8 julio, 2024

Taironas: what they are, characteristics, urbanism, art, customs

Who were the Taironas?

The taironas They were an indigenous people of Chibcha descent who lived in various Colombian settlements for more than 2,000 years. Located in the north of Colombian territory, the Tairona culture, in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, comprised the areas of three departments: Cesar, Magdalena and Guajira, with the basin of the Guachaca, Don Diego and Buritaca rivers.

Not much is known about the Taironas. Lost City, also known as Teyuna or Buritaca-200, was the city founded by this culture in 800 and inhabited until 1600.

The mountainous and steep terrain of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta encouraged the tribes to inhabit small and large plots of land, which facilitated the formation of cacicazgos, places where the cacique ruled.

These people did not know how to write and they used the wheel and animals to get around. They spoke Chibcha and the men practiced polygamy and exogamy, that is, they could look for a partner with members of different tribes.

Characteristics of the Taironas

– It was a group of Chibcha descent, a large group of Amerindian languages ​​spoken from northeastern Honduras to northern Colombia and western Venezuela.

– They were characterized by making very fine ceramics and goldsmithing.

– They built stone pathways for communication between the settlements, as well as water pipes. Its buildings were made of stone and adobe.

– It was an agricultural town, but they also fished.

– They practiced exogamy: they looked for a partner in different groups.

– They practiced barter and the exchange of products.


The economy was based on agriculture, specifically on crops of corn, squash, beans, arracach or cassava.. They also grew soursop, pineapple, guava, and avocado.

They frequently consumed fish, goat or rodent meat for celebrations or special days. But fishing was more important than hunting animals.

In general, these communities practiced the exchange of products. For example, the inhabitants of the warm lands produced salt, cotton, fish, and snails, which they exchanged for coca, corn, and fruit to the tribes in the midlands, and for potatoes and other products to the groups in the cold areas.

Architecture and engineering works

Among the most outstanding constructions are the stone and adobe retaining walls in the mountains, which have a height of up to 9 meters. Normally, they served as support for the terraces, marked the paths, channeled the water flows and prevented erosion.

The shapes of the circular, semicircular or oval terraces varied according to the location and the use they were given. The ovals were built in the highest parts. In general, the size was between 50 and 880 m².

On the terraces they built circular dwellings. The cylindrical walls were reinforced with reeds and interwoven with matting, and the conical roof was thatched. They had no windows.

They made pipes to direct the water from the mountains and rain to the houses. The irrigation system had special channels that prevented erosion in desert areas. The underground channels that were built are still working.

The communication routes linked the main stone roads with those of the religious cults, as well as those of the families of the tribe with the place where the crops were grown.

Town planning

The Taironas reached a high degree of urban planning, understood as the set of technical, administrative, social and economic norms that regulate the functioning and the harmonious, rational and human development of a region.

They achieved a perfect integration with the environment, and adapted to it as they found it, once a place was chosen as a settlement.

That urban scheme was a unit: housing terrace – family group – adjacent production area, individual or community. This graph was repeated and multiplied, always preserving the habitat-production relationship.

The size of the house corresponded to the importance of its owner.

Goldsmithing, ceramics, textiles and musical instruments

The Taironas developed an extraordinary goldsmithing that stood out above that of other towns. Most of these objects were used to adorn the body.

The wide pectorals, in hammered gold, with figures of suns, animals and men, represented the gods they worshiped: the sun, the moon, the earth, the jaguar and the serpent. The nose rings, ear rings and underlabial ornaments represented animals, whose properties were assumed by the person who wore them.

In terms of iconography, the group’s artists combined the human with the animal to make bone and ceramic pieces. In some of these objects, the work with melted wax and filigree also stands out.

Men and women made fabrics in which they reflected their feelings, thoughts and actions. They developed a whole textile industry and used colorful feathers, and with the bones of enemies killed in combat they made flutes.

Teyuna, spiritual and commercial center

Entering the region, through the valley of the Buritaca river, there are 1,200 built steps that give access to Teyuna, the Lost City of the Taironas, and the most important for being the spiritual and commercial center of the population.

There, at 1,200 meters above sea level, you can see the first houses built on terraces enclosed in stone walls. Until its discovery in 1973, Teyuna, which in Chibcha means Origin of the peoples of the earthremained forgotten.

Pressured by the arrival of the Spanish on the coasts of Santa Marta in 1525, the indigenous peoples increasingly concentrated inland in the Sierra and took refuge in Teyuna around 1540. In addition, the group built two cabins on each terrace for a total of 280 homes, for which it is estimated that some 1,500 people made up its population.

Teyuna, also called Buritaca 200 due to the number of archaeological finds found in the Sierra, was abandoned around 1600, apparently due to outbreaks of epidemics that forced its inhabitants to leave the land.

This territory remained desolate for more than three centuries, so the indigenous people settled in small settlements along the valley, difficult to access for the conquerors.

Despite the fact that the natives stopped visiting Teyuna, their descendants, the Kogui, knew and kept the exact location of this city. But it was not until 1970 when the peasants who colonized the lower part of the Sierra saw the possibility of finding the treasures.

Thus began the looting of the tombs, an illegal activity known as guaquería and those who exercised this trade were called guaqueros, who came to kill each other, in the fight for the treasure. Many of these finds were resold in the international trade and lost forever.

In 1976 a scientific expedition from the Colombian government arrived at Teyuna and began the process of reassessment, restoration and conservation of the findings and the terraces. Among the discoveries found were gold jewelry and finely carved ceramic vessels.

Some swords were also found, of which it is unknown if they are there because the Spanish managed to reach the Lost City or because they were buried by the natives in the tombs as a war trophy.

Other customs and traditions

The Taironas wore loom blankets painted in various colors, earmuffs, chokers, crowns, big lips, gold distemper, fine and well-carved gemstones. They carried feather and palm fans, as they raised parrots and macaws for their colorful colors.

They bathed in the ravines, in places specifically designated for this. They spun fast and very thin, and weaved slowly. They prepared honey in large pots, or múcuras. They held parties and dances and there was also room for cleaning and idleness, since with very little work they had food and clothing for several days.

Cultural identity

For some, the cultural identity of the Taironas is not so clear. According to them, they are autonomous human groups with certain common socioeconomic and ideological traits, united by commercial and economic exchange relations.

The differences would be between the inhabitants of the mountains and the coast, who would have maintained a degree of autonomy very similar to that existing in the Kogui today, with ties of economic and cultural dependency.

There are those who share the possible existence of a state whose purpose was conquest and domination, although for others the sociopolitical circumstances pointed to a possible confederation (pact) between the different villages.

The Kogui, descendants of the Taironas

The Kogui Indians follow the ancestral traditions of the Taironas and still today continue to speak Chibcha like their ancestors. Linguistically, they belong to the macrochibcha family and are grouped in the valleys of the Garavito, San Miguel, Palomino, Don Diego, and Guatapurí rivers and in the headwaters of the Ranchería and Sevilla rivers.

Currently, clearing, cutting and burning are the main agricultural work technique in the Sierra Nevada lands, where probably 80% presents some degree of erosion, caused, according to experts, by the settler. However, the natives are also involved in this deterioration, despite their close relationship with nature.


Some aspects of the Tayronas economy along the coast adjacent to Cienaga (Magdalena), Carl Henrik Langebaek, archaeologist.
Explorations in the North slope of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta. Bernardo Valderrama Andrade and Guillermo Fonseca.

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