Zanjas y Camellones collective
Zanjas y Camellones collectiveZanjas y Camellones, Bosque las Mercedes, Thomas van der Hammen Natural Reserve, Bogotá, 2022.
Photo: Sergio Durán, courtesy of the artists

Uncommoning Agriculture

Gwynne Fulton
On a cool grey morning last January, we clambered into a black SUV. After losing our way on the snaking highways that connect the sprawling city of eight million to the urban peripheries, we arrived at the Thomas van der Hammen Nature Reserve in Suba, on the northwest edge of Bogotá. After a short walk through the undulating grasslands we reached the site of Zanjas y Camellones (2022 –ongoing), a collective agroecology project created by artist María Buenaventura, landscape architect Diego Bermúdez, educator Liliana Novoa, lawyer Sabina Rodríguez, archaeologist Lorena Rodríguez Gallo, and curator Juliana Steiner, in consultation with Hycha Caca (Abuela/Elder) Blanca Nieves Ospina Mususú. The interdisciplinary project re-creates a fragment of an ancient agricultural system in the territories of the Muisca people who — contrary to the authorized version of history — survived Spanish colonization and are currently undergoing a process of resurgence.

Knowledge of the Muisca cultivation system had largely been forgotten in the city when, in 1968, the US anthropologist Sylvia M. Broadbent documented a checked pattern of cropmarks: short, parallel lines stretched across the valley floor, between old stream beds and the marshy channels of the savannah, from Suba to the Bogotá River.1 1 - Sylvia M. Broadbent, “A Prehistoric Field System in Chibcha Territory, Colombia,” Ñawpa Pacha: Journal of Andean Archaeology, 6 (1968): 135 – 47. Her aerial photographs showed evidence of an extensive network of zanjas (ditches), where the agrarian society raised crabs and fish, and camellones (raised planting beds) where they cultivated important subsistence crops: beans, quinoa, potatoes, yuca, tobacco, sweet potatoes, and maize (“aba” in the Muysccubun language). Regulating water flows across the savannah, the channels transformed marshy meadows into a sophisticated agricultural system.

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This article also appears in the issue 110 - Agriculture

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