Maps for Community Power

The indigenous communities of the Amazon recognize their ancestral lands through myths and legends that are transmitted from the old to the young. This blog entry tells of the stories and experiences of those who hold the traditional knowledge. These tales are shared with coca leaves, so that the words may flow, and with tobacco to offer to the owners of each of the sacred sites where the journey of thought is made. These meetings which last the depths of the night are done in the “maloca”– the collective housing units of the indigenous communities. These meetings, which are held in the native dialect, provide the space to tell and pass on the preservation of the cultural and ancestral heritage. In this collective transmission of knowledge, young people generally draw their stories on maps of paper where the most important issues of the indigenous culture such as sacred sites, the territory, tours of where their ancestors sought a place to settle down and live, the places of origin of seeds and crops, as well as the permitted for hunting and fishing sites, are reflected. These maps show the knowledge that the indigenous peoples have over the territory in which they live. It is surprising how over thousands of years they have managed to consolidate a model where the nature and the environment is part of them, where places of cultural importance are respected, and where only what is what is purely needed and necessary to survive is taken.

Maps of Social Cartography

Fundación Gaia Amazonas (FGA) has worked for more than 25 years with the indigenous communities of the Colombian Amazon region on various issues such as territory, health, ecological calendars, education and self-government– integrating all sectors of the ‘Planes de Vida’ or Life Plans. Social mapping has been a very important instrument in this process, since it is a means of culturally and traditionally identifying the landscape and the natural recourses of the forest and river, in addition to serving as a tool of territory management for government agencies.

It should be emphasized that these maps not only are artistic and exercise cultural expression, but they also simultaneously showcase political and communal ideas– positions against potential threats that could fall on the territory. In many cases, these maps are also a means to identify and resolve conflicts in different areas of life within the community such as land-use, the delimitation of community jurisdiction, as well as use and management of sacred sites and places of hunting and fishing. These issues are able to be solved through participatory conversation in the community, where everyone makes their contributions, exposes their experiences and translate them onto a map. Through this, a methodology has been consolidated that first takes into account the past, i.e. the stories of origin, then accounts for the present and the current situations of the territory, i.e. identifying threats and changes that have taken place in time, and finally constructs a proposal and stance for the future as means of searching for solutions in regards to current issues.


The work between the indigenous communities and the FGA, have resulted in important achievements many fields such as health, education, land use and regional planning. The information from indigenous communities has allowed for us to make to form an inferences of the current states and challenges that the indigenous communities of the future are facing. These inferences have also helped us to solve environmental problems, mitigate possible pressures and threats on the territory, and make good use of the resources offered by the jungle and sacred sites that are so interwoven with the indigenous communities cultural and tradition has risen. Likewise, these maps have also helped us to formulate strategies of adaptation to climate change, as this region is no stranger to this phenomenon.


The digitalization of social cartography maps are composed of several themes, these are: Sacred sites, the origins of ethnic groups and seeds, fishing sites, hills, rivers, streams, lagoons, hunting grounds, community jurisdictions, soils, and each AATI community location. All this has been done with the help of GPS, satellite image points, digital models of terrains, and mapping information referenced from different sources. In this process work has been established with ACURIS, ACAIPI and AATIZOT in the Department of Vaupés; and ACIYA in the Department of Amazonas. Examples of these works include:


The communities of ACURIS have developed important works on various topics which, among some, include: Sacred sites, hunting grounds, fisheries, soils, community jurisdictions, and animals routes. These works have been of great importance to the issue of food security, because knowledge has been established on which animals can be hunted and their locations in the jungle.

It should be noted that there is a complete respect for nature and its resources. Hunting in places which are known sacred sites is forbidden, and disrespecting these locations can affect the environment and bring about disease to people. This map has been constructed by means of dialogue between young people and elders, who transmit their traditional knowledge and translate it into social cartography maps. Collective insight is given by all members of the communities through stories and experiences about the territory, the river, and the animals of the jungle.

Land Use Planning

In recent workshops located in field, with the indigenous communities of AATIZOT work had been established on various topics relevant to the great plan of life. One such aspect of this work has to do with territory. With the already made social cartography maps, created by the younger participants, a new map was generated for the entire AATI with the interest of soils in mind. This map is a purely cultural and traditional perspective that enlightens and reveals great knowledge that indigenous peoples have on their territory. This work is a collaborative project that takes into account the great relationships between the people and their surrounding territory, as well as strongly identifies and clearly defines each of the classes or soil units that exist in the Tiquié River

Maps of Sacred Fishing Sites

The sacred fishing site maps of the Santa Isabel Community of the Parana River (ACAIPI) consist of a series of maps thats include drawings of the surrounding rivers of the community of San Antonio, lagoons and sacred fishing sites that are of importance to this group. The maps also show the names for each location, in indigenous languages.

Each site has a name and is represented by an icon that makes it easy to interpret the map. The maps serve to protect the community’s territories from external threats, to strengthen their plan of life, and to exercise their rights. These maps are powerful tools to manage the territory and take care of nature.

These maps then, serve the indigenous communities as a means to protect their territory from external threats, to strengthen their plan of life, and to to exercise their rights. These maps are powerful tools to help manage their territory and take care of the nature, and are one of the most efficient tools in interacting with their environment. With these maps the indigenous communities know where hunt, or where not to hunt, where to sin and when or where not to sin. Finally, one of the most important point of our work is the fact that through these maps, in particular the social mapping, these communities can initiate a conversation with the non-indigenous world; for example, it is easier to explain to the State where there is a sacred place and why that place should not be exploited when they can clearly point it out and identify it within in a space inside their territory.

Originally published at on February 24, 2016.