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This article is about a precolumbian ethnic group. for the present-day Indigenous people of Colombia of pijao ethnicity See Pijaos. For the Colombian town see Pijao, Quindio


The Pijao (also Piajao, Pixao, Pinao) are a people of Colombia.



The Pijao or Pijaos were a federation of Amerindians living in the region of Tolima -Colombia and other territories. They wore, as a custom dress, beautiful decorated golden clothes which did not cover their genitals and they painted their bodies with dyed tops of Bija. The Spanish conquerors initially called them Bipxaus (bija), the same way the Paeces called one of their chiefdoms, to finally use the pejorative word Pijao.

In pre-Columbian times, they inhabited the Central Mountain Range of the Andes; between the snowy mountains of Huila, Tolima and Quindio, the upper valley of Magdalena River and the upper Valle del Cauca in Colombia.

They failed to create empires as they remained as federated communities.

Using the form of chiefdom as their social organization, which was a kind of family clan with ancestral lineage, they didn't live in villages; instead, they lived in carefully built houses made out of Bahareque, one far away from the others.

They used bonfires to communicate with smoke signs which were previously agreed and these were use to convene different community events. Some means of water transportation were commonly used by these people, they used to travel around their areas of influence and around most of the Colombian territory in considerably short lengths of time, thanks to their navigation skills and knowledge. They called Boha (Boga) to their best navigators and their boats were called kanoha (canoe), which were made out of a single piece carved wood of Saman.

They were experts in metallurgy, manufacturing gold articles and clothing; as appreciated in found samples of gold from the Tolima, Quimbaya, Calima, and Cauca Cultures. They used techniques as lost wax casting, rolled gold, filigree and other methods to make their “balacas” (ornaments) and some other elements for ceremonial use as the “Poporos” (recipient with lid).

About their corporeal aesthetic, it was common to find skull shape changes due to the use of orthopedic slats. These slats were used on babies in their frontal and occipital region to give them a look of ferocity. They also modified the shape of their upper and lower extremities using adjusted ropes (Interlaced fiber ropes). They changed the appearance of their nose by causing a fracture of the nasal septum, and they also pierced the nose and the ear lobe to wear symbolic gold ornaments and decorations. They called these body ornaments Wua-La-ka (Balak). They wore crowns made out of several materials, masks, feather crowns, bracelets, nose ornaments and other items.

They painted their bodies in communitarian events with red color powder also known as Achiote: Bi-Cha (Bija). [9]Their assemblies, also known as Mingas, were held under the shade of the Ceiba trees; where they used to carry out their war ceremonies, crowning of Chiefs, wedding rituals and other events; by dancing to the beat of maracas, fotuto, yaporojas and drums. They used flowers to decorate single women (virgins) and they considered this tree as a symbol of the Great Home of a rich, generous and motherly nature.

They were agriculturalists who lived close to the earth in homes made of wood and rammed earth. Due to the tropical climate and excellent soil in the highlands, they were able to grow, harvest and cultivate many crops including potatoes, yuca, maize, mangos, papayas, guavas and many other fruits and vegetables. While they lived an agrarian lifestyle, they also fished and hunted for meats.

The Pijao were also cannibals, most notably they were accused by Spanish Captain Diego de Bocanegra (one of many military leaders who battled against the Pijao) of having cannibalized up to one hundred thousand Spaniards in approximately 50 years.

Despite ongoing battles which regularly drove back the invading Spaniards, the Pijao were also being thinned and pushed further and further south until they were incorporating and clashing with neighboring tribes like the Coconuco, Páez, Puruhá, and Cana. By the mid-1700s the Pijao people had been all but killed off. Evangelizing Christians had also taken a toll through re-education and "civilization" of many natives.

With the invading colonization of most of the central highlands and the Andes mountain ranges, the establishment of the New Kingdom of Granada was finalized.

The influential Rojas family of Bogota, Colombia, even though they have mostly Spanish ancestry, are partly descended from the Pijao royal family.


The Pijao spoke an extinct unclassified language. It is not listed in Kaufman (1994).

External links


  • Campbell, Lyle. (1997). American Indian languages: The historical linguistics of Native America. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509427-1.
  • Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (Ed.). (2005). Ethnologue: Languages of the world (15th ed.). Dallas, TX: SIL International. ISBN 1-55671-159-X. (Online version:
  • Kaufman, Terrence. (1994). The native languages of South America. In C. Mosley & R. E. Asher (Eds.), Atlas of the world's languages (pp. 46-76). London: Routledge.


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