In Colombia, Christian Amerindians are persecuted by their communities

In Colombia, Christian Amerindians are persecuted by their communities

In Colombia, where just over 3% of the population is Amerindian and enjoys rights guaranteeing the protection of their identity, converts to Christianity from these groups are persecuted and discriminated against by other members of their tribes.

More than 80 Native American ethnic groups exist in the "Pearl of the Caribbean" and the Constitution protects their heritage. Since 1991, the government has defined "indigenous territories" where their own laws, traditions and animist vision of the world apply, emphasizes the NGO Portes Ouvertes. It is therefore forbidden to evangelize there. However, about 30% of the inhabitants of these regions are Christians, and they are not protected by the law applying to the rest of the country. More than 40% of this third of converts are persecuted by their ethnic communities.

Portes Ouvertes quotes the testimony of Rodrigo (pseudonym):

"No! You can't be a pastor because you're Native American. No one here is allowed to introduce other beliefs. If you keep spreading the gospel, we'll kill you."

Rodrigo and his co-religionists cannot therefore claim two identities, Christian and Amerindian, and he knows that these threats are not empty words. Indeed, the tribes have already put to death several of their own who had converted to Christianity.

Difficulties in educating Christian children

Along with death threats or murders, Christians must in fact give up enrolling their children in Amerindian schools where traditional and animist rituals are taught. In 2013 Portes Ouvertes helped build a Christian school for ethnic Arhuaco children after their families were driven out of their villages. The school is funded by organic coffee growing. One of the Christians in the community said:

"You have encouraged us to educate these children according to biblical values. They will later exert a positive influence on society."

But often the Christian schools are far away and the parents cannot therefore send their children to school anywhere. In addition, there are pressures for Christian parents not to withdraw their children from indigenous schools, because income of tribal governments depends on the number of students.

Schools created by Christians are often attacked and even burned. Ana Silvia, a teacher, was attacked and tortured on several occasions and even saw guerrillas fighting the Colombian government burst into her classroom to abduct the children and make them soldiers. The FARC had been able to do so with the authorization of the Amerindian leaders.

Some children and teenagers are collected in a center created by Portes Ouvertes, but they flee, leaving their families behind. It is the case of Valentina, 15, who refused to take animist classes contrary to his faith:

"I felt that I had no freedom, and I had always wanted to leave, to go out!"

When her father and other villagers demanded an exemption, the local guerrillas issued horrible threats against them.

Not only schools, but also churches and homes are attacked. However, the legal autonomy of indigenous territories also applies in judicial matters and not only in administrative matters. This means that crimes against Christians are likely to go unpunished.

The law, which seemed like a good idea for the preservation of an identity, leads to a denial of individual freedoms and the rejection of human rights. However, points out Portes Ouvertes, many Colombians, but also many Western ethnologists, are not concerned about this, because they want above all to protect the cultural traditions of the Amerindians and are convinced that the Christians are destroying them.

Jean Sarpedon

Image credit: Shutterstock/MDV Edwards

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