Pacific Lowlands
The Pacific fringe of Colombia is a world apart from the rest of
the country."3 It is a hot, extremely humid, forested land of many


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

rivers. These in some parts have built narrow alluvial floodplains; in
other parts they have dissected the lowland into a maze of rugged hills.
The Pacific Lowland is a land of rain, few areas of which receive
less than 200 inches annually; one area, the upper Atrato Basin, re-
ceives almost 400 inches per year-the wettest spot in the Americas.
The Pacific Lowland is also a land of sparse population, 85 per cent
of which is made up of Negroes and mulattoes who live as subsistence
farmers, miners, and fishermen along the rivers and the coast.
The northern half of the area is called the Choc6, composed of a
structural depression that lies between the Cordillera Occidental and
the low Serrania de Baud6, and is drained by the Atrato and San Juan
rivers. The upper part of these drainage systems forms the cultural
center of the Choc6. There, particularly in the vicinity of Quibd6,
in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Spaniards exploited
rich gold players, importing large numbers of Negro slaves for labor.
The present Negroid population of the Choc6 is descendent from
this colonial slave labor, and the washing of river sands for both gold
and platinum still occupies a large number of native Chocoanos.
The southern part of the Pacific area consists of a coastal fringe of
mangrove swamp backed by hilly, stream-dissected lowlands. There,
too, gold placer mining along the rivers was the main colonial econ-
omy and the basis for the present Negro population. Despite the
insalubrious climate and paucity of population, within this low
coastal area have developed two growing port towns that may have
increasing significance for Colombian commerce. One is Buenaven-
tura, the colonial port of Cali, and now the most important coffee
port of the country, serving most of western Colombia. The other is
Tumaco, near the Ecuadorian border, which is the outlet for the
southern highlands of Colombia and, formerly, of northern Ecuador.
The Pacific Lowlands offer few opportunities for future coloniza-
tion and development of tropical agriculture. The only fertile lands
are extremely narrow strips of alluvium along the rivers; the flood-
plain of the lower Atrato River forms a vast swamp unfit for produc-
tion without enormous expenditure for drainage. Moreover, the hill
slopes that cover most of the Pacific Lowlands carry highly infertile
clay soils that are hardly suitable for successful pioneer settlement in
the tropics.



The Llanos
The largest of Colombia's peripheral areas lies east of the Andes.
The better-known area is the Llanos, the grassy plains that stretch
eastward 400 miles from the Andean wall to the Orinoco River. The
Colombian Llanos are actually a southwestern continuation of those
of Venezuela, and reach their southern limit along the Guaviare
River, where the vast Amazon forest begins.
Built of alluvium deposited by Andean streams, the Llanos form a
great plains area that slopes gently eastward from the mountains.
Tall, tropical bunch grass dominates the natural vegetation in the
interfluves, but along the rivers grow strips of rain forest. During the
wet season heavy rains cause the rivers to overflow, forming large
shallow lakes in low areas; in the dry season the rivers shrink to
shallow braided streams, the grass withers, and dust and smoke from
burning grass fill the air. Possibly in no other part of Colombia are
seasonal contrasts so sharp as in the Llanos.
Physiographically the Llanos consist of two zones: (1) the Llanos
Arriba, the higher plains near the Andean foothills, and (2) the
Llanos Abajo, the lower plains that approach the Orinoco. The for-
mer consist of great alluvial fans formed by streams flowing from the
eastern Andean versant. Around the base of the sloping fans are wide
belts of fine-grained, moisture-retentive alluvium, which supports
clumps of rain forest. Such areas have proven well suited for agri-
culture. The Llanos Abajo are almost flat, grass-covered plains and,
except along the rivers, are characterized by highly weathered, in-
fertile soils.
Although the Llanos have been utilized for extensive stock raising
since colonial times, they have always been sparsely populated. From
the large cattle ranches and the ranch centers, or hatos, has de-
veloped the peculiar llanero culture, so memorably recorded in both
Colombian and Venezuelan literature. Far from markets and
plagued by flood, drought, and disease, the cattle industry of the
Llanos has never attained full development.
The Llanos Arriba, however, has been the scene of recent colo-
nization from the overpopulated Andean highlands.14 Productive
farms of rice, maize, and plantains have been established, especially
in the belt of fine soils at the base of the alluvial fans. The develop-


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

ment of tropical agriculture in the Llanos Arriba may be at least a
partial solution to the vexing problem of growing population pressure
within the Andean core of Colombia.

The Colombian Amazonia
In terms of drainage, vegetation, and culture, the southern part of
eastern lowlands of Colombia belongs to the Amazon Basin. South
of the Guaviare and Guayabero rivers a dense rain forest covers the
undulating surface. Still partially unexplored, this is Colombia's least
populated area and the one that is least incorporated into the na-
tional life. Only small groups of primitive forest Indians and collectors
of forest products live along the rivers. A few spots along the Andean
foothills, however, are being slowly settled by highland farmers from
Antioquia, the upper Magdalena, and the Pasto area. This zone of
colonization forms a southern continuation of that mentioned above
for the Llanos Arriba.

IV. Conclusion

The presentation of the highly complex geography of Colombia by
means of a gross regional breakdown as given above may serve as
background for the papers that follow on aboriginal groups; colonial
and modern history; economic, social, and political developments;
and the cultural achievements of the Colombian people. It is a truism
that human activity takes place upon the land and that man adapts
himself to natural conditions according to his cultural attributes. Al-
though natural regions and cultural areas are rarely synonymous, an
attempt has been made here to relate Colombia's modern cultures and
economies to the natural landscape. From this study one conclusion
is outstanding: present-day Colombia, like so many of the Latin
American countries, is a plural nation, made up of several different
culture areas. To understand Colombia one must realize her regional




1. Pablo Vila was one of the first modern Colombian geographers to suggest
detailed divisions, which he called "natural regions," based on the French con-
cept of the pays, a locally recognized area having common physical and cultural
characteristics. His system was first presented in a series of articles published in
the magazine, Colombia, I, 1-4 (1944), and later condensed as a chapter in his
Nueva geografia de Colombia (Bogota, 1945), pp. 157-186. In 1947 Ernesto
Guhl, one of Colombia's foremost geographers at present, published a map show-
ing his concept of the physical regions of the country, based on physiography,
climate, and vegetation (Ernesto Guhl, Colombia, fisiografia, clima, vegetaci6n
[Bogota, 1947]). The most recent and detailed presentation of Colombia's natural
regions in map and table form appears in the Atlas de economic colombiana (2a
entrega; Bogota: Banco de La Republica, 1960). This material is based on pre-
vious work done by Eduardo Acevedo Latorre and Ernesto Guhl. Simpler regional
divisions of Colombia appear in various textbooks, such as Preston James, Latin
America (3d ed.; New York, 1959), and J. B. Butland, Latin America, a Regional
Geography (London, 1960).
2. Robert C. Eidt, "Aboriginal Chibcha Settlement in Colombia," Annals of
the Association of American Geographers, XLIX (1959), 374-392.
3. Eduardo Acevedo Latorre, "Panorama geo-econ6mico del Departamento de
Santander," Economia y Estadistica, LXXVIII (1954), 1-50.
4. Q. D. Singlewald, Mineral Resources of Colombia, United States Geo-
logical Survey Bulletin 964-B (Washington, D.C., 1950).
5. Eduardo Acevedo Latorre, "Panorama geo-econ6mico del Departamento de
Huila," Economia y Estadistica, LXXVII (1954), 1-56.
6. Robert C. West, Colonial Placer Mining in Colombia, Louisiana State Uni-
versity Studies, Social Science Ser., No. 2 (Baton Rouge, 1952).
7. James J. Parsons, Antioquenio Colonization in Western Colombia, Ibero-
America No. 30 (Berkeley, 1949).
8. Raymond E. Crist, The Cauca Valley, Colombia; Land Tenure and Use
(Baltimore, 1952); Eduardo Acevedo Latorre, "Panorama geo-econ6mico del
Departamento del Valle," Economia y Estadistica, LXXX (1954), 1-48.
9. Le Roy B. Gordon, Human Geography and Ecology in the Sinu Country of
Colombia, Ibero-America, No. 39 (Berkeley, 1957).
10. James J. Parsons, "The Settlement of the Sinu Valley of Colombia,"
Geographical Review, XLII (1952), 67-86.
11. Herbert Wilhelmy, "Die Weidewirtschaft im heissen Tiefland Nordkolum-
biens," Geographische Rundschau, VI (1954), 41-54.
12. Raymond E. Crist, "Acculturation in the Guajira," Annual Report of the
Smithsonian Institution, 1958 (Washington, D.C., 1959), pp. 481-499; Homer
Aschmann, "Indian Pastoralists of the Guajira Peninsula," Annals of the Associa-
tion of American Geographers, L (1960), 408-418.
13. Robert C. West, The Pacific Lowlands of Colombia, a Negroid Area of the
American Tropics, Louisiana State University Studies, Social Science Ser. No. 8
(Baton Rouge, 1957).
14. Raymond C. Crist and Ernesto Guhl, "Pioneer Settlement in Eastern
Colombia," Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution, 1956 (Washington,
D.C., 1957), pp. 391-414.



is closely paralleled by, and indeed reflected in, the native Indian
cultures that developed in that country. These cultures ranged from
small, simple, seminomadic groups like the present-day Guahibo of
the Llanos to the large, populous, and socially complex states of
the Muisca (Chibcha) area, which in degree of political evolution
ranked second only to the Inca empire in all of South America.
In a paper of this length, whose objective it is to present the in-
digenous cultures of Colombia in broad perspective, it is not only
impossible but also undesirable to portray all of this cultural diversity.
Some plan must be followed which simplifies the picture and at the
same time brings out its most salient and characteristic features. In an
attempt to do this I will consider Colombian cultures as falling into
two principal types, the Tropical Forest and the Sub-Andean types.
These are two of the four types used in the Handbook of South
American Indians in its very successful classification and description
of the native cultures of that continent. The Tropical Forest type
consists of relatively primitive shifting cultivators dwelling exclusively
in areas of rain forest. The Sub-Andean type (also called Circum-
Caribbean in the Handbook) comprises the sedentary, better-
organized, and more advanced peoples of the higher valleys and
mountain slopes. Societies representing one or the other of these two
types at one time covered almost all of what is now Colombia.
The native cultures of Colombia do not, of course, always fit neatly



into one or another of these types. Actually they form a graded series,
the intermediate members of which could be classified in either of
them. However in this paper the focus of attention will be on tribes
typical of each of the two types.
To describe the Indian cultures of Colombia as they were at the
time of first white contact requires dealing with them at different
time periods. Most Sub-Andean societies of Colombia were first en-
countered by the Spaniards during the 1500's, and by 1650 they had
lost not only their political independence but their cultural identity as
well. On the other hand many Tropical Forest societies, especially
those in the Amazon basin, have survived relatively unmodified into
this century. A few of them, like the tribes of the upper tributaries of
the Vaupes, are still very little known. And the much-publicized
Motilones have entered into peaceful contact with whites only within
the last two or three years.

I. The Tropical Forest Cultures

The Tropical Forest cultures of Colombia are today best represent-
ed in the Amazon lowlands south of the Guaviare River and on the
Pacific coast. Generally speaking, societies of this type inhabit areas
lying below 1,000 feet, the notable exception being the Motilones,
who live at somewhat higher elevations in the well-forested Sierra de
The typical Tropical Forest community consists of a small village,
of perhaps 100 persons, which is autonomous both politically and
economically. A number of villages together may be given a tribal
name, but this means only that they speak the same language and
share the same culture, not that they are organized into any higher
sociopolitical unit. Villages are usually located at some distance from
each other, but close enough to a river or stream to facilitate fishing,
bathing, drawing water, and traveling by canoe.
House types and village plans show some variation from one region
to another. Throughout the Vaupes area and also among the Moti-
lones a single large dwelling, generally called a maloca, houses all
members of the community. On the Pacific coast however the Choc6
live in smaller, often single-family, houses that are widely scattered.


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

Both types of houses have a framework of stout posts and are thatched
with palm leaves. Since rainfall on the Pacific coast is extremely heavy
and there is frequent danger of flooding, Choc6 houses are built on
piles, with a notched log serving as a ladder. Many of the Vaupes
tribes use slabs of bark for the lower part of the house wall, while the
Baniva and other tribes near the Llanos sometimes make their house
walls by interlacing withes and coating them with mud (wattle-and-
The tribes of the Vaupes region sleep in hammocks, the typical
sleeping arrangement of the Tropical Forest. However, the Choc6,
Motilones, and other tribes that have been sufficiently influenced by
Sub-Andean culture sleep on platform beds, the Choc6 using a carved
block of wood as a pillow.
Among all these tribes subsistence is based on slash-and-bum agri-
culture, a method of cultivation in which a section of the forest is cut
over and allowed to dry out during the dry season, and burned and
planted just before the onset of the next rains. The staple crop plant
in the Vaup6s area is bitter manioc. Elsewhere in Colombia only
sweet manioc is known. Along the Pacific coast manioc is of only
minor importance, maize being the principal cultivated plant. Be-
sides manioc and maize the Tropical Forest tribes cultivate sweet
potatoes, yams, and many kinds of fruits including papaya, guayaba,
pineapple, and the pupunha palm (Guilielma speciosa).
Tribes of the Vaupes region remove the poisonous prussic acid
from bitter manioc by soaking the root, grating it, and then squeezing
the pulp, first through a woven sieve placed on a tripod and finally in
an extendible tubular press known as a tipiti. The dried manioc flour
is either stored as loose farina, or made into large, flat, circular cakes
which when dried in the sun preserve indefinitely and are carried as
provisions on long trips.
While not of paramount importance among any of the Tropical
Forest tribes of Colombia, hunting does add significantly to the sub-
sistence of most of them. The bow and arrow is the principal all-
purpose hunting weapon, but the blowgun with curare-poisoned darts
is particularly favored against arboreal game. Instead of curare the
Choc6 use two unusual poisons, one of which is the only New Worlc
poison known to have a specific effect on the heart.



For many tribes fishing is more important than hunting. All tribes
fish with the bow and arrow, and in addition the Choc6 use the spear
thrower for catching manatees. The most productive fishing tech-
nique of all is drugging, carried out with any of a wide variety of
plant poisons known collectively as barbasco. This type of fishing is
generally practiced only during the dry season, since at high water
the strong currents wash the drug away. Weirs are often built just be-
fore the barbasco is poured in the water in order to keep the fish from
escaping downstream. Several hundred fish may be caught by poi-
soning, then smoked for preservation.
Among most Tropical Forest peoples clothing is either distinctly
limited or lacking altogether. In the Vaupes area men wear a breech-
clout of bark cloth, while women, who formerly went naked, later
adopted beaded aprons. For painting the face and body, bija (Bixa
orellana) and jagua (Genipa americana) are universally used. Bija
is often mixed with oil before being applied and gives a vivid red
pigment. Jagua yields an indelible black dye which is not only es-
teemed for decorative purposes but is also commonly thought to have
protective magical properties.
Since cotton is rare in the region, Vaupls Indians do little weav-
ing. However, the Choc6 and a number of other lowland tribes raise
considerable cotton which the women spin into thread with a spindle
and weave into cloth on a backstrap loom. A few Tropical Forest
tribes like the Yuko of the Sierra de Perija weave long sleeveless gar-
ments resembling nightshirts, an obvious borrowing from neighboring
Sub-Andean peoples. Vaupes ceremonial costumes of bark cloth
covering the entire body are the most elaborate costumes of this ma-
terial made anywhere in the Amazon Basin. The Choc6 also manu-
facture bark cloth but use it only for sleeping mats.
Ceremonialism is particularly striking and elaborate in the area of
the Vaupes. Among the Yukuna of the Miriti Parana, for example,
the botanist Richard Schultes witnessed a ceremony which continued
without interruption for 24 hours, and in which 80 different dances
were performed, each one representing an episode in the mythologi-
cal history of the tribe.
The best-known of all the ceremonies among the peoples of this
region is the Yurupari. In part the Yurupari is an initiation cere-

The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

mony in which pubescent boys are subjected to severe whipping
which they are expected to endure without flinching, thus demon-
strating their manhood. During this ceremony large bark trumpets
associated with ancestral spirits are played, and these instruments
the women are forbidden to see under penalty of death. A drinking
bout accompanies this ceremony, and before the festivities are over
an entire canoeful of chicha may have been consumed. Chicha is a
mildly alcoholic drink made by chewing and spitting manioc, maize,
or almost any kind of fruit into a container into which some already-
cooked drink has been deposited, the ptyalin in the saliva serving to
promote fermentation. The Vaupes tribes prefer to use manioc for
their chicha (or cashiri as it is called here), while the Choc6 prepare
theirs from corn gruel.
Many musical instruments including panpipes, flutes, trumpets,
and skin-headed drums are used by the Tropical Forest tribes of
Colombia. Outstanding among them is the hollow log signal drum,
manguare, which is found throughout the region of the Vaupes.
These drums are played in pairs, the larger "male" drum producing
a deeper tone than the smaller "female" one. To make such a drum
the inside of a section of log is burned out with hot stones introduced
through a slit cut into the log. The walls of the drum are then scraped
down leaving the two "lips" forming the edges of the slit of different
thicknesses so that when struck they will produce different tones. The
drums are hung from a scaffold and are beaten with wooden drum-
sticks whose playing ends are covered with balls of crude rubber.
Although the drums may be played in accompaniment to certain
ceremonies, they are used primarily for signaling between villages,
and on a still day can be heard for a distance of up to 15 miles.
Religious beliefs of the Vaupes tribes center around a large number
of spirits with whom anyone, but especially shamans, can communi-
cate. A person seeks to consult the spirits in order to gain supernatural
assistance in recovering from illness, learning the identity of a sor-
cerer, and the like. The most effective way of getting in touch with
the spirits is through the use of narcotic plants which produce ex-
tremely vivid hallucinations. Cayapi (Banisteriopsis caapi) and
borrachero (Datura spp.) are commonly used for this purpose. Snuff
ground from the seeds of a vine called paricd (Piptadenia peregrina)




is taken by shamans to produce a delirium during which they divine
and prophesy. The use of tobacco is widespread. In the Vaupes it is
smoked in the form of cigars held in large cigar holders shaped some-
thing like tuning forks. Another very important narcotic is coca
which, chewed with ashes and its juice swallowed, arrests hunger
pangs and imparts remarkable endurance.
Until recent times warfare has been extremely prevalent among
the tribes of the Tropical Forest. The Motilones have become famous
for the redoubtable manner in which they have prevented encroach-
ment on their territory. The principal weapon of war is generally the
bow and arrow, but some tribes rely on the macana, or sword club,
as well. Attack is usually by stealth, and once it begins each attacker
fights pretty much on his own. Societies subject to recurring attacks
often seek to protect themselves by making their trails winding and
disguising them well. Caltrops and pitfalls may also be employed in
order to increase the hazards to the attacker.
Cannibalism of war prisoners was formerly quite frequent among
Indians of the Vaupes. The purpose of this practice was to humiliate
the enemy, while at the same time incorporating within oneself his
outstanding qualities. Here and there some societies gave indications
of esteeming cannibalism gastronomically as well as ritually.
A person who met a quiet death at home was generally buried.
Burials often took place within the house, with the deceased either
being wrapped in his hammock or else placed inside a canoe which
served as a coffin.

II. The Sub-Andean Cultures

The three principal areas of Colombia where a Sub-Andean level
of culture developed were the Cauca valley, the flanks of the Sierra
Nevada de Santa Marta, and the plateau east of the Magdalena in
what is now the Department of Cundinamarca. The picture of Sub-
Andean culture presented here is drawn from accounts of the three
societies which best typify each of these three areas: the Anserma,
the Tairona, and the Muisca or Chibcha.
In sheer numbers of people Sub-Andean societies far exceeded
anything encountered among Tropical Forest tribes. The Anserma,


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

only one of several chiefdoms in the Cauca valley, had a population
of about 40,000. The Tairona and adjacent peoples are estimated to
have numbered 100,000. Most populous of all were the Muisca
states which together contained approximately 1,000,000 persons.
Sub-Andean populations were not only large but dense. In one valley
of the Sierra Nevada it is reported that there were 250 towns, a few
of the larger ones having more than 1,000 inhabitants.
Unlike Tropical Forest villages, which were rapidly erected and
readily abandoned, Sub-Andean settlements were substantially built
and generally permanent. Houses were either of pole-and-thatch or
wattle-and-daub construction. The Anserma and Tairona used stone
architecturally to the extent of paving plazas and roads with flag-
stones and of carving stairways into solid rock. But with the excep-
tion of the archeological San Agustin culture of the headwaters of the
Magdalena, no Sub-Andean people of Colombia had learned to use
stone for the construction of buildings.
The basis of subsistence of all Sub-Andean groups was intensive
cultivation of the land. The early chroniclers speak of large, carefully
laid out, and well-tended fields. The Muisca planted in camellones,
or mounds, probably to conserve soil moisture. Irrigation is reported
for at least one tribe of the Cauca valley, and the Tairona on the
slopes of the Sierra Nevada are described as having a well-ordered
system of irrigation canals. A few societies constructed terraces as
The principal agricultural implement of the Muisca and probably
of other groups was a wooden spade. The Anserma used clubs to beat
down the grass in their fields before burning and planting. Ap-
parently no fertilizer was used on the soil, and the practice of crop
rotation as a device for soil conservation was unknown. The relative
permanence of Muisca fields is attested to by the fact that agricultural
land was transmitted from father to son.
Maize was the leading crop of most of the Sub-Andean chiefdoms.
The Muisca, on their moderately high plateau, were able to harvest
only one crop a year, but the Anserma in the Cauca valley harvested
two, and some tribes even three. Beans and squash, so often asso-
ciated with maize throughout the Americas, were also grown. Root
crops were of considerable importance too, and included, besides



sweet potatoes and sweet manioc, such less well-known plants as
arracacha (Arracacia esculenta), oca (Oxalis crenata), and ulloco
(Ullucus tuberosa). Fruit trees, often planted in orchards, also con-
tributed to the diet.
The political units of Sub-Andean Colombia ranged in size and
degree of organization from small chiefdoms in which a petty chief
exercised loose control over a few villages, to the senorios of the
Muisca area, the largest of which virtually deserved to be called
kingdoms. The rulers of the two largest Muisca states, who were
known as the Zipa and the Zaque, are described by the chroniclers
as being absolute monarchs with almost unlimited power and prestige.
The Zipa had not only a large compound in the capital of his
kingdom but also residences at other points in the realm where, affairs
of state permitting, he went to take his pleasure with his wives and
300 concubines. So exalted was his status that no one could look at
him directly. When he traveled he was carried in a gilded litter and
sweepers preceded him to clear the road ahead. Even his spittle was
so highly regarded that it was caught on a towel and preserved.
At his death the Zipa was succeeded, not by his own son, but by
his sister's son. During the coronation ceremony the new Zipa took
an oath of office while the members of his court pledged him their
allegiance. The famous legend of El Dorado arose from an episode
which traditionally accompanied the installation of a new Zipa. As
part of this ceremony the Zipa was daubed over his entire body with
wet clay and then sprinkled with gold dust. Thus gilded, he was taken
out in a canoe to the center of a lake where he plunged into the water
and washed himself off. El Dorado, the Gilded One, was then origi-
nally a person. Only with later retellings was the story so transmuted
that everyone today associates El Dorado with a place instead of with
a man.
When the Zipa died he was buried in a grave which priests had
secretly prepared beforehand. His body was placed in a sitting posi-
tion on a gold-covered stool, and he was surrounded by his prized
personal possessions. Buried with him also were his favorite wives
and retainers who were not killed but only stupefied with chicha,
tobacco, and Datura before being interred with their lord and master.
The rulers of other Sub-Andean states also commanded great re-


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

spect and received special privileges. The paramount chief of the
Anserma wore a gold crown as a symbol of his office, and wherever
he went was borne on the shoulders of his men. It was unthinkable
that his feet should be allowed to touch the ground, and when he
descended it was onto the thighs of his wives who gathered at the spot.
When he died, his body was desiccated over a slow fire and, along
with his wives and servants, he was buried in a stone cyst grave.
Social classes were well-marked among almost all Sub-Andean
chiefdoms. Usually there were four classes: chiefs (or kings), nobles,
commoners, and slaves. Although class membership was hereditary
it was possible to rise in the social scale by performing outstanding
service for the state in war. Class differences were made readily evi-
dent by differences in dress, and among the Muisca these differences
were enforced by sumptuary laws.
The power of rulers over their subjects was very considerable. In
time of war men were recruited to serve in the army, and in time of
peace they were called upon to perform labor service for the state.
Tairona conscript labor was generally employed in road building.
Deviations from the prescribed norms of conduct were also the con-
cern of the state. Among the Tairona indolence was punished, while
an Anserma caught stealing was enslaved forthwith.
The economy of the chiefdoms and kingdoms of Colombia had
advanced far beyond the level of subsistence. Many arts and crafts,
including the weaving of fine cotton cloth and the working of gold
and other metals, were in the hands of full-time specialists. Trading
was important not only within each society but also between neigh-
boring societies. Professional merchants were found among both the
Tairona and Anserma. Muisca commerce was so far advanced that
in large towns markets were held every four days. Salt, cotton, and
gold were the most common items of trade in all areas. The Anserma
and Tairona exchanged only by barter, but the Muisca not only
bartered goods but also employed a form of currency consisting of
gold discs.
Through their political and military power the rulers of Sub-
Andean states were able to exact tribute and taxes from their subjects.
The Muisca took tax collecting very seriously, and a person remiss in
paying his taxes would have a mountain lion quartered in his house



until he paid. For every day it took him to settle his debt the offender
was fined one cotton mantle. A state treasury building stood within
the Zipa's royal compound and here collected taxes were stored.
The form of religious organization most characteristic of Sub-
Andean societies was the priest-temple-idol cult. This cult provided a
means for people to communicate with their deities through the
mediation of temple priests who interpreted the oracular pronounce-
ments of idols representing those deities. The priests of the Muisca,
called jeques, were trained in a seminary. Their novitiate lasted 12
years and throughout this time they were expected to observe periods
of fasting, to do penance, and to remain continent. When finally in-
vested with their office by the Zipa, jeques were assigned to temples
located at various points in the kingdom. Throughout their lifetime
they continued to practice rigid self-denial including mortification
of the flesh and ritual blood-letting. They were also expected to re-
main celibate, and for any transgression of this rule they were im-
mediately unfrocked.
On occasions of public concern, such as during a drought or before
a military engagement, jeques performed certain ceremonies in an at-
tempt to bring rain, to assure victory, or to achieve whatever other
result was desired. Prominent among these rituals were human
sacrifices. The most common method of sacrifice was to impale a
slave or a child on the lower end of a house post. Some of the children
used in these sacrifices were especially reared by their parents for this
very purpose.
Solar and lunar deities were common in Sub-Andean cultures. The
Muisca believed also in a creator god, called Chiminigagua, but their
most famous deity was the bearded god Bochica, who was a culture
hero and a lawgiver as well.
Public celebrations and festivals were held at frequent intervals,
and on these occasions enormous quantities of chicha were consumed.
These feasts were marked by great sexual license, and ended with
everyone either asleep or in a drunken stupor.
Of all the arts and crafts of the Sub-Andean peoples metallurgy
was the one most highly developed. The metals in most common use
were gold and copper and an alloy made from these two called
tumbaga. Besides alloying, the techniques employed were cold ham-


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

mering, repousse, filigree, and casting, the latter being carried out
principally by a wax method which has been lost. Stylistic differences
make it possible to distinguish the goldwork of the various areas of
Colombia. That of the Quimbaya of the Cauca valley is generally
considered to be the best, both technically and artistically.
We cannot conclude a description of Sub-Andean peoples without
a brief account of war as practiced among them, since it was warfare
and conquest that gave rise to the large territorial units and powerful
political leaders so characteristic of the area. Among Tropical Forest
tribes warfare consisted of little more than raids for taking women or
avenging witchcraft. Sub-Andean warfare on the other hand was
directed to the subjugation of enemy tribes, the exaction of tribute,
the conquest of territory, and the capture of prisoners to serve either
as sacrificial victims or as slaves. Large armies took the field: the
Spaniards faced a Tairona army of 20,000 men, and even larger
armies were marshaled by the Muisca. These armies were led by
officers who were professional soldiers. The bulk of the army was
chosen from among the able-bodied men of the society, but in addi-
tion to draftees the Muisca had a class of specially selected and
trained soldiers called giiechas who garrisoned border outposts in
time of peace and who comprised the most reliable contingent of
fighting men during war.
Armies marched and attacked in formation, and military tactics
and stratagems were employed. Engagements were not simply skir-
mishes but often pitched battles in which many warriors were killed
on both sides. To bring them good luck the Anserma carried with
them into battle the mummified bodies of their most distinguished
war leaders of the past.
Weapons of war included the bow and arrow, the spearthrower,
slings, and sword clubs. In attacking an enemy village fire arrows
were shot into the thatched roofs of the houses in an attempt to bum
them down. For defensive purposes villages were often palisaded.
After winning a battle it was common for most Sub-Andean
peoples to cut off the heads of slain enemies and to bring them back
home and display them as trophies. Prisoners taken alive were also
brought back, and those that were not sacrificed were kept as



III. Conclusion

When we compare the Sub-Andean chiefdoms of Colombia with
the Tropical Forest tribes we find that in virtually every respect the
former were more elaborate and more complex than the latter. Since
the Sub-Andean peoples were once at the same general level of culture
as the Tropical Forest tribes are today, it is evident that the process of
cultural evolution went further in the Colombian highlands than it
did in the lowlands. The stages of this evolutionary process can be
discerned fairly clearly since among the various peoples inhabiting
Colombia at the time of the Spanish conquest every gradation in
cultural development between the Tropical Forest and the Sub-
Andean levels was represented.
A variety of environmental factors has made the Tropical Forest an
area unsuited for the development of high culture. However, in the
mountain valleys and plateaus of Colombia the environment was
more favorable, and the process of cultural development reached a
culmination in the populous and well-organized Muisca states.
Perhaps the word "culmination" is not completely appropriate
since the climax toward which the Sub-Andean cultures were head-
ing was interrupted before it was fully achieved. It seems very likely
that, had the Spaniards not arrived on the scene when they did, the
entire Muisca area would shortly have been unified into a single
political unit by force of arms of the Zipa. The next step might well
have been the conquest of the chiefdoms of the Cauca valley. In fact,
it is probably not too fanciful to suppose that had the Spanish con-
quest been delayed a century or two, a single large state, almost com-
parable to that of the Inca, might have exercised its rule over much
of Colombia.


Abad Salazar, In's Lucia. Los Ansermas. Bogota: Escuela Tipografica Salesiana,
Ghisletti, Louis V. Los Mwiskas, una gran civilizaci6n precolombina. 2 Vols.
Bogota: Biblioteca de Autores Colombianos Nos. 73-74, 1954.


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

Goldman, Irving. "The Tribes of the Uaupes-Caqueta Region," Handbook of
South American Indians, ed. Julian H. Steward, Vol. III, The Tropical
Forest Tribes, pp. 763-798. (Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American
Ethnology Bulletin No. 143.) Washington, D.C., 1948.
Kroeber, A. L. "The Chibcha," Handbook of South American Indians, ed.
Julian H. Steward. Vol. II, The Andean Civilizations, pp. 887-909. (Smith-
sonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 143.)
Washington, D.C., 1946.
P6rez de Barradas, Jose. Los Muiscas antes de la conquista. 2 Vols. Madrid: In-
stituto Bernardino de Sahagun, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cienti-
ficas, 1950-1951.
Reichel-Dolmatoff, Gerardo. Datos hist6rico-culturales sobre las tribus de la
antigua gobernaci6n de Santa Marta. Bogota: Instituto Etnol6gico del
Magdalena Santa Marta, 1951.
"Notas etnogrnficas sobre los Indios del Choc6," Revista Colombiana
de Antropologia, IX (1960), 73-158.
"Contribuciones al conocimiento de las tribus de la region de Perija,"
Revista Colombiana de Antropologia, IX (1960), 159-198.
Restrepo, Vicente. Los Chibchas antes de la conquista espafiola. Bogota: Imprenta
de la Luz, 1895.
Schultes, Richard. "Twelve Years in a 'Green Heaven,' Natural History (March,
1955), pp. 120-127, 165.
Steward, Julian H., ed. Handbook of South American Indians. 7 Vols. (Smith-
sonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 143.)
Washington, D.C., 1946-1959.
Trimborn, Hermann. Seiiorio y barbaric en el valle del Cauca. Translated from
the German by Jose Maria Gimeno Capella. Madrid: Consejo Superior de
Investigaciones Cientificas, Instituto Gonzalo FernAndez de Oviedo, 1949.



carried out in the village of Malambo near the western bank of the
Magdalena River in the department of Atlantic, Colombia, we
found in the aboriginal pottery a style of decoration that is unrelated
to the aboriginal pottery in the north part of Colombia. If that zone
of the country, that is, the great structural depression which stretches
from the foot of the last spurs of the Eastern Cordillera and from the
lowlands beginning at the foothills of the Central and Western Cordi-
llera to the Caribbean Sea, had not been intensively investigated so
that we had a good idea of the aboriginal sequence for the region,
the problem involved in the pottery from the archeological sites in
Malambo would not have stirred in us the interest that it did from
the beginning of the research. From the onset of our researches to
define the cultural meaning and temporal sequence of the Malambo
area, we had observed a series of traits in the decoration of pottery,
that together with other cultural elements, furnishes a basis for cor-
relating them tentatively with some of the phases of the archeology
of Venezuela rather than Colombia. We hope that as our field work
progresses, it will permit us to broaden the frame of spacial reference,


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

that is very limited at present, of this important aboriginal ceramic
complex of the northern part of Colombia.
These archeological phases are those which Rouse and Cruxent
(1959) have defined as typified by an elaborate ceramic complex un-
der the name of the Barrancoid Series. For the purpose of our com-
parative study we have made use of the description they give of the
large amount of material secured from systematic excavations and
from surface collections, and supplemented in some cases with the
data collected by archeologists who preceded them into Venezuela
and neighboring areas.
It is pertinent to mention that Irving Rouse of Yale University had
an opportunity to examine the collections in Barranquilla in 1957.
Several modeled-incised potsherds from a surface collection from the
Malambo area were of unusual interest. His opinion was that some
of the decorative traits of the Malambo material were very similar to
some of those of the various styles of the Barrancoid Series of Vene-
zuela, but that it would be necessary to carry out extensive excava-
tions in order to know exactly the meaning of this material. In
December of the same year, Betty J. Meggers and Clifford Evans of the
Smithsonian Institution, archeologists who have worked extensively
in various parts of South America, examined the same collection and
also classified it as Barrancoid. Finally, at the Seminar in Archeologi-
cal Techniques which took place in June-July, 1961, in Barranquilla
under the auspices of the National Science Foundation of the United
States and the Organization of American States, archeologists from
eight Latin American countries in addition to those of the United
States, classified the pottery from two of the stratigraphic excavations
made by the author in 1959 at Malambo. From these sherds, one of
the classificatory units adopted, because of the distinct decoration of
the pottery, was classified as material with Barrancoid characteristics.
Thus, what was once scant and inconclusive evidence to show rela-
tionships of the Malambo area with distinct archeological horizons
outside of Colombia, by means of the Barrancoid pottery of Vene-
zuela, had now become a distinct cultural complex with a well-
defined position in the time sequence for the area that could not be
taken lightly and deserved careful consideration from the standpoint
of what this meant in the aboriginal history of northern South



I. Location and Character

Malambo is located on the western shore of one of the many shal-
low bays, called cienagas, made by the Magdalena River before it
flows into the Caribbean Sea. It is 11 kilometers south of Barranquilla
(Fig. 1). Properly speaking, Malambo is not on the river, because the
Magdalena has already made a distinct turn at a distance of 11 kilo-
meters from Barranquilla. The Malambo cienaga is connected with
the river through two narrow channels, called canos. The depth of
both the cienaga and the canos varies according to the seasonal fluc-
tuations of the level of the water in the river. When at its lowest, dur-
ing the dry season in the Andean region, the volume of water in the
cienaga is so reduced that only one of the many canoe landings can
be used. This landing is called by the inhabitants "Puerto del Cerrito,"
or "Little Hill," because it is located in a zone relatively high but of
short extension that belongs to one of the last offshoots of the com-
plex hills, branching off from the western range of mountains of the
department of Atlantic. The depth of the cienaga at this point
is in marked contrast with the level of the water all along the shore
on the village's side, which in the dry season becomes a broad, marshy
Malambo has the same climatic range as the coastal zone of north-
ern Colombia, characterized by high temperatures and scarce rains.
Its median temperature of 280 C. (82.4F.) varies very little during
the year and the precipitation only occasionally reaches as much as
880 millimeters (34.7 inches). The rain is irregular, distributed be-
tween the months of April and November, after which hardly a drop
of rain falls. Beginning in December the drying effect and the violence
of the trade winds from the northeast affect the vegetation. The trees
lose their leaves as a protection against rapid dehydration and appear
as part of the shrub-sized thicket where the grass and small plants live
in a dormant stage awaiting the return of the rains.
The Malambo cienaga, as all others in the zone, must have been in
the past a great reservoir for fishing and for hunting water birds. Even
today, notwithstanding the immoderate and unreasonable manner
in which these activities have been carried out, the inhabitants can

The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia


Fig. 1. The Malambo Area




still obtain-although not without great endeavor-a number of
species of fish and birds to supplement their diet.
Today, Malambo is a decaying pottery-making center. Only six
families carry on the trade by means of a very rudimentary technique
using a stretching method instead of coiling. Although the village is
only 11 kilometers from Barranquilla, the main market for their
wares, the potters still ignore the advantages of the potter's wheel and
still bake the pottery in open fires at a low temperature. Both form
and decoration are very simple. The globular and semiglobular pot
with broad mouth and the bowl with low sides and rounded bottom
are the favorite forms. They are made in all the workshops according
to these standard forms without individual variation. The decoration
is limited to incised semicircles with the opening downwards, made
with a chip of the shell of the totumo fruit (Crescencia cujete). This
decoration is placed between the upper part of the pot and the lower
neck. Occasionally, this incision is combined with a decorated border,
made by pressure exerted with the index finger and thumb. There
seems to be little in this modern pottery tradition that is related to the
past aboriginal pottery found at Malambo.
The large amount of potsherds that still crop out through the house
yards and the village streets gives evidence of the great activity of this
industry in the past. Indeed, in the first test excavations and later in
the systematic excavations carried out by Angulo in 1959 it could be
observed that this upper layer of pottery was from 10 to 30 centi-
meters thick. We estimate that this deposit of sherds could easily
extend back in time to the earliest Spanish contact in the sixteenth
century. However, without any doubt, much of the deposit is the
result of the establishment of an Indian reservation at Malambo in
the middle of the eighteenth century (Posada and Ibafiez, p. 24).
This layer is a mixture of aboriginal pottery and European-manu-
factured sherds showing porcelain enameling, majolica Spanish ware,
and glass.
Underneath this bed of European cultural materials we found a
layer of sterile soil deposited by flooding and ranging from 20 to 40
centimeters in thickness. Below this, the archeological materials of
pre-Spanish times appear. (Fig. 2). It is this horizon that interests
us in this paper.

40 The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

II. Materials Found

Six excavations were made in the yards of four houses in Malambo.
Only four of the stratigraphic excavations could be used because the
other two seemed to have been dug in disturbed and backfilled dirt
from various excavations made by the modem residents. The strati-
graphic excavations were made in arbitrary levels of 10 centimeters,
covering an area of 2 by 10 meters, with each cut at least 200 or more
meters from the others. In all cases it was possible to notice a natural
stratigraphy in the soil following the same pattern in each excavation:
first a layer of 10 to 30 centimeters with historic items; then a layer of
sterile alluvial soil 20 to 40 centimeters thick; followed by the aborigi-
nal archeological layer ranging from 65 to 95 centimeters in thickness,
resting upon sterile alluvial deposits. All the stratigraphic excavations
produced an abundance of pottery, mostly in the form of sherds but
with an occasional complete specimen, great quantities of bones of
fish, turtle, caymans, rodents, birds, and large mammals such as deer
(Mazama americana) and capybara (Hydrochoerus capybara).
Shells were not found, indicating they made no use of this food
source. Only in one excavation did we find human bones and these
were in a very poor state of preservation, without any evidence of a
distinct burial pattern.
In order to indicate the importance of the Malambo sequence and
to be able to compare the Barrancoid Series of Venezuela with
Malambo pottery, it is necessary to give a general description of the
details of the pottery, such as form, paste, etc., in order to demon-
strate the relationship of the paste and method of manufacture with
the development and changes of certain styles of decoration. This
will also permit the establishment of what may be called the Malambo
complex, with the proposition of then placing this complex tenta-
tively in a chronological sequence for northern Colombia.
The manner of fracture of the sherds indicates that the vessels
had been made by a coiling process, a technique of manufacture that
continues throughout all the aboriginal archeological material at
Malambo. The temper is sand, but there is a slight variation through-
out the history of the site. For example, in studying the seriation

tables from the site based on the classification of the pottery accord-
ing to temper we note that in the deepest levels of the stratigraphic
cuts a very fine sand was used that might be merely a natural mixture
with the clay. However, in the middle and especially the upper levels,
the sand grains are larger and could never have been the result of
natural inclusions in the clay, but were intentionally added to the
clay. This is especially noticeable in the large vessels so common in
the upper levels of the cut. In 73 per cent of the sherds the core is
gray to gray-black, indicating incomplete oxidation. Vessel wall thick-
ness ranges from 3 to 11 millimeters with the majority of vessels being
around 8 millimeters thick. Fire clouds, due to poorly controlled open
firing, are frequent.
A distinct detail of the pottery of the Malambo site is the polishing
of the surfaces on almost all the vessels. About 64 per cent of the
sherds show this as a distinct feature, but bad erosion on some speci-
mens makes the treatment indeterminable, so actually the percentage
could be higher. The exterior surfaces have a distinct sheen, are
smooth to the touch of the finger tips, and at times show distinct
polishing lines indicating the use of pebbles in polishing. The colors
range from light red or orange to gray as a result of uncontrolled
firing techniques and incomplete oxidation. In the lowest levels of the
cut no sherds have a slip applied to the surface, but in the middle to
the upper levels in the stratigraphic cut the sherds have a slipped
surface. This new characteristic coincides with the appearance of the
addition of sand as a temper. The paste is well mixed, showing homo-
geneity, and there are no fissures or crackle lines. The well-polished
surfaces have a strong resistance and did not erode easily. Surface
hardness measured by Moh's scale is 3.5 to 4.0.
The most characteristic forms are: semispherical bowls with round-
ed base, rounded rim, and insloping walls (Plate 1, a); vessels with
waist that is restricted as if drawn up by a belt, with rounded rim and
an outflaring mouth (Plate 1, b); bowls with the walls vertical or
slightly incurving (Plate 1, c) ; vessels with the shoulders curving out-
ward giving a double silhouette (Plate 1, d) ; and boat-shaped vessels
(Plate 1; e, f).
In the seriation table of forms for Malambo, the semispherical
vessels are the most frequent in the lower levels in the stratigraphic

42 The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia
cuts until the middle levels of cut 1 and 3, when this form is related
directly with the modeled-incised decorated tradition and with a low
annular base (Plate 2; a, b). The naviform vessels appear only in the
middle to lower levels of the cuts, showing up after levels 3 or 4 in
strata cuts 1, 2, and 4. In the bottom levels the perforations in the
annular bases are not abundant and are tubular, while in the upper
levels the annular bases are higher and the perforations become
larger and assume a semicircular form (Plate 2; c, d). In the lower
levels there is also a type of support in the form of cylinders imitating
a leg with a foot that is designated by simple incisions to show the toes
(Plate 2; e, f, g, h). The rims that were originally plain and simple
now are altered with small semispherical applique radiating from a
central point (Plate 2; i, j). The platters or griddles are flat and open
with rectilinear incisions all over the interior and are frequent in all
the levels (Plate 3, a). These griddles could be the origin of large
plates that have simple and double horizontal handles (Plate 3; b, c).
We shall now discuss the details of the decoration called modeling
and incising, because this item in the decorative techniques offers the
most important opportunity to compare the pottery of Malambo
with certain styles that form the Barrancoid Series of Venezuela. The
modeling and incising consist of geometric, zoomorphic, and anthro-
pomorphic adornos or applique. These adornos vary but are propor-
tionate in size to the various vessels upon which they are placed. The
geometric type are the most varied, at times consisting of protuber-
ances situated upon the rim, giving a sort of discoidal or curved out-
line, and upon which parallel lines are incised in the exterior and
interior (Plate 3; g, h). At times the adornos are in the form of a
vertical handle along the rim and continue inward to the vessel
mouth with the head of an animal on the adorno (Plate 3, i). Small
semispherical protuberances having a central point and marked
around the base with continuing incised lines are other variations
(Plate 4; a, b, c). The zoomorphic adornos represent a large part of
the fauna of the region, such as ophidia (Plate 4; d-f), caymans
(Plate 5; a, d), dogs (Plate 4; g, h), lizards (Plate 4, f), turtles
(Plate 4, j), birds (Plate 5, i), and armadillos (Plate 4, 1). The
figures are always accompanied by semispherical applique with a
central punctate dot that represent the eyes, the legs, the arms, or



the tail. Small applique almost always are found on the rims (Plate
5; f-j). Some of these are so well modeled and well placed along the
rims that the impression is given of the animal in a state of rest or
position of attack (Plate 4, f). The applique outside the area of the
rim usually rest upon a tubular soil applique as a central portion of
the decorative element near the border (Plate 2, a).
Incised lines or grooves are utilized to outline or emphasize the
modeling and to fill up empty space, preferably on the head, body, or
tail of the applique figure. These incised lines are made in spirals,
concentric triangles, curvilinear motives, undulating frets, or straight
lines (Plate 7; e-l). Other incised lines run along the base of the
figure to accentuate the modeling (Plate 2, b). Another detail that
contributes a distinct expression to the modeled-incised decoration is
the tendency to use on certain applique adornos a double representa-
tion so that you can see one when you look at the exterior of the
vessel and see the other when you view the interior (Plate 3; k, 1).
The use of the incised-modeled technique on the body of vessels
is very frequent and often this technique is used to represent human
figures that were applied to the wall of the vessel. Actually there are
no true figurines, but there are examples of small masks, one of which
is complete (Plate 7; a, b).
The incised-modeled tradition of decoration becomes more fre-
quent in the middle levels of the stratigraphic cuts, approximately at
the moment that zoned red painting appears (Plate 3, n). Actually
this is a complement to the modeled and incised tradition of decora-
tion, for it is limited to the filling of free spaces between some of the
modeled and incised motifs.

III. Comparisons and Conclusions

From the general description that we have made of the traits most
characteristic of the aboriginal pottery of Malambo, it is the modeled-
incised decoration that offers the greatest quantity of comparative
elements with some styles of decoration that belong to the Barrancoid
Series of Venezuela. These decorative elements are not related di-
rectly to any other pottery complex in Colombia and therefore the


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

comparison is of greatest importance to the reconstruction of the
cultural history of aboriginal man in northern South America.
The Malambo pottery complex shows the greatest number of
characteristics to be related to the El Palito style and to the La
Cabrera style, both being the oldest styles of the Barrancoid Series.
Rouse and Cruxent (1961, Table 1) have established a date of 1050
B.C. to 350 A.D. for El Palito, La Cabrera, and Las Barrancas styles.
Some of these resemblances are more specific in the use of applique
adornos in the form of small circular, semicircular, or oval adornos;
ribs appliqued at the side of the base with incised lines; the tendency
to decorate the applique elements with incised lines and punctate dots
and with units radiating from a central punctate dot; and the use of
applique in the form of small semispherical units with a central dot
combined with incised decoration on the rims and on the appliqued
parts of anthropomorphic or zoomorphic figures such as arms, eyes,
etc. (Plates 3, 4, 5). The use of incised spirals on the applique parts
and adornos is also very characteristic (Plate 3; g, h) of both areas
(Rouse and Cruxent, 1959, Lam. 28). Other features showing direct
relationships are geometric adornos, adornos in the form of zoomor-
phic or anthropomorphic figures, handles that end in zoomorphic or
anthropomorphic adornos (Plate 6; a, b, c), mask type adornos
(Plate 6; j-p), griddles, perforated or cut out annular bases, and
small cylindrical supports (Plate 2).
According to Rouse and Cruxent (1961, p. 285) Malambo pot-
tery has the following features: modeled-incised applique and
adornos (Plate 5), handles in the form of D and in the form of the
wishbone of a bird (Plates 2-3; see Rouse and Cruxent, 1959, Lam.
92); handles that end in the form of peg lugs (Plate 3, k); hollow
adornos, especially those that represent birds (Plate 2; a, b); small,
smoothed applique and adornos like protuberances with a line or a
central dot or with a line outlining the base (Plate 4) ; vessel supports
that resemble legs (Plate 2); incised decoration characterized by
wide parallel lines, and grooves that are smoothed or polished (Plate
7; see Rouse and Cruxent, 1959, Lam. 94). There are also charac-
teristics of pottery decoration in the incised motifs in Malambo that
are common in Las Barrancas style, such as triangles incised one in-
side the other, frets, and wavy lines. The abundance of griddles in





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Fig. 2. Malambo, Cut 1

PLATE 1. Pottery from Malambo

PLATE 2. Pottery from Malambo




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PLATE 3. Pottery from Malambo

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PLATE 4. Pottery from Malambo

*. .



::: '~~"~
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~~:. ~::. ;:9e~t88~a:

~.:: hl
:' :~d8~BBBBBslPPB~BB~I~~T ~B~.d'b~I~.), i


PLATE 5. Pottery from Malambo

f g

PLATE 6. Pottery from Malambo

PLATE 7. Pottery from Malambo

"''"'" '"'

:.~5 ~~~~~9
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both cultures also suggests a similarity of food preparation.
Some scholars have insisted that the Barrancoid tradition, due to
its high frequency of griddles, had manioc but did not have maize. If
this can ever be proven, then the same bit of evidence applies to the
Malambo culture; however, it is more important at this moment to
view the problem in terms of agriculturists versus shell fishermen. The
Malambo culture was a sedentary people practicing agriculture of
some sort, using manioc as well as other plants, depending secondarily
on hunting of land game and on fishing from the bays, but making
no use of shell fish. Since Carbon 14 dates have not been obtained for
this area as yet, we cannot attempt to establish at this moment any
absolute date for Malambo.
The pottery comparison of Malambo with the Venezuelan styles
of El Palito, La Cabrera, and Las Barrancas (all of the Barrancoid
Series), gives us some indication of the time sequence along the north
coast of Colombia. Since these styles in Venezuela are among some of
the oldest, and widespread along the coast and Orinoco even to the
very interior of the country along the Orinoco proper and certain
of its tributaries, it is extremely interesting from the standpoint of
routes of migration now to find the pottery of Malambo near Barran-
quilla to be related. However, this is not at all unbelievable, for the
distribution of the La Cabrera and El Palito styles and the Las Ba-
rrancas style are extensive in Venezuela (see Rouse and Cruxent,
1961, p. 168). Without going into the details of further comparisons
with certain styles that are still poorly known in Venezuela, it is
sufficient to say that the close relationship between the Barrancoid
Series and Malambo causes us to reorient our thinking about the
Caribbean coast of South America.
Since we have demonstrated that without any doubt the ceramic
relationship now extends the Barrancoid Series into Colombia along
the coast, whereas previously it had been limited to the Orinoco and
the Venezuelan coast, it is necessary to understand that this means
that some of the aboriginal history of northern Colombia was more
strongly influenced by it along the Caribbean coastline than had
previously been thought. If the culture instead had descended into
the area via the Magdalena River, then its origins would be in the
Colombia highlands. This is not the case, for there is no evidence of


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

Barrancoid pottery coming from other parts of Colombia, in spite
of the amount of archeological investigations that have been made
in the area.
The Malambo archeological work opens an entirely new view
of the Caribbean coast of Colombia and suggests that other in-
fluences might have come along the area, making Colombia, as an
aboriginal culture area, more linked in many ways to the northern
part of Venezuela and other parts of Middle America via the Carib-
bean than was previously believed. In view of the theme of this con-
ference-Colombia and the Caribbean-it is highly significant that
for the first time in recent years the archeological data from early
pottery cultures, known previously only in Venezuela, have now ap-
peared at sites near the mouth of the Magdalena River on the north
coast of Colombia. This suggests that, at an earlier time than pre-
viously thought, this region participated in the aboriginal settlement
of South America, at a time when pottery was characterized by a
series of unusual modeled and incised traditions.

Angulo Vald6s, Carlos. "El Departamento del Atlantico y sus condiciones fisicas,"
Revista Geogrdfica (Barranquilla), I (1952).
,"Colecciones arqueol6gicas superficiales de Barranquilla y Soledad,"
Divulgaciones Etnoldgicas (Barranquilla), III, 5 (1954).
Posada, E., and Ibafiez, P. M. (eds.). Relaciones de Mundo, Vol. VIII. Bogota,
Rouse, Irving, and Cruxent, Jose M. Arqueologia cronologica de Venezuela,
Vol. I. Washington: Publicaci6n de la Uni6n Panamericana, 1961.
An Archeological Chronology of Venezuela, Vol. II. Washington:
Publicaci6n de la Uni6n Panamericana, 1959.

Part II



Theodore E. Nichols: COLOMBIA IN THE

COLOMBIA IS A LAND of great contrasts. This cliche, so often
applied to Latin America, is particularly applicable to Colombia. It
is hot, it is mild, it is cold. It is Negroid, it is Indian and mestizo, it is
white. It has been politically democratic, and it has had its dictators.
It has had brilliant scholars and poets, it has had illiterate masses.
One could list such contrasts endlessly. The same could be done for
most of the Latin American nations. Yet Colombia is unlike any other.
Its geography, its culture, its history involve unique factors. Un-
fortunately even a rudimentary knowledge of the outline of Colom-
bian history, let alone a deep understanding of Colombian culture,
is lacking in most of the rest of the world.
To attempt to depict in a brief space the history of a sizable territory
through three centuries of time is no simple task. A topical rather than
strictly chronological approach has seemed preferable. In the fol-
lowing pages the writer has endeavored to place Colombia, or more
properly New Granada, in its setting within the Spanish Empire, to
trace the outline of political history of the colony, to touch upon
economic and intellectual themes, and finally to emphasize the historic
localism or regionalism which has resulted from geographical and
other factors.'* Such a brief sketch will omit more than it includes,
and will probably satisfy no one familiar with Colombia. The writer
shares that dissatisfaction.
*Notes to this chapter begin on page 71.


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia


New Granada was a small part of Spain's vast territories. The king-
emperor Charles V ruled, at least in theory, a large part of Europe
and the greater part of America. When Charles retired to the monas-
tery of Yuste, after spending 20 years of his 40-year reign in his non-
Spanish possessions, he had, by a series of acts of abdication, divested
himself of his great empire. He had also, by turning the Germanic
lands over to his brother Ferdinand, created the situation which
existed for the following century and a half-the existence of two
branches of the Hapsburg family, Austrian and Spanish. His son
Philip was left as king of Spain, the traditionally German-dominated
Low Countries and Milan, and the non-Portuguese Americas. A
Spaniard in contrast to his Lowlander father, Philip II never left
Spain in the last 39 years of his reign. It was a difficult reign, beset
with immense problems, but Spain reached its height under Philip
II. Few can deny that the sixteenth century was Spain's century, and
that the Spanish Empire, even without the Austrian possessions, was
the world's mightiest. France's day was to await the Thirty Years'
War and Louis XIV, and Britannia did not really rule the waves
until at least the eighteenth century, if indeed she did before Trafal-
gar. Spain's American empire during the reign of Philip grew north-
ward as far as New Mexico and southward to create Argentine
settlements. Intermittently it held towns and presidios in southern
Chile, and after 1580 for 60 years Brazil, along with the rest of the
Portuguese Empire, was under Spain's rule.
The Hapsburg kings after Philip II were pale shadows of their
predecessors, and Spain's decline, first hinted at with the defeat of
the Armada in 1588, was clearly seen at Rocroi in 1643 and the
Peace of Westphalia of 1648. The loss of Jamaica to the English in
1655 was a severe blow, and Spain in the next years was forced to
recognize the legality of a number of English, French, and Dutch
colonies in territories she had once claimed. When the reasonably able
Philip IV was relieved of his European and American cares by death,
in 1665, it was not the bright and promising heir, Baltasar Carlos,
who ascended the throne (for he had died at 17, in 1646), it was
Charles II, "the final, catastrophic fruit of generations of inter-



marriage with cousins and nieces, a cretin so malformed and under-
developed that he never learned to speak or eat normally, so weak
of intellect that he could not be taught the rudiments until he was
ten, and whose mental age and tastes in manhood remained those of
the nursery."2 Unfortunately Charles was on the throne for 35 years;
most of these years were filled with plots and counterplots for the
royal succession, and when Charles finally died without an heir the
War of the Spanish Succession, first of the great international con-
flicts of the eighteenth century, must to some have seemed the final
catastrophe. But out of it came the Spanish Bourbon line. One does
not think of the Bourbons of France in the eighteenth century as
accomplishing much more than making contributions to their own
destruction, but to Spain and the Spanish Empire the family brought
political and economic reform, intellectual enlightenment, and in
general a considerable revival, including even territorial expansion
into California and Texas. So feeble Spain had a last bright hour
which has been compared to the intense glow of a light bulb's last
moments. But then came the French Revolution and its international
wars which involved Spain, then came Napoleon; and these develop-
ments helped to bring on the independence movements in Spanish
America and the end of the empire there except for Cuba and Puerto
New Granada played what has usually seemed to be a relatively
minor role in this story of empire. The conquest period was colorful
enough, but it had no Bernal Diaz del Castillo, and even the vivid
chronicles of the naive boy, Pedro Cieza de Le6n, touched only
peripherally on New Granada. Certainly there has been no Prescott
to make the deeds of Rodrigo de Bastidas, Pedro de Heredia, and
Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada as famed and classic in literature as
those of Cortes and Pizarro. The conquest proceeded more slowly,
for one thing. Only a year passed in each case between the voyages
to Mexico of Hernandez de C6rdova, Juan de Grijalva, and Her-
nando Cortes. But from the first contacts with the Colombian coast
by the Alonso de Ojeda-Juan de la Cosa expedition in 1499-1500, a
quarter-century elapsed before the settlement of Santa Marta, oldest
permanent city, was begun; another eight years passed before the
founding of Cartagena de Indias; and still three more years elapsed


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

before Jimenez de Quesada began his southward drive from Santa
Marta into the interior. That expedition is famous enough; it touches
the imagination because of the hardships afforded by swamp, forest,
and mountain, and the melting down of the Spanish forces from
800 to 166. Who can forget the meeting of the three European
columns on the high sabana: that of Jimenez de Quesada from the
north, the force that had already conquered most of the Chibchas and
founded Santa Fe de Bogota (named for the stone fortress on the
hillside facing Granada from which the Catholic monarchs had
completed the Reconquest) ; that of Sebastian Moyano de Belalcazar,
donkey boy from Extremadura, lieutenant of Pizarro in the south,
founder of Quito, Popayan, Cali, and Buenaventura; and the eastern
column of Nicolas von Federmann, representative of the House of
Welser, which had been granted rights in Venezuela by Charles V.
Yet much of the conquest story is known only vaguely as compared
to the fame of Spanish exploits in Mexico and Peru. Few people have
heard the details of the Francisco Cesar expedition which found a
great treasure in gold in the Sinu country, or the story of Jorge
Robledo's expedition into the Antioquia region. They too had no
Bernal Diaz del Castillo or Prescott. Historians in this country should
be embarrassed that the histories of the Sinui, Antioquia, and the
Cauca Valley have best been studied by geographers.3 It is un-
fortunately true of Colombia, as William Atkinson has written, that
"the country remains withal among the lesser known of the New
World, and its history less known still."4 In any case the land and
aborigines were gradually conquered and the colony slowly moved
ahead. Not only was the name Santa Fe brought from southern Spain,
but also that of Granada, for the sabana area came to be known as the
"New Kingdom of Granada"; this small highland region was New
Granada, strictly speaking, until the eighteenth-century founding of
the viceroyalty of that name with its vast territory encompassing
approximately the present Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and
Panama. After Jimenez de Quesada lost out politically, as did the
great majority of the Spanish conquistadores, the undeserving Luis
Alonso de Lugo was governor both of the New Kingdom and of the
port of Santa Marta. A series of governors followed until the royal
audiencia, a court having administrative and some legislative powers,



was created in 1549. But political turmoil continued to prevail, one
extreme example being the serious uprising of Alvaro de Oy6n of
1552-1553, and another the arrest of two of the oidores, or judges,
by a newly arrived oidor in 1552, and their death by drowning while
being sent back to Spain.5 Conflicts between bishop, audiencia, and
audiencia president were common, with clashes between these colo-
nial agents and the home government all too frequent an occurrence.
"That hypersensitive regard for rank and official position which was
everywhere the characteristic bane of Spanish officialdom ... there
became the source of chronically bothersome and not infrequently
extremely serious conflicts of authority."' And as another historian
has written, "The Crown never found its solution to the conflict be-
tween home interests in the colonies and those of the settlers. The
visit, the residencia, were admirable checks on paper: who was to
check the checkers, or certify them to be more upright men than the
checked?"7 The administrative turmoil within and foreign threats
from without pointed up the isolation of the colony, and the distance
from the viceregal centers of Mexico City and Lima. Consequently
one of the Bourbon innovations of the eighteenth century was the
creation of a third viceroyalty with Santa Fe de Bogota as its capital.
It was formed initially in 1717 with Antonio de la Pedrosa y Guer-
rero, member of the Council of the Indies, as temporary executive.
In 1718 Jorge Villalonga, Conde de la Cueva, became the first
viceroy. The foreign threat temporarily abated, whereas internal con-
flicts were not resolved, and so at the viceroy's own urgings the vice-
royalty was abolished and the old order restored in 1723.
New Granada's internal strife was not unique. The Church-State
conflict was seen everywhere, disagreements between governor and
audiencia were always common. In studying Colombian problems
one finds a microcosm of imperial problems. The Church-State con-
flict culminated in the royal expulsion of the Jesuits from all of the
Empire in 1767, a policy which incidentally deprived 5,000 students
of their 14 Jesuit colegios in New Granada,8 besides affecting the
mission Indians.
What was the nature of the external threat? In the sixteenth cen-
tury the French, English, and Dutch were all troublesome to Spain,
ignoring her claim of monopoly over much of America. The problem


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

of military defense was universal throughout Spanish America, but
it was especially great in areas touched by the Caribbean. Tierra
Firme, the Caribbean coast of South America, was never really safe
from attack throughout the colonial period. France and Spain were
at war five times between 1521 and 1556, and even in the intermittent
periods of peace it became an accepted fact that fighting could con-
tinue west of the Azores and south of the Tropic of Cancer. It was
chiefly the Antilles and ships at sea, however, that were hurt by such
corsairs as Jean Fleury, Francois Leclerc ("Pie de Palo"), and
Jacques de Sores. Tierra Firme was more affected when the English
arrived. John Hawkins' profitable slave-trading voyage to Africa
and then to the Venezuelan coast and Riohacha in 1564-1565 startled
the Spanish authorities, and was a factor in the slowly deteriorating
Anglo-Spanish relations of the 1570's and 1580's which saw Drake's
famous exploits, including his seizure and ransoming of Cartagena
in 1586, and which culminated in open warfare and the sailing of
the Great Armada in 1588. Meanwhile, the Dutch, as the world's
greatest sea power, also became active in Caribbean waters during
80 years of rebellion against Spanish rule. All three powers gained
Caribbean possessions in the seventeenth century, as the rivalry con-
tinued. Now appeared the buccaneers, many of them Frenchmen and
Englishmen who had lost out as small farmers when the emphasis in
the Lesser Antilles changed from tobacco minifundia to sugar and
Negro-slave latifundia. From bases on Tortuga, Santo Domingo, and
Jamaica they caused great trouble for Spanish shipping and such
Spanish colonial ports as Cartagena. The fortifications of the major
ports were steadily being strengthened, however. Beginning in the
reign of Philip II, the major ports of Cartagena de Indias, Santo
Domingo, Santiago and Havana, San Juan del Puerto Rico, Porto-
belo, and San Juan de Ulua (Veracruz) began to be increasingly
fortified. Work was especially pushed in the 1580's and 1590's under
the direction of the able military engineer Juan Bautista Antonelli. It
is a well-known though perhaps apocryphal story that Philip was so
impressed by the bills for Cartagena's defenses that he walked to a
window in the Escorial, claiming that he should be able to see Carta-
gena's walls from there. Yet the famous walls and forts were barely
begun in the sixteenth century, and were added to and rebuilt con-



stantly right on into the nineteenth century.9 A great system of outer
and inner defenses was developed. The outer involved the submarine
blocking of the Boca Grande, larger of the bay's two entrances, and
the erection of forts and batteries to guard the Boca Chica. The en-
trance to the inner bay was also fortified at both sides. Another fortress
was encountered at the edge of the city's harbor. Towering above the
city was the great fortress of San Felipe de Barajas. The city itself was
surrounded by massive walls, in some places 60 feet thick, and a series
of batteries. Against all this, buccaneers were not too successful by
the seventeenth century. Nor did they often succeed in doing much
harm to the great convoyed trading fleets of that period.
By the late seventeenth century the picture changed from mere
buccaneer harassment; a period of great international wars was be-
gun. Royal dynasties of Europe now clashed in what has been called
the Second Hundred Years' War. In the first of these conflicts, the
variously named struggle of 1689-1697, England joined her old
enemy Spain and other powers to block the expansion and growing
strength of Louis XIV's France. In 1697 no mere pirate band but a
great French fleet appeared off Cartagena. Consisting of hundreds
of ships and thousands of men, it was led by Admiral Jean Bernard
Desjeans, Baron de Pointis, and by the former governor of Santo
Domingo, Jean Batiste Ducasse. The outer fortifications fell, and
after a siege of 20 days the city capitulated and was virtually destroy-
ed after being looted of all valuables.10 But the walls were restored,
and the "Heroic City," as Bolivar later named it, was stronger than
ever when the immense force of Admiral Edward Vernon attacked
it during the War of Jenkins' Ear in 1741. This time the defenders,
aided immeasurably by an unsolicited ally, yellow fever, were success-
ful, and the invaders withdrew with huge losses.1 The re-establish-
ment of the viceroyalty in 1739, with Viceroy Sebastian de Eslava,
a lieutenant general, remaining in Cartagena during the siege (and
throughout his entire administration), undoubtedly strengthened the
port or at least the morale of its defenders. The Heroic City was to
experience other sieges on into the next century, such as those of 1815
laid by the patriot leader Bolivar and by the royalist general Morillo.
In the eighteenth century the viceroy could not solve all political
and military problems nor weld such a vast area into one united


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

whole, and the creation of the Captaincy-General of Venezuela in
1777 almost completely removed the Venezuelan provinces from what
had always been a loose and rather artificial union. But even within
the area that is now Colombia and Ecuador there were other evi-
dences of dissension and discontent. A good example is the Comunero
Revolt of 1781.12 It is difficult to describe this event in brief and
simple terms. As Harry Bernstein has written, the comunero move-
ment was one of protest, not of revolution.13 In 1779 Spain again
went to war with England and needed funds for the defense of her
colonies. Juan Francisco Gutierrez de Pifieres came to New Granada
as Visitador-General and presiding judge of the audiencia in Santa
F6. With the viceroy in Cartagena seeing to its defenses, Gutierrez
de Pifieres was supreme in the capital. In 1780 he issued an Instruc-
cion General for raising funds for defense measures. It included the
collection of all existing taxes (some of which had been laxly en-
forced), a poll tax, considerable additions to the sales tax and to the
list of items so taxed, and enforcement of the crown monopolies on
such items as tobacco, liquor, and playing cards. He was also deter-
mined to root out private tobacco lands and confine the whole to-
bacco business to crown enterprise. There were angry reactions from
the people in several centers, but the most notable was in the town
of Socorro on March 16, 1781. When the Instruccidn was posted, a
crowd of men and women marched to the alcalde's house, shouting
that they would not pay the taxes. The alcalde and another promi-
nent man tried to calm them but with no success. A woman of the
town, Manuela Beltran, tore down the Instruccidn, and the agitation
continued until the cabildo suspended the collection of the taxes.
Meanwhile, in other towns, crowds burned the monopoly buildings,
the tobacco and playing cards, and poured out the liquor. In April
people from a number of towns gathered in Socorro, some 6,000
strong. A junta or comuin was formed, headed by Juan Francisco
Berbeo. The comuneros then marched on Santa Fe. One of the
judges of the audiencia led troops out to meet the comuneros, but
instead of fighting they surrendered to them. Gutierrez de Pifieres
now fled to Cartagena, and the remaining officials in Santa Fe, coun-
seled by the enlightened Archbishop Antonio Caballero y G6ngora,
agreed to lower taxes and grant other concessions. Viceroy Fl6rez had



never agreed to any of this, however. He obtained troop reinforce-
ments from Cuba, and since the comuneros had unwisely disbanded,
the royal forces again gained control. When Jose Galan attempted a
new uprising it was ruthlessly crushed, the leaders hanged and dis-
membered, their property confiscated, their descendants declared in-
famous. Although the movement had become really widespread, from
Venezuela to Pasto, it collapsed. To the Spanish government it must
have seemed a serious threat, however. It represented a Creole state-
ment of the errors of Spanish rule in New Granada.14 It also seemed
to tie in with the Indian revolt of Tupac Amaru II in Peru, since the
comuneros advocated the abolition of Indian tributes, and referred
to the theft of Indian lands."1 But peace seemed to be restored. Vice-
roy Fl6rez resigned in 1782, his successor died four days after taking
office, and the popular Archbishop Caballero y G6ngora became
The peace was short lived. Various political and economic reforms
fostered by the Bourbons did not relieve the discontent felt by the
educated Creoles or the despair of the people of the lower classes,
whose misery was unaffected by the scientific progress or political
thinking of the Enlightenment discussed later in this study. The
French Revolution had a tremendous impact on Spanish Americans.
The intriguing theories and beliefs of Rousseau, Raynal, Montesquieu,
and Voltaire came to have more meaning for the Creoles. The colo-
nists in North America had already successfully rebelled; now the
people of France were overthrowing tyranny. The nationalistic con-
cept of la patrie helped to stir sentiments of la patria in colonial
hearts, with New Granada rather than Spain as la patria. Although
movements such as that of the comuneros had signified discontent
rather than disloyalty, the activities of such "precursors" as Francisco
de Miranda began more frankly to seek independence from Spain.
Miranda's celebrated and colorful career is more directly connected
with the Captaincy-General of Venezuela than with New Granada,
but it is possible to think of him as the father of the independence
movements which eventually were to rend Spanish America from
Chile to Mexico.16 Miranda's first revolutionary activities predate
even the French Revolution, for his visit in the United States just
after the close of its war for independence apparently involved dis-


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

cussions with Henry Knox and others regarding a liberating expedi-
tion to Venezuela. Then followed years of travel and residence in
England and throughout the continent, participation in the French
Revolution as a general, imprisonment by Robespierre, and con-
tinuous appeals to the British government for military aid for a
Venezuelan revolt. With financial help from British and United
States sources he made his ill-fated invasion of Venezuela in 1806.
Back again in England, he seemed to gain at last his long-sought
British expedition, but Wellesley's forces instead were sent to Spain
for the Peninsular Campaign. Consequently the disgruntled but un-
defeated Precursor was still in London when Sim6n Bolivar, Andres
Bello, and Luis L6pez Mendez arrived on their mission of 1810.
Meanwhile New Granada's own "precursor," Antonio Narifio,
had been active." Born in Santa F6 de Bogota in 1765, Narifio had
been well educated, and at an early age was appointed to various
responsible positions by the viceroy. He had a brilliant, searching
mind, and read not only most of the great books which were officially
acceptable but smuggled in and read many of the prohibited French
revolutionary writings. In 1794 he translated and published the
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, for which he was
jailed. When an official search of his properties disclosed the forbid-
den works, he was tried by the audiencia, his property was confis-
cated, he was perpetually exiled, and sentenced to ten years'
imprisonment in Africa. His career was almost as colorful as that of
Miranda. En route to Africa he escaped in Cadiz and made his way
to London, where like Miranda he sought backing. The spring of
1797 saw Narifio back in Santa Fe and engaged in revolutionary
activity. He was again arrested but because of ill health was allowed
to stay at a country estate, and by 1807 he was again permitted to
manage his properties. But in 1809 he was arrested once more and
confined to the dungeon of Boca Chica in Cartagena.
Napoleon invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 1807 with the os-
tensible purpose of occupying Portugal, traditional friend of England.
The virtual occupation of Spain by French troops threw Spain into a
turmoil. A plot was afoot to replace the weak Charles IV and the
man who really ruled Spain, Manuel Godoy, with Charles' son
Ferdinand, Prince of Asturias. The Spanish people felt that Godoy



was linked with the French and rose against him. Charles then re-
signed in favor of his son, who was proclaimed Ferdinand VII. Both
father and son met with Napoleon at Bayonne and were forced to
turn the crown over to the Emperor, who then named his brother
Joseph king of Spain. The people of Spain, however, rose against this
foreign king and formed a junta in the name of Ferdinand in Seville.
News of these events threw the colonies into confusion and inevitably
aided the comparatively few people who thought of independence.
Space does not permit a detailed discussion of the Wars of Inde-
pendence, especially of their military aspects.8 The initial reaction
in New Granada was about the same as in most of Spanish America.
Viceroy Antonio Amar y Borb6n called together an assembly which
acceded to his proposal to acknowledge Ferdinand VII as king and
proclaim a state of war with France. But news of the insurgent up-
rising of 1809 in Quito, in which the populace overthrew the president
and audiencia, caused further turmoil-and some sympathy. The
viceroy was determined to suppress this revolt, while at the same time
he tried vainly to prevent news of it from speeding throughout New
Granada. The regime became more oppressive; Narifio, recently re-
leased from prison, was again incarcerated. Discontentment was
rife and there was a feeling that the Seville junta did not have ade-
quate colonial representation. The year 1810 opened, in the words
of Camilo Torres, the leading spokesman for the discontented, with
"black clouds which threaten a terrible storm.""'
That year of 1810 saw an increasingly popular sentiment for colo-
nial autonomy, since it appeared that the French would succeed in
destroying the junta in Seville. The patriots desired equal status with
Spain under a single crown, though some were beginning to think
more in terms of complete independence because of the uncertain
conditions in Spain. After feelings reached the point of mob violence
in Bogota a junta was formed, and the reluctant viceroy became its
president. These events of July 20, 1810, cause that date to be con-
sidered as the beginning of the revolution and the founding of the
nation, though independence had not actually been declared. Within
a month the viceroy had been deposed. By 1811 the United Provinces
of New Granada was proclaimed. But the real struggle had not yet


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

The tumultuous events of the following decade will not be dis-
cussed here. The disastrous regional jealousies during the war period
are treated elsewhere. The stirring events of the wars, the career of
Bolivar and other heroes, seem more to fit the history of the nation
than that of the colony. It is time to turn from the political theme to
other aspects of colonial history.


Although New Spain and Peru were more brilliant in the colonial
sky, New Granada had a considerable economic significance. For
one thing, it became the heaviest gold-producing area of the Empire.
The great bulk of Spanish treasure, the tons of ore that poured from
Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Potosi, San Luis Potosi, the mines of Nueva
Vizcaya, consisted, of course, of silver, not gold. But gold had been
the subject of first interest in the Bahamas and Greater Antilles, and
gold it was that Cesar and later explorers found in quantities in the
Indian guacas, or graves, of the Sinu River valley. Grave-robbing, or
guaqueria, was a major activity in the sixteenth century and led gold
seekers southward into Antioquia as Robledo and later followers
pushed into the region from the south.20 Although guaqueria has
continued even into the present century and led colonization into
the Cordillera Central in the late nineteenth century,21 its main period
in the Sinui was past by the end of the sixteenth century. In the long
run, placer mining was of much greater importance. By the late
seventeenth century much of the placer mining of the Caribbean,
Cauca, and Magdalena lowlands had played out, but the highlands
of Antioquia reached their mining peak in the eighteenth century. By
that time the Pacific lowlands-the Choc6-were also important,
and in the early nineteenth century Humboldt estimated that the
Choc6 was producing over half of the viceroyalty's gold.22 At least in
so far as the outside world was concerned, gold production was the
chief raison d'etre of New Granada.
James King has compared New Granada to the gold-producing
captaincy of Minas Gerais in Brazil: "For just as slave-worked gold



deposits were the foundation of the prosperity of the great Brazilian
capitania during the eighteenth century, so the gold washed from the
streams of the Choc6, Popayan, and Antioquia by gangs of Negro
slaves constituted the life blood of trade and commerce in the Vice-
royalty of New Granada during the same period."23 By the late colo-
nial period increasing amounts of silver were also being produced.
The exploitation of platinum had begun in the Choc6 area and was
a government monopoly. The old monopoly of emeralds continued.24
The mining story has interesting and significant tangential themes.
One is that of labor. Most of the Indian workers died off from
European diseases, and Negroes became the predominant group of
mine workers after the seventeenth century. They were able to work
better in the New Granadan mines than in those of Mexico and Peru
because the former were situated at lower elevations.25
Related to the gold and slave themes is that of the growth in im-
portance of the port of Cartagena de Indias. Cartagena's fine natural
bay, its connections with the interior, and its fortifications are dis-
cussed elsewhere in this study. Most of New Granada's gold went to
Cartagena, where it was picked up by the annual Tierra Firme
galleons. This convoyed fleet sailed annually after the mid-sixteenth
century.26 The gold was carried along with Spanish goods to Porto-
belo, site of the trade fair for South America, and then back to Spain.
So important was Cartagena for defense and trade that it had the
only consulado, the powerful merchants' organization, of northern
South America; Bogota, unlike Mexico City, was never allowed to
have an inland consulado.27 After the decline of the fleet system in
the eighteenth century, the port of Cartagena survived on the basis
of registro ships allowed to trade directly with Spain. Cartagena was
also one of the chief slave-trade ports of the Spanish Empire through-
out the colonial period.28 It was here that the famous San Pedro
Claver devoted long years of his life to the alleviation of the diseases
and other sufferings of the slaves.29 The Bourbon economic reforms
of the eighteenth century, easing restrictions on colonial trade, were
favorable for Cartagena. Yet most of the trade of the late eighteenth
and early nineteenth centuries on that coast continued to be illegal.
This was probably simply one of a number of signs that New Granada
was restlessly stirring, and outgrowing colonial status.


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia


A further colonial theme is intellectual life, which again is far too
large to more than merely mention here.30 But it should be men-
tioned, for Colombia has aways been proud of the intellectual and
literary tradition that stems from the colonial centuries, and that
Bogota is "the Athens of America" is an ancient claim. The colony
had some writers who became known beyond its borders.3 The first
of note was a soldier of the conquest, Juan de Castellanos, who be-
came a priest and in middle life began to write. He is particularly
remembered for his Historia del Nuevo Reino de Granada and his
Elegias de varones ilustres de Indias, chronicles of the conquest. A
Franciscan, Fray Pedro de Aguado, wrote a Historia de Santa Marta
y Nuevo Reino de Granada in the 1570's. A recent writer has stated,
"Aguado absolutely lacks literary pretensions";32 if anything, this
makes his work more useful today. Another Franciscan, Fray Pedro
Sim6n, wrote a multivolumed work in the early seventeenth century
entitled Noticias historiales de las conquistas. Another churchman
was the famous Lucas Fernandez de Piedrahita, whose seventeenth-
century work, Historia general del Nuevo Reino de Granada, is one
of the most important literary products of the colony. Juan Rodriguez
Freile's El Carnero or Conquista y descrubrimiento del Nuevo Reino
de Granada, written early in the seventeenth century, has been cited
and used elsewhere in this study. It emphasizes early events in Santa
Fe de Bogota. Perhaps in this brief sketch mention should be made of
Francisca Josefa de la Concepci6n, usually referred to as Mother
Castillo, who is held in high esteem by commentators on New
Granadan literature.33 Living her entire life in Tunja, this religious
mystic wrote a number of works-most notable of which was Sen-
timientos espirituales-and has been compared to Santa Teresa. Few
other writers stand out after this time. In any case Colombian litera-
ture will be more expertly discussed by another conference par-
The schools of the colony, as elsewhere in Spanish America, were
run by the Church. Although the elementary schools were free they
tended, of course, to be for the privileged few. The Dominicans
founded the Colegio de Nuestra Sefiora del Rosario in Santa Fe in

1657." College seminaries were established in several towns and
cities by the Society of Jesus. The Franciscans founded the College
of San Buenaventura in Santa Fe. Perhaps the most famous Colom-
bian school to this day is the Jesuit Colegio de San Bartolome, also
in the capital. Founded originally as the Colegio de San Luis it
existed briefly in the late sixteenth century and became permanent
under its new name in 1605. A Colombian has written, "From the
halls of San Bartolome and El Rosario have come most of the sages
and patriots who honor our annals as well as the heroes and martyrs
of our independence."35
Education and scientific thought were traditional and even back-
ward in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; there were ad-
herents of scholasticism even in the nineteenth century. But the
eighteenth century was a time of intellectual ferment and change.
Cited by Spain's enemies and detractors as a "horrible example" of
the lack of enlightenment,36 Spain was slow to advance, compared to
her stronger partner, France. But unorthodox ideas did penetrate
Spain, and Spain herself under the new Bourbon dynasty fostered
new concepts in her colonies. The universities and schools began to
change, particularly after the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767. But
as Benjamin Keen has written, "The most significant cultural ac-
tivity took place outside academic halls-in the Economic Societies
. .in private gatherings . and in the colonial press.""3 New
Granada was much affected by the "New Learning" with its secular
emphasis and interest in science. "The atmosphere of colonial New
Granada became charged with revolution, Enlightenment, and in-
tellectualism.""8 Of the many scientific expeditions which came from
Europe to America in the eighteenth century, several came to or
passed through New Granada. An example is the French-Spanish
expedition of 1735, jointly sponsored by Louis XV and Philip V,
which paused at Cartagena en route to Quito to measure one degree
at the equator in order to calculate the circumference of the world.
Several expeditions were made in the second half of the century, that
of Alexander von Humboldt at the turn of the century being the
most famous.
Several of the viceroys after 1750 were progressive and reform-
minded.9 Jos Solis Folch de Cardona in the 1750's worked to im-


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

prove transportation facilities and trade. Manuel de Guirior in the
1770's patronized the arts and recommended the establishment of a
university in Santa FV; this proposal was rejected by the Crown,
probably because of opposition from the Dominican convent which
was the sole degree-granting institution in the capital." His successor,
Manuel Antonio de Fl6rez, established the first printing press and
authorized the creation of a public library. Yet it was he who faced
the popular uprising known as the Comunero Revolt already de-
scribed. Probably the most celebrated and "enlightened" of the later
viceroys was the one who ruled after Fl6rez, the Archbishop-Viceroy
Antonio Caballero y G6ngora. Holding the highest posts in ecclesiasti-
cal and civil government during the years 1782-1788, Caballero y
G6ngora worked to expand and improve education and mission
activity. But he also asked the king for mineralogists and German-
trained foundry experts. This is one of the best examples of the "useful
knowledge" aspect of the Enlightenment in which the authorities in
Spain were interested. Juan Jos6 de Elhuiyar was sent to Germany to
study and then was brought to New Granada. Silver and emerald
mines were reopened as a result. The Archbishop-Viceroy was also
interested in other aspects of science. He will be remembered for his
appointment of the Spanish scientist Jose Celestino Mutis to head the
Botanical Expedition, one of three such ventures, the other two being
in Mexico and Peru. Mutis was a physician from Cdiz who was
prosecuted by the Inquisition for lecturing on Copernicus in Santa
Fe de Bogota in 1773.41 By the 1780's, however, the intellectual at-
mosphere was more favorable for scientific activity. The original pur-
pose of the Botanical Expedition was to explore, to map, and
especially to collect botanical specimens, between the Caribbean and
the equator. It became, however, an institute and center of learning
by 1791, and a section on zoology was also added. Painters were
trained to paint flowers and animals. Thousands of specimens and
pictures were collected, and the Flora de Bogotd was an impressive
volume. In 1803 Mutis founded the first American astronomical
observatory. World famous, Mutis was visited by the celebrated
Alexander von Humboldt in the course of that renowned scientist's
American travels.2 Mutis's work was carried on by his most cele-
brated disciple, Francisco Jos6 Caldas, whose important scientific



career was cut short by his execution early in the Wars of Inde-
pendence. Caldas represents the prime example of how the question-
ing of traditional authorities in the field of science could lead to a
questioning of traditional authorities in the world of government and
politics. The mestizo physician Francisco Xavier Eugenio Santa Cruz
y Espejo is another such example. He became an editor of BogotA's
first important newspaper, the Papel Peri4dico de Santa Fe de
Bogotd, but had to flee to his native Quito because of persecution as
well as prosecution from the government. He died in 1796 from the
effects of several imprisonments.48 A number of the leaders of the
independence movements were such men, "who read Rousseau and
founded Sociedades Econ6micas, who rejected metaphysics and
started newspapers."44

The colonial theme which I wish most heavily to emphasize is a fac-
tor still present, that of geographical isolation and difficulty of com-
munications. Possibly the most fundamental problem of Colombia
has been the difficulty of moving people, goods, and ideas between
the various patrias chicas, or isolated regional homelands. Perhaps
this localism is partly inherited, for the patria chica viewpoint
is an ancient one in Spain. But Colombian geography is certainly the
major cause. Before the advent of the airplane, communications were
extremely slow. In 1948 the writer, by shunning the air for land and
water, spent nine days traveling from Cartagena to BogotA. A year
later the trip was reversed, but in the air, in a little over two hours. In
colonial times and in the early nineteenth century, Santa Fe de
BogotA, although an audiencia seat and later a viceregal capital, was
extremely inaccessible. Although flour was produced on the sabana,
Cartagena obtained it from abroad because of bad and costly trans-
portation.45 Travel from the coast up the Magdalena River by
champdn or bongo,4" propelled by men with poles, was an inter-
minable and exhausting process. An Argentine visitor who made the
trip upriver by champdn in the nineteenth century wrote, "The trip
... lasted in general three months, at the end of which the patient
arrived at Honda, with thirty pounds less weight, eaten up by mos-


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

quitoes, starved, and paralyzed by the immobility of a posture of an
Aztec idol."4" And from Honda one still had to get over 10,000-foot
mountains to reach the sabana, a trip which in the early days could
be done only on foot or on the back of an Indian carrier. Other areas
were similarly isolated. As late as 1830 it took six months for goods
imported through Cartagena to reach Popayan.48 The rivers were
heavily relied upon, for there were no real roads and few bridges, and
even trails were often impassable. The rivers, however, were not then
and never have been really satisfactory or reliable as highways, though
Colombia has always depended upon them. Before the advent of the
steamboat there was less of a problem of miring and becoming hung
on a sandbar, it is true. But both in the colonial and national periods
there were many obstacles to travel from coast to interior via the
rivers. Cartagena, the major colonial port, had a nearly perfect bay.
But how were goods to reach the interior? The Bocas de Ceniza,
mouth of the Magdalena River, had always been difficult to enter
because of sandbars, adverse currents, and sometimes unfavorable
weather. An example of the problem is that of a Captain Jer6nimo de
Aguayo, who in the mid-sixteenth century tried on several occasions
during a period of five months to sail from Cartagena through the
Bocas. Plagued by storms, he failed in each attempt. He noted the
wrecks of several ships which also had tried.49 Contact had to be
made with the Magdalena if trade were to be carried on with the
interior. One means which presented itself was a natural waterway,
one of several prehistoric channels of the Magdalena which meander-
ed from the future site of Calamar on the river to the Bay of Bar-
bacoas just south of the Bay of Cartagena. Before the last quarter of
the sixteenth century the idea had occurred to the Spaniards of
making navigable this potential route between this major port and
the river. Thus was born the Dique Canal, which has figured con-
stantly in Colombian economic history ever since.50 Not all of the
vicissitudes of this channel's history can be discussed here. Suffice it to
say that it was never satisfactory, perennially silting up and often not
being reopened for several years. The canal was virtually abandoned
during the long years of the Wars of Independence; new projects for
opening it came with the national period.
That the colony's main port should have to depend on this channel



or on foot or horseback travel for contact with the interior indicates
how dreadfully inadequate communications were. The second port
was the older city of Santa Marta, and its communication problems
if anything were even greater. The Bay of Santa Marta faces west like
that of Cartagena but is not comparably enclosed. It is deep, however,
and the peninsula and islands of its northern side give it protection
from the winds. The colonial traveler from Santa Marta to the
Magdalena River had a choice between braving the Bocas de Ceniza
or making his way through the swampy cienaga region lying between
the river and the lower slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta
to the east. This trip was usually accomplished partly on horseback
and partly by bongo or champdn, poled at great labor through the
shallow cienagas and vegetation-choked canos.5 Since no real efforts
were made to improve these channels in the colonial period it is not
surprising that Santa Marta did not compare in commercial or
political importance to Cartagena.
The third port for the Caribbean coast was Barranquilla,52 found-
ed in 1629, but never achieving real importance until the late nine-
teenth century. Barranquilla's communications problem was different
from that of Cartagena and Santa Marta. It had a great advantage
in being situated right on the Magdalena. But it did not have easy
access to the sea. The river mouth was often obstructed. Consequently
several satellite towns located on the nearby Bay of Sabanilla served
in turn as the actual ports until well into the twentieth century. There
was as great a problem in transporting goods from that bay to the
river as there was from the bays of Cartagena and Santa Marta. A
trail gradually evolved between Sabanilla and Barranquilla, a dis-
tance of 15 miles. But even in 1860 a report stated that there was no
wagon road, "travel being on donkeyback over precipitous hills and
through dust and sand drifts, rendering the carriage of heavy pack-
ages dangerous and almost impossible."" The alternative which oc-
casionally served was the Cano, or Canal de la Pina. In prehistoric
times one of the several successive main channels of the Magdalena,
the Canal de la Pina by the eighteenth century was a narrow distribu-
tary leading from the river north of Barranquilla to the Bay of
Sabanilla. As in the case of the more famous Dique Canal, there
came a time when the channel became too choked by silt and vegeta-


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

tion to allow easy navigation even by small bongos. Contrary to what
was done in the case of the Dique, no major efforts were made to
clear the Pina in colonial times. Barranquilla remained insignificant
in size and importance.
Buenaventura, the main Pacific-coast port of Colombia, was found-
ed on the island of Cascajal where the Dagua River reaches the Bay
of Buenaventura. It was intended as a port for Cali and other Cauca
Valley settlements, but Indians burned the town and it virtually
ceased to exist for many years. After its rebounding it was of minor
importance until the twentieth century. Again, one of the chief prob-
lems was poor transportation connections with the interior; they are
still inadequate.
The isolation of New Granada's ports from the interior settlements,
then, is an example of the general problem of isolation. This was an
obvious cause of a political, social, economic, cultural localism which
was born in the colonial period and which can still be seen today.
The costeno of the Caribbean, the bogotano,5 the antioqueno each
developed his own accent and local usage of words, and in other ways
showed and was proud of his differences from the others.
Especially notable was the independent way in which Antioquia
developed. James J. Parsons, in answering the question "Who are the
Antioquefios?", has written that they are
a homogeneous culture group which is one of the most remarkable
products of the Spanish conquest of the Americas. Here is a pious, proud,
and prosperous mestizo-mulatto people, self-styled "the Yankees of South
America," whose extraordinary colonizing genius, community spirit, and
cultural particularism have made them the dominant and most clearly
defined population element of the republic. In breaking through the
bounds of a long and effective geographical isolation they have emerged
with a quality of democratic individualism and a sense of balanced living
which, tempered by an underlying and determined conservatism, has
given their land a unique and attractive personality of its own. Being
Antioquefio means much more to them than being Colombian.55
The old province of Antioquia, heartland of the antioqueHos, was
settled by gold seekers in the sixteenth century. It was very difficult of
access, the settler or visitor having to pole up the Magdalena, then
up the Cauca, and then travel for ten days or more over "mountain
trails hardly fit for horses.""56 Few white women made this difficult



journey, and the raza antioquena from that day to this has had strong
mestizo and mulatto elements. The old idea of a heavy populating by
Christianized Jews has been proven false, and seems to have been
fostered by "jealous fellow countrymen in their painful awareness of
the antioquenios superior aptitude and facility for business and com-
merce." Rather it was other energetic people, Basques and Asturians,
who constituted probably 80 per cent of the early settlers." Large
families have been an antioquefio tradition, and from the "heart-
land" of Antioquia province the growing population gradually
spread, especially southward along the mountain ranges. Their con-
nection with coffee cultivation and its expansion is not a part of this
colonial discussion. Their development as a rather unique people,
with such characteristics as strong family ties, religious devotion,
strict social and moral codes, high literacy rate, low crime rate,
frugality, and ambition,"5 has colonial origins. Their somewhat sing-
song accent is the butt of friendly jesting on the part of other Colom-
Another distinctive region was the far South. Call and PopayAn
had been founded by Belalc&zar, and were administratively under the
audiencia of Quito until the founding of the Viceroyalty of New
Granada. Ties with Ecuador and the port of Guayaquil continued,
however, and were important for Quito with the decline of her textile
industry. This trade extended north into Antioquia and helped the
growth of Medellin. But Bogota was effectively cut off from this
intercourse by geography."0 Cali and the Cauca Valley were eventu-
ally to depend more upon the post of Buenaventura, and while Cali
has grown to the bustling metropolis she is today Popayan remains
essentially colonial in size, atmosphere, and architecture.
Localism or regionalism reached the point of internecine warfare
during the Wars of Independence. While a junta in Bogota tried to
centralize efforts, independent juntas were formed in Cartagena,
Antioquia, Socorro, Mariquita, and elsewhere. Examples of strong
rivalry were the Cartagena-Santa Marta and Cartagena-Bogota
feuds, and the Cali-Popayin fight. During the early war years, the
period known as La Patria Boba (Foolish Fatherland), "the chief
occupation of the granadinos appears to have been not preparation
for a common defense against the Spanish enemy but rather the


The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia

drafting of constitutions. It was widely assumed that federalism was
the perfect form of government; hence each province, and often
just one section of a province, had to be a sovereign state."61 Carta-
gena struck for independence early; in November of 1811 the Re-
public of Cartagena was proclaimed. Santa Marta remained a loyalist
center for some time; consequently actual military operations against
each other were added to the older rivalry as ports. One of the most
ironic episodes of the wars was Bolivar's siege of Cartagena in 1815,
after that city had not complied with his request for arms and sup-
plies for his expedition against Santa Marta. During the siege royalist
Santa Marta offered help to patriot Cartagena.62 It was following
this fiasco that Bolivar went into his voluntary exile in Jamaica.
Even more disruptive was the political rivalry between Cartagena
and Santa Fe de Bogota. It was seen as early as 1810, when the
cartageneros resented Bogoti's pretensions to a "Supreme Junta."
Cartagena, heading a Party of Confederation, called for a junta to
meet in Medellin. Bogota, representing a centralist faction, of course
opposed this countermovement. In 1811 the United Provinces of
New Granada was proclaimed in Bogota, but Cartagena Province
proceeded to declare its own independence as has been mentioned.
This rivalry continued into the national period with the federalism-
unitarism struggles of the mid-nineteenth century.

Is there any connection between this colonial survey and contem-
porary Colombia? The answer is obvious. There are physical relics
of the colony: the massive walls of Cartagena; the churches and
public buildings of that city, Bogota, Popayan, and others. There are
still difficulties of transportation and communications, and they are
still related to Colombia's geography, for the mountains, the hot val-
leys, the silted rivers, the sometimes-flooded llanos of the East have
not changed in mere human time and still offer problems to man. The
faces of Colombians, some clearly Spanish, some showing Negro slave
ancestry, others indicating Indian antecedents-these are reminders
of the colonial era. But more subtle factors are present. The Colom-
bian poet and scholar today is proud of his nation's intellectual tradi-


tion. And can we discern some of the spirit of the conquistadores, of
the pioneering antioquenos, in the industrial pioneers of Medellin?
Is there a bit of the enlightened eighteenth-century scientist-natural-
rights defender in the conscientious, selfless adherents of democratic
government in Colombia today? In spite of the bewildering changes
of the twentieth century the colonial past still lives in Colombia.


1. Since this paper is for the most part a synthesis rather than a research study,
I have made no effort at complete documentation. The footnotes are largely for
the purpose of suggesting sources for further investigation. It might be well in this
first note to mention the Boletin de historic e antigiiedades (Bogota, 1903-) as
a source of many articles on the colonial period, and the celebrated work of Dr.
Jos6 Manuel Groot, Historia eclesidstica y civil de Nueva Granada (5 vols.;
Bogota, 1889-1893) as a massive work that is chiefly on this era. Neither is
specifically cited in the following notes.
2. Juan Rodriguez Freile, The Conquest of New Granada, translated and edited
by William C. Atkinson (London: Folio Society, 1961), editor's statement on
page 191. This document, long known by the Spanish title El Carnero de Bogota,
is a chronicle by a santafereiio who lived from 1566 to around 1640. Atkinson,
in this beautiful edition, uses the spelling Freile, but older untranslated editions
sometimes give the spelling as Fresle.
3. See Burton Leroy Gordon, Human Geography and Ecology in the Sind
Country of Colombia, Ibero-Americana 39 (Berkeley, California, 1957); James
Jerome Parsons, "Settlement of the Sinui Valley of Colombia," Geographical Re-
view, XLII (New York, 1952), 67-86; and Antioqueiio Colonization in Western
Colombia, Ibero-Americana 32 (Berkeley, California, 1948). My later references
to this work are to Parsons' unpublished thesis, "Antioquefio Colonization in
Western Colombia: an Historical Geography" (Berkeley, 1948), rather than to
the published and somewhat condensed volume for the Ibero-Americana series;
Robert C. West, Colonial Placer Mining in Colombia (Baton Rouge: Louisiana
State University Studies, 1952); Raymond E. Crist, The Cauca Valley, Colombia:
Land Tenure and Land Use (Baltimore: Waverly Press, 1952).
4. Rodriguez Freile, Atkinson's Introduction, p. 7.
5. Ibid., p. 63; Jesus Maria Henao and Gerardo Arrubla, History of Colombia,
translated and edited by J. Fred Rippy (Chapel Hill: University of North Caro-
lina Press, 1938). The Rippy translation and condensation of the two-volume
Henao and Arrubla work is the only history of Colombia in English.
6. James Ferguson King, "Negro Slavery in the Viceroyalty of New Granada"
(unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1939), p. 55.

72 The Caribbean: Contemporary Colombia
7. Rodriguez Freile, Atkinson's Epilogue, p. 221.
8. Ibid., p. 223.
9. The best published study of Cartagena emphasizing colonial defenses is
Pedro Julio Dousdeb6s, Cartagena de Indias, plaza fuerte (BogotA: Ministerio
de Guerra, 1948).
10. For the official French account of this attack see Jean Bernard Desjeans
(Baron de Pointis), Relation de l'expldition de Carthagene faite par les francois
en M.DC.XCVII (Amsterdam, 1698).
11. There are several English accounts of this siege, including Edward Vernon's
own writings: Original Papers Relating to the Expedition to Carthagena (London,
1744); a pamphlet attacking British ineptitude in the affair, An Account of the
Expedition to Carthagena, with Explanatory Notes and Observations (London,
1743); and a defense in answer to this, probably authored by Vernon, A Journal
of the Expedition to Carthagena, With Notes. In Answer to a Late Pamphlet
(London, 1744). I am not aware of any published Spanish account of these
12. Three of the several books on this subject are Manuel Bricefio, Los Comu-
neros, historic de la insurreccidn de 1781 (Bogota, 1881); Eduardo Posada, ed.,
Los Comuneros (Bogota: Biblioteca de Historia Nacional, I, 1902); and GermAn
Arciniegas, Los Comuneros (Bogota: Editorial ABC, 1939).
13. Modern and Contemporary Latin America (New York: J. B. Lippincott,
1952), p. 583. Bernstein's discussion of the Comunero movement is one of the best
to be found in English.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid., p. 584.
16. In spite of more recent writings, the standard biography of Miranda is still
that of William Spence Robertson, The Life of Miranda (2 vols.; Chapel Hill,
17. Among the works on Narifio are Jose Maria Vergara y Vergara, Vida y
escritos del General Antonio Nariiio, a work originally published in 1859 and re-
produced by the Colombian Ministry of Education in the Biblioteca popular de
cultural colombiana in 1945; and Jorge Ricardo Vejarano, Narifio: su vida, sus
infortunios, su talla hist6rica, published in the same series and in the same year.
18. All textbooks on Latin American history give the over-all picture. For greater
detail see Henao and Arrubla, Part II, or Jose Manuel Restrepo, Historia de la
revolucidn de la Republica de Colombia (4 vols.; 1858).
19. Torres to Ignacio Tenorio, May 20, 1810, Boletin de Historia, III (1905),
as quoted in Henao and Arrubla, p. 195.
20. See West, pp. 6-7.
21. Ibid., p. 67.
22. Alexander von Humboldt, Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain
(4 vols.; London, 1811), III, 382, as quoted in King, p. 38. See also West, chap.
I, passim.
23. King, pp. 27-28.
24. Bernstein, p. 585.
25. West, pp. 78-84; King, pp. 28-29.
26. The role of Cartagena in Caribbean trade has not been thoroughly studied.
For general discussions see C. H. Haring, Trade and Navigation between Spain
and the Indies in the Time of the Hapsburgs (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1918), and The Spanish Empire in America (New York: Oxford Univer-
sity Press, 1947); and Bailey W. Diffie, Latin-American Civilization: Colonial
Period (Harrisburg, 1945).