Taironas: Culture, Customs and Art

The Taironas Was an indigenous group that lived in several Colombian settlements for over two thousand years.

Located north of the Colombian territory, Tairona culture, in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, comprised the areas of three departments: Cesar, Magdalena and La Guajira, bathed by important rivers: Cesar, Ranchería, Palomino, Don Diego, Guatapurí, Foundation And Aracataca.

Tairona characteristics

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta covers an area of ​​17,000 square kilometers. Its peaks Colón and Bolivar are the highest peaks of the Sierra with 5,775 m of height; The highest in Colombia and the world near the sea.

The mountainous and steep terrain of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta led the tribes to live on small and large land, which facilitated the formation of cacicazgos, territories where the cacique commanded.

This town did not know the writing and used the wheel and the animals to move. They spoke Chibcha and men practiced polygamy and exogamy, that is, they could make love with members of different tribes.

Here are some of the most interesting and curious peculiarities of this indigenous group:

Characteristics of taironas


The economy of the taironas was basically agricultural and was characterized by the cultivation of maize, auyama, bean, arracach or cassava, cultivated the latter by Some of the world's major ethnic groups . The taironas also ate the guanábana, the pineapple, the guava and the avocado.

The indigenous people took advantage of the variety of thermal floors, that is, the different temperatures of the land to facilitate the harvest of the different products.

As far as the diversity of the climate ranged from the warm lands of the sea, passing through temperate areas (average temperature), to the cold and high mountains whose great agricultural production held the population for more than 700 years. Specifically from the 9th century to the late 16th century of the Christian era.

In addition the taironas frequently had a high consumption of fish or goat meat or rodents for celebrations or special days. Reason why fishing was more important than hunting animals.

In general, these communities practiced the exchange of products. For example, the inhabitants of the warm lands produced salt, cotton, fish and snails that they changed by means of coca, maize and fruit to the tribes of the average earth; And potato and other products to groups in the cold areas.

Architectural and engineering works

His engineering works were practically perfect and in no case came to affect the environment. Broadly speaking the group always maintained the ecological balance despite its population density, which revolved around about 200 groups of up to 3,000 people each.

Among the most outstanding constructions are the stone retaining walls in the mountains, which have a height of up to 9 meters. Normally they served as support to the terraces, they marked the roads, they channeled the water flows and they avoided the erosion of the mountains.

The shapes of the circular, semicircular or oval terraces varied according to the location and use they were to give. The ovals were built in the highest parts. Overall, the size was between 50 and 880 square meters.

On the terraces they built the bohio huts, whose main structure was of wood. The cylindrical walls were reinforced with reed and interwoven with mats and the conical roof was armed with straw.

Due to the abundant rainfall regime, they were forced to perfect the techniques to control the flow of water. The irrigation system had special channels that prevented erosion in desert areas. Curiously, the underground canals that were built still continue to function.

The efficiency of the roads connected the main roads with those of the religious cults, as well as those of the families of the cacicazgo (tribe) with the place where the crops were made.

His great abilities have allowed his immense stone work, after being buried for more than 500 years under the jungle, to be discovered, can be appreciated and still fulfills the functions of his creation.

Town planning

The Taironas reached a high degree in the urban conception, understood as the set of technical, administrative, social and economic norms that regulate the operation and the harmonious, rational and human development of a region.

They achieved a perfect integration of the moment they lived with their projection of the future and did not try to change the environment but to adapt to it as they found it, once chosen as a place of propitious settlement.

They managed to maintain the balance between the distribution of habitat and its exploitation. In fact, it was the Spaniards who broke that balance and normal development, with their practices of looting, violence and domination.

This urban scheme was a unit: terrace of housing - family group - area of ​​production nearby, individual or community. This graphic was repeated and multiplied keeping the relationship habitat production.

Gold and silverware, ceramics, textiles and musical instruments

Taironas, one of the most advanced cultures of pre-Hispanic America, developed an extraordinary goldwork that stood out above that of other peoples. Most of these objects were adornments that were used to adorn the body.

The famous wide pectorals, in hammered gold, with figures of suns, animals and men, represented the gods they worshiped: the sun, the moon, the earth, the jaguar and the serpent. The nose rings, earmuffs and sublabial ornaments stylized the features of animals whose properties were assumed by the person who wore them.

As for iconography, the artists of the group combined the human with the animal to make pieces of bone and ceramics from the region. In some of these objects, the work with the molten wax and the filigree is also highlighted.

The men and women of these tribes made tissues in which they showed a sample of their feelings, thinking and acting. They developed a whole industry with the tissues and used colorful feathers and with the human bones of the enemies killed in combat they made flutes.

Teyuna, spiritual and commercial center

Entering in the region, through the valley of the Buritaca River, are the 1,200 steps that give access to Teyuna, the lost city (popular name) of the Taironas and the most important because it is the spiritual and commercial center of the population.

There, at 1,200 meters above sea level, you can see the first houses built on terraces enclosed in stone walls. Until its discovery, in 1.973, Teyuna, that in chibcha means Origin of the peoples of the earth , Remained neglected for 375 years.

Pressed by the arrival of the Spaniards on the coast of Santa Marta in 1525, the natives were increasingly concentrated in the interior of the Sierra and sheltering in Teyuna around 1540. In addition, the group built two cabins on each terrace for a total of 280 homes so it is estimated that some 1,500 people made up its population.

Teyuna, also called Buritaca 200 by the number of archaeological finds found in the Sierra, was abandoned around 1,600 and apparently by outbreaks of epidemics that forced its inhabitants to leave the lands.

This territory remained thus desolated by more than three centuries and the natives so the natives settled in small settlements along the valley, a territory of difficult access for the conquerors.

Although the natives stopped visiting Teyuna, their descendants the Kogui knew and secretly kept the exact location of this city. But it was not until 1920 when the peasants who colonized the lower Sierra saw the possibility of finding the treasures.

Thus began the sacking of the tombs, illegal activity known as guaquería and those who exercised this office were called guaqueros, who came to kill each other in the struggle for treasure. Many of these findings were resold in international trade and lost forever.

It was in 1976 when a scientific expedition from the Colombian government arrived in Teyuna and began the process of revaluation, restoration and conservation of the finds and terraces. Among the discoveries found were gold jewelry and finely carved ceramic vessels.

Also they were some swords, of which it is not known if they are there because the Spaniards managed to arrive at the lost city or because they were buried by the natives in the tombs like trophy of war.

Other customs and traditions

The taironas wore blankets of loom painted in varied colors; Jewels such as earmuffs, necklaces, crowns, bezotes, gold moquillos, fine and well carved stone. In addition they carried fans of feathers and palm for those that raised parrots and macaws by their colorful coloring.

They bathed in the ravines, in places specifically designed for it. They spinning fast and very thin, weaving slowly; They prepared the honey in large pots or pans. They performed parties and dances and there was also room for cleanliness, delight and idleness because with very little work had food and clothing for several days.

Between the 500 and 2,000 meters of altitude, other populations were found, in total 32 urban centers: Tigres, Alto de Mira, Frontera and Tankua. Concentrated mainly in the valleys of the rivers Garavito, San Miguel and Don Diego. Others already lost are Bonda, Pocigueica, Tayronacay Betoma .

Cultural identity

For some, the cultural identity of the Taironas is not so clear, they are, according to them, autonomous human groups with certain common socioeconomic and ideological features, that would be united by the relations of commercial and economic exchange.

The existing differences would be between the inhabitants of the sierra and of the coast, who would have maintained a degree of autonomy very similar to the one existing in the Kogis of today, with ties of economic and cultural dependence.

There are those who share the possible existence of a state whose purpose was conquest and domination; Although for others socio-political circumstances pointed to a possible confederation (pact) between the different villages.

The kogi, descendants of the taironas

The indigenous Kogi follow the ancestral traditions of the taironas and still today they continue speaking Chibcha like their ancestors. Linguistically, they belong to the macrochibcha family and are grouped in the valleys of the rivers Garavito, San Miguel, Palomino, Don Diego, Guatapurí and in the headwaters of the rivers Ranchería and Seville.

At present, clearing, logging and burning is the main technique of agricultural work on the Sierra Nevada lands, where 80 percent probably have some degree of erosion, according to experts by the settler. However, the natives also have to do with this deterioration despite its close relationship with nature.

The Kogi are aware of wage labor and the circulation of the currency that have determined socio-economic relations by throwing them into a process of peasanization.

By 2000 the population of the natives in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta reached 32,000 and belonged to the Kogi, Ica and Wiwa. In addition, the political relations of these groups with the state are coming forward with different indigenous organizations.


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  2. Explorations in 2006-2011, By Yuri Loveratto South America.
  3. The Lost City of the Tayronas. Alvaro Soto Holguin. Illustrated edition. Publisher I / m publishers, 2006. ISBN 9589343031, 9789589343036. 160 pages.
  4. Wheel Langebaek, Carl Henrik (2010) some aspects of the economy tayrona on the coast near cienaga (Magdalena). I maguaré; No. 5 (1987) 2256-5752 0120-3045.
  5. Explorations in the slope North of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta. Bernardo Valderrama Andrade and Guillermo Fonseca.
  6. The Spanish-indianischeauseinandersetzung in der nordlichen Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta (1501-1600) 1. Henning Bischof, archaeologist German, Bonn 1971.
  7. Treasures legendary of Colombia and the World By Javier OcampoLópez. Research ethnohistorical of Reichel-Dolmatoff (1951 and 197).
  8. Education and the Rise of Global Economy by Joel Spring.

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