Saving the Zenú

By Send Relief Staff

Despite being the second largest indigenous group in Colombia, the Zenú tribe has been ostracized and pushed to the brink of extinction by western diseases and decades of forced labor. Constant marginalization caused the Zenú language to disappear hundreds of years ago, and ongoing national conflicts have displaced the few indigenous communities that are left—yet the Zenú have prevailed.

Many families who persisted through the excessive taxation and ongoing ethnic prejudice are surviving on a mere $7 a day, earned by the men as day-laborers. Most do not have their own land and live under the constant threat of eviction on the properties that they farm. Because of the decades of systematic oppression, there is little left of the Zenú culture as a whole.

One of the only cultural remnants persisting is the Zenú’s artistic use of the palm fiber caña flecha, which they use to make Colombia’s national symbol and most-recognized headpiece—the sombrero.

Since the Zenú have been pushed to the outskirts of society, they were traveling extraordinary distances to buy caña flecha in order to keep the tradition alive. Because of the barriers to obtaining the fibers, it was becoming increasingly difficult for them to continue celebrating this aspect of their culture and teaching it to the next generations, putting the Zenú even more at risk of cultural extinction. Additionally, the creation of sombreros was providing income for many of the families living in severe poverty.

Send Relief partners were able to help the Zenú preserve this fundamental aspect of their culture and help restore families’ sustainable income by creating a one-year plan for caña flecha harvesters to become self-sufficient.

By assisting farmers with the purchase, transport, harvest and sale of the palm fibers, Send Relief partners helped a group of community leaders learn how to process the raw materials at a low cost so they could continue their handcrafted production of sombreros. News of this assistance spread so rapidly that soon, our partners were able to help other communities in the region as well, opening many doors for the gospel!

One of the Zenú church leaders, Anthony*, shared what this project meant to his people, “This has made a long-lasting impact on our physical needs. Now, we can earn a secure income in a way that isn’t just working someone else’s farm. We can have a sense of pride in providing something unique to our culture and work towards purchasing land for our community as the strength of our business grows.”

At a time when many people didn’t have consistent work, your generosity made it possible for the Zenú to earn wages throughout quarantine and continue a longstanding tradition of cultural significance that they will be able to pass down to their children. You’ve also given them the opportunity to pass the gospel to their children. Thank you for your ongoing support of overlooked and marginalized communities around the world!

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*Name changed for security.

Published March 23, 2021

Send Relief Staff