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What Role does Jesus' Iconography have for Everyday Life in Nariño, Colombia?

Updated: Jan 12, 2021

In La Victoria, Nariño, Jesus is a big part of the citizen's daily lives. These municipalities have been areas of high activity for FARC rebels (Revolutionary Armed Rebels of Colombia—People's Army) during the Colombian conflict since 1964. The Church, and Jesus' symbolism or love, provided a safe place from the violence which stood on everyone's doorsteps. The FARC was formulated during the Cold War, as a Marxist-Leninist entity promoting a political paradigm of anti-imperialism, however, whilst claiming to fight for the rights of the poor agrarians in Colombia through communism, they created havoc through the distribution of the coca trade.

In Nariño in particular, the persistent violence and low coffee prices, coupled with a lower yield threshold, have always especially affected coffee farmers as a precarious profession whilst remaining a significant crop for export. However, many farmers in rural parts of Colombian, with the longstanding presence of the FARC, were forced to turn towards growing coca plants over coffee beans as a more profitable trade (one which was protected and aided by the FARC). Therefore, most farmers around here had to grow illegal crops for the Farc in order to survive the violent crossfire.

As these municipalities were directly in the middle of the Colombian conflict, Jesus remained a shining iconography of good luck and an integral daily presence of positivity for those affected.

Here at TCCC, we directly research on the effects of the Colombian conflict on coffee farmers and we aim to support coffee growing communities by paying them above fair wage, in order to restore restitution to their lands which were sought to be destroyed over the span of 50 years, until a extraordinary deal was established in 2016 to end it.

The interior design of households in Nariño: where Jesus lies next to mosquito nets.

In a traditional room of coffee-growing communities, you will usually find a mosquito net which acts as a necessary protection method against mosquito-born diseases such as dengue, Zika, chikungunya, and yellow fever. Directly next to the mosquito net, you will almost certainly find a framed picture of Jesus: a symbolism of protection in the bedroom. Although Colombia does not have an official religion, Roman Catholicism is estimated to be followed by 83 percent of the population (according to the Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference) and is visibly apparent almost everywhere across the country: both publicly and privately.

Since its introduction to Colombia by Spanish Colonists in the 14th century, Catholicism has been evident in everyday life linguistically, culturally, and even politically. For example, you may hear the following phrases: “Si dios quiere” (God willing), “Dios te bendiga” (God bless you), and “Gracias a dios” (thank God). Life in Colombia is also marked by Catholic rites of passage, such as baptism, first communion, confirmation, and marriage as turning points and stages in one's life and within the community. Moreover,

in a country with a deeply turbulent and violent history of the FARC's guerilla warfare (as explored in the previous part 1), the Catholic practice of believing in God predetermining events - "because God wants it (porque dios quiere)" - can remain a source of comfort to the community, with a 'moral order' that one must follow. The practice of confession, as an integral part of Catholicism, is deeply embedded in Colombian society, for example, another common local expression is “Él que peca y reza, empata” (“He who sins and prays, breaks even overall”) which represents the need for repentance or else what they do in this life will affect their afterlife treatment. This can create a mold within the society of how one should behave.

Thus, the symbolism of Jesus framed in the bedroom remains a highly symbolic iconography of morality, cultural practices, and of life and death. This has been especially important in coffee-growing communities that have been affected by the ongoing violence.

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