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The Nasa people, also known as the Paez, are an Indigenous people who have lived in the Cauca state of southwestern Colombia for centuries. With an estimated population of some 120,000 members, their name comes from the Spanish version of the word pats, meaning “to the right of the river”. They live in settlements of 100 to 4,500 inhabitants, mostly spread across a narrowing in the plains between the eastern and central cordilleras of Cauca. Most depend on farming for their livelihood, producing coffee, potatoes and hemp, and growing plantains, manioc and maize. The majority of Nasa people are bilingual in Spanish and in Paez, an unwritten Indigenous tongue.

This Indigenous nation has an age-old tradition of defending its culture and territory. In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, Spanish conquistadors tried to dominate the Nasa by establishing a system of forced labor called the encomienda. In the early 18th century, the Nasa rebelled against Spanish domination and forced the Spanish Crown to recognize their territorial autonomy in exchange for their acceptance of colonial rule and Christianity. However, as time went on, the few rights that they were granted for their freedom and territory were reduced. Nowadays, most of their resource-rich traditional territory has been taken over by wealthy landowners.

In more recent times, the Nasa have been caught in the crossfire of ongoing armed conflict between the leftist FARC guerillas and the Colombian armed forces. For decades, they have watched hundreds of their people die in a bloody war on their ancestral lands in the Cauca, a key hub for the production and trafficking of cocaine. In a bid to end the bloodshed, the Nasa community has begun to assert control over its ancestral land by organizing a string of peaceful protests to rid the region of gunslingers for once and for all.
Feb 5, 2016
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