How does one capture in an exhibition memories that have been handed down through generations, especially those of eight indigenous communities from remote regions of Colombia? This is the challenge the National Museum and National Center of Historical Memory faced when preparing Endulzar la palabra: memorias indigenás para previvir (Sweeten the word: indigenous memories to relive).

The eight indigenous peoples sked to participate in the last major exhibition of the year by these cultural entities are the Bora, Ocaina, Muinane and Huitoto from La Chorrera in the Amazon; Wiwa from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta; the Awá from Nariño, Putumayo and Ecuador; the Nasa from northern Cauca and the Bari of the Catatumbo region in Norte Santander.

The exhibition is essentially a sensory journey told through stories and interpretations of the past by these indigenous peoples, revealing their role as agents of memory which allowed them to survive in the midst of a half-century long conflict. Photographs, drawings, documentaries and testimonies produced by these tribes invite visitors to participate in rarely seen rituals of their everyday life, and where community-led resistance managed to minimize the impact of Colombia’s conflict.

In the first part of the exhibition titled Disposición a la escucha (Disposition to listen), the museum-going public will find a space that invites them to listen to testimonies of why ancestral memory plays a fundamental role in conflict resolution and how those who live close to the land have envisioned alternatives to heal the ravages caused by warfare. Visitors then proceed to Caminar el territorio or ‘walk the territory’ through the exploration of the natural world and why, for these indigenous groups, the land is deeply inscribed in memory.

Iluminar la memoria (Illuminate memory) looks at the actions of the peoples of La Chorrera, in the Amazon and Awá people, in the south of the country, in transforming painful memories into those of healing and survival. Trazos de un territorio sagrado (Fragments of sacred territory) shows how the internal conflict damaged an immense cultural heritage of Colombia’s indigenous past, and how the neo-liberal economic model of the country impacted the most sacred sites of the Wiwa people in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The message in this area of the exhibition is indelibly clear: indigenous peoples want to convey that any conflict, which we sometimes perceive to be far away, has consequences for the well-being of the natural world.

In ¡Viva la guardia! ¡Viva la minga! (Long live the guard! Long live the minga!) we are introduced to the Indigenous Guard of northern Cauca, and how this organization has been a highly visible catalyst for social change on their ancestral lands by forging peace among disputing factions, and working towards reconciliation within their own communities.

The last section, Amanecer la palabra (The dawn of the word) is housed in a circular space where visitors can sit and listen to stories that have educational and cultural value.

Thanks to the Government of Canada, United Nations Development Program; United States Agency for International Development (USAID); International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development (Aecid), visitors to Endulzar la palabra will get a rare opportunity to hear from Colombia’s indigenous groups, most located in some of the hardest-hit regions of the conflict, on how, the importance of memory can never be underestimated to make sure a violent past doesn’t repeat itself.

Museo Nacional – Cra 7 with Calle 28.