Embera means "people" and Chami means "mountains" in the Chocan language of Colombia. Embera Chami - People of the Mountains.
The Emberá are Chocó or Katío Indians - an indigenous people of Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador. In Colombia, the Embera culture consists of 3 different groups: Chamí, Katío, and Siapidara, extending across the coastal Pacific basin of the department of Chocó. The Embera Chami are among one of the few indigenous communities in Colombia to exercise and pass down their cultural expressions, spirituality, sophisticated dialect and ancestral jewelry (adornments).
In 2009, the Constitutional Court of Colombia declared that the Embera tribe faces threats of cultural and physical extension. Due to decades of extreme poverty, limited basic resources, healthcare, and armed groups leading to forced displacement many Embera communities have been displaced from their home villages. They have been forced to travel to metropolitan areas to find work or to sell their cultural expressions such as jewelry to tourist. When speaking to one of our Embera Chami artisans, Patricia, she expressed that she sells her ancestral jewelry in efforts to save money to buy back her family's land in Risaralda, Colombia and to send money back to her family. More recently, women of the Embera Chami tribe will live together with other women and their children in small living spaces in cities of Bogota, and Medellin to sell to local tourists.
In recent years, the Embera Chami have gained international admiration for their distinct and intricate arm and neck ancestral adornments. Women of the Embera Chami, believe that, "women bear the weight of the world on their shoulders." Necks and shoulders are traditionally adorned by hand woven beaded necklaces, Okamas, made from seed beads and wool by the grandmothers, mothers, and daughters of the Embera Chami Tribe. Made of the same material, men of the Embera wear Otapas. Each necklace embodies ancestral stories, nature motifs, social codes, and are used as amulets for protection. One necklace can take up to 4 - 7 days to make. When creating an Okamas or Otapas, there is no model or pattern when designing each piece. Each piece is based on pure creativity, and the imagination of the artisan's connection to their ancestors, Mother Earth, and spirituality.
We are honored to partner with a group of women of the Emberá-Chamí in Colombia and work together for the preservation of cultural heritage.