This piece by investigative journalist Edilma Prada Céspedes, produced by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, sheds light on the growing concern of indigenous groups in Colombia’s Amazon that their sacred hills and resources will be exploited by mining companies. Community leaders struggle to assert their rights against miners as they try to prevent environmental damage that could contaminate their rivers or force them from their homes.
A handful of indigenous guards watch over the jungle to prevent a tragedy that their grandparents see in their dreams: the destruction of their "sacred houses", the hills. A young leader remembers the day that the tranquillity was disrupted in his community. When he learned that there was a 30-year license granted on his territory to extract coltan, one of the most scarce and precious minerals, used by the world's big technology industries when manufacturing cell phones, computers and electronic devices. In Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo has the largest number of reserves of what is considered the new 'black or blue gold'. In Latin America, there are mines in Venezuela and Colombia.
The Timbó communities of Betania are multi-ethnic. They are inhabited by 23 families from seven indigenous groups with beliefs rooted in their natural environment. Living together in this community are the Desanos, the people of the lightning; Guananos, the people of the water; Sirianos, the people of the clouds; Cubeos, the sons of Kubai; Tucanos, the people of the toucan; Tuyucas, the people of the clay; and Barás, the people of the fish. They are all friends of nature, subsisting on fishing, hunting and gathering the fruits of the forest.
The community is surrounded by hills - which they consider their "sacred houses" -, and by streams, and flowing rivers. Timbó de Betania is in the middle of the Murutinga and Bogotá Cachivera settlements, 50 kilometres from Mitú, the provincial capital, at the end of the only road in Vaupés, known for its white sands and reddish clay. According to the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) in this part of the country, the southeast of Colombia and on the border with Brazil, there are 37,600 people and 27 ethnic groups living together.