The Threads of History
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Like many Afro Colombians, the residents of Mampuján can trace their history back over 500 years of oral tradition. In the last six years, the women of Mampuján have worked hard to transform this oral history into fabric, through a process of self-healing and memory preservation.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus arrived in South America and Europe quickly realized the potential to be exploited with this discovery. To fuel the demand for gold and other treasures to be found in the resource-rich “new world,” millions of slaves were brought to Colombia from Africa. This quilt depicts life in Africa before capture and displacement to Colombia.
After the hard work of different people like Fray Bartolome de las Casas, church doctrine finally indicated that the Indigenous Colombians were human and thus could not be used as slaves, but Africans were deemed to be subhuman and thus worthy of exploitation. Chances are high that the ancestors of Mampuján were auctioned off in the infamous slave plaza in Cartagena de las Indias, located 72 kilometres away from the current location of Mampuján.
From the early 1600s and on, many people had enough of their inhumane treatment, forced to work in mines and plantations like animals. In an often-overlooked moment of history, many of the slaves formed their own rebel groups and fled their imprisonment, forming the first free black communities in South America. Called Palenques, they established settlements in the hard-to-reach swamps of the area. Many of the communities, including San Basilio de Palenque, developed a mixture of African and Latino culture, music, and language, many aspects which have continued up until the present, including in Mampuján.
In more recent history, the village of Mampuján was founded in 1882 by Perdo Lopez and his wife Dionisia Maldonado. They named the community after one of the two surrounding creeks in the lush, fertile, mountainous region. The family was joined by several families from the surrounding areas of San Juan Nepomuceno, San Basilio de Palenque, San Pablo and the Magdelena department. This picture depicts tranquil village life.
In 1901, the community was temporarily displaced during the War of a Thousand Days, as the long-standing rivalry between the Conservative Party and Liberal Party sparked into devastating violence. Mampuján was a Liberal community, so the population temporarily fled during the height of the violence to avoid being targeted by neighbouring Conservative groups. They constructed small houses on the bank of a hidden creek, but at least one member of the community was killed and life was severely disrupted before they were able to return to the original location.
Despite periods of relative calm, structural and latent violence continued to be a norm in Colombia, impacting life in one form or another. However, latent violence erupted into a crisis situation in the late 1990s and early 2000s in the Montes de Maria region, as legal and illegal armed groups fought over resource rich territory and for control of drug trafficking routes.
At around six in the evening of March 10, 2000, a band of paramilitaries called the Heroes of Montes de Maria entered the community, forcing everyone into the plaza in the centre of the community. Men and women were separated and lined up, forced to stand and wait for over four hours. Most people feared the worst: that it was now their turn to face the horrific massacres that had taken place in many of the surrounding communities. However, in what many consider a miracle, no one was killed. The paramilitary commander received a mysterious phone call ordering him not to kill anyone, but instead demand that the entire community be gone by morning.
Four men were kidnapped, but were also surprisingly returned unharmed. Some community members saw the shape of a giant hand in the sky, which they claim to be the hand of God.
Eventually the community settled into a small tract of land seven kilometres away from their original location, purchased by an Italian priest. Many people desire to return to Old Mampuján and to better living conditions in New Mampuján as well. The community has received the first-ever government sentence given to a community of victims declaring their rights to reparations. Therefore, they are actively involved in nonviolent action and advocacy to make their dreams and legal rights a reality. Read more about the process in other articles, including their incredible two day march to Cartagena to demand their rights as victims of armed conflict and a reflection on peace processes.