With the signing of the new constitution in 1991, Colombia was recognized for the first time in its history as a multiethnic and multicultural nation. This step was the result of many years of organized struggle by minority groups in defense of their rights, cultures, and territories. The constitution expressly acknowledged minority groups present in the country before the formation of the Republic of Colombia; among these groups are indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians (including the raizales [native peoples] of San Andrés and Providencia, and the Afro-Colombian community of San Basilio de Palenque). In 1999, the rom or gypsies were also added as a community that formed an integral part of Colombian nationality. Traditionally excluded or marginalized from the national dialogue, these groups began to emerge toward the end of the twentieth century with their distinctive voices, both in the political debate and in their cultural manifestations in the national panorama. In literary production, indigenous authors of diverse ethnicities have increasingly stood out in the past few decades, and to a lesser degree, so have the raizal authors from the Islands of San Andrés, Providencia, and Santa Catalina. This chapter briefly explores the historical contexts of the indigenous populations and the raizal groups from the Colombian Caribbean and summarizes some significant literary works from these two marginalized people groups, whose incorporation in mainland, dominant culture is becoming increasingly pertinent to literary studies.
Indigenous literatures in Colombia
When the first Spanish expeditions arrived in the sixteenth century to the territory known today as Colombia, the region was already inhabited by numerous indigenous groups in the Guajira Desert, the Andean mountains, and the Amazon jungle. The estimates regarding the number of indigenous inhabitants during this time period vary considerably between 800,000 and 6 million; distributed unevenly in dozens of ethnicities, many of these aboriginals belonged to the two most technologically advanced groups of the time, the muiscas and the taironas of the chibcha culture. The challenges facing these natives during the Conquest and Colonial periods were no different than those that the majority of indigenous people suffered throughout the American continent. In a few decades, the Colombian native populations were decimated by war, hard labor conditions, and European diseases, such as typhus, measles, and smallpox, against which they had no built-up immune defenses.