Skip to Main Content

University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Indigenous Architecture across Abya Yala (Latin America): Colombia

Reconstruction of Muisca housing. 

El Infiernito

El Infiernito: ruins of an astronomical calendar monument in Colombia, used by the Muisca people for rituals and purification ceremonies. Burial mounds are also located at this site. 


Photograph of Muisca descendants in front of a maloka just outside of Bogota, Colombia. Part of a project at the Santo Domingo Centre of Excellence for Latin American Research at the British Museum. 


As one of the northernmost countries in the Amazon basin, Colombia’s diversity goes beyond its flora and fauna to encompass its population, as well. With recorded indigenous settlements in the area as early as in 12,000 BCE, Indigenous groups have contributed greatly to the development of the country and its peoples. Upwards of 80 different tribes are recognized by the Colombian government, yet these groups only make up about 4.4% of the population, a result of historical marginalization that also translates into systemic and cultural facets of everyday life.

Though some rights and conditions for Indigenous groups have been implemented, this population still struggles with autonomy and proper development, due in part to extreme fragmentation and decreased political activity. Certain tribes like the Wayuu people have found success in financially supporting themselves, but the general consensus is that the cultures and ways of life are becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. The materials presented in this guide seek to illuminate certain aesthetic and cultural traditions of indigenous groups within the borders of this country. At the same time, this guide hopes to provide a framework to understand the repeated marginalization of said traditions, as well as how they are being revitalized and reclaimed today.  

Accessing Materials

Some useful initial key words to use for searching for articles or books in the catalogue are: 

  • Indigenous + Colombia
  • Wayuu + Colombia
  • Colombian Architecture 
  • Architecture + Wayuu
  • Architecture + Indigenous + Colombia
  • Vernacular Architecture + Colombia

Since many resources may be in Spanish, it may be useful to try these key words in Spanish as well. For example:

  • Indígena + Colombia
  • Arquitectura + Indígena + Colombia



Exhibit from the Santo Domingo Centre of Excellence for Latin American Research at the British Museum.

“The Santo Domingo Centre of Excellence for Latin American Research at the British Museum and its affiliates hope to challenge the ways in which Latin America is commonly represented and studied in museums…The British Museum’s Latin American collections mostly illustrate the interests of British collectors and researchers from the 18th century to the present day. In order to contest and broaden this legacy, as well as to privilege self-representation, the Centre also supports cultural heritage projects in Latin America that are not tied to the collection.” 

These statements were taken from the British Museum’s SD CELAR Website. Other pages and specific projects say that communities from which certain artifacts were stolen have not requested repatriation from the BM’s collections. Though this and the initiative’s mission seem to promote elevating these voices, it does not erase the illegality and unethical practices by which the British Museum acquired these collections. Explicit recognition of this fact and clear, direct outreach to rectify these situations would be the ideal, and we hope that this becomes a course of action soon taken by their administration. 

With all this being said, this page and this project provide important information and access to objects that are important to expanding education on these themes, and we feel that it is better to educate about these complexities than withhold this resource.