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The Demographic Transition in the Nasa-Indigenous and Black Populations of Northern Cauca (Colombia)


Northern Cauca in southwestern Colombia is a multi-ethnic-racial Andean region, inhabited by Indigenous (Nasa-Indigenous), Black and White-Mestizo populations. For the last three decades, this region has experienced a rapid process of modernization associated with a strong agribusiness development and an expansion of industrial maquila companies. Notwithstanding this trend, the Andean Indigenous peasant economy continues to be pivotal in the mountainous area of the region. This chapter presents a comparative analysis of fertility patterns among ethnic-racial minorities (Indigenous and Black) and White-Mestizo populations. It utilizes data from the 1993 and 2005 Colombian population censuses; the Colombian national register of households in poverty ; Colombian demographic and Cali household surveys from 2010 to 2015 and one Nasa-Indigenous household survey. In addition, it uses national statistics records of several countries and some data from specialized demographic studies of the World Bank and the United Nations from 2000 to 2015. Accordingly, an international comparison of fertilities among Colombian ethnic-racial minorities and their counterparts in other countries is possible. Conceptually, the chapter draws on insights from Johnstone’s work on Indigenous fertility transitions in developed countries and Caldwell’s transition theory to examine how the increasing levels of schooling and the changes in the occupational structure of this region are affecting the fertility transition of Indigenous and Black minorities.


  • Fertility
  • Ethnic-racial groups
  • Nasa-Indigenous people
  • Black people
  • White-Mestizo population
  • Northern Cauca

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Fig. 2.1

Source Author’s elaboration based on IGAC mapping. IGAC: Instituto Geográfico Agustín Codazzi

Fig. 2.2

Source Author’s estimates based on the Colombian 2005 census (DANE 2005)

Fig. 2.3

Source Author’s estimations based on the Colombian 2005 census (DANE 2005)

Fig. 2.4

Source Author’s estimates based on the 2005 census (DANE 2005), and the Nasa household survey , 2014/2015 (CIDSE 2016)

Fig. 2.5

Source Author’s estimates based on the 2005 census (DANE 2005), SISBEN III (DNP 2014), and NSHP 2014/2015 (CIDSE 2016)


  1. 1.

    For this chapter, the term “Mestizo” refers to those of mixed White European and South American Indigenous ancestry. The term “White-Mestizo” or “non-ethnic” population refers to the aggregate of people who in the Colombian case do not recognize themselves as Indigenous, or as Afro-descendant/Black or Mulatto or under another ethnic category. In other countries of Latin America, the “Mestizo” category exists separately from the White one. Unfortunately for Colombia this differentiation is not possible in census categories.

  2. 2.

    To avoid possible confusion, from here on, the department of Valle del Cauca is referred to as Valle.

  3. 3.

    The city of Cali has the highest concentration (in absolute terms) of Afro-descendants or Black people in Colombia. Furthermore, if northern Cauca and southern Valle are considered as belonging to the same area, this combined region would have the highest regional concentration of Black people in the whole country, as well as the third largest rural-urban concentration of Nasa-Indigenous people. At the 2005 Census, in this combined region of northern Cauca and southern Valle, the Black population made up about 35.0% of the entire population, with the Nasa-Indigenous another 6.0% and the White-Mestizo about 59.0%. At the national level, the percentages of the Black and Indigenous populations were considerably lower: Black 10.6%, Indigenous 3.3% and White-Mestizo 86.1%.

  4. 4.

    For the estimations of Total Fertility and age-specific rates of the Indigenous and Black populations, the methods of Coale and Trussell (1996) and of Stover and Kirmeyer (2007) were employed.

  5. 5.

    For the Indigenous and Black people, infant mortality rates were estimated using the procedures indicated by Sullivan (1972), Trussell (1975), and also Coale and Trussell (1996).

  6. 6.

    Ratio of children under 5 years of age per 1000 women of childbearing age.

  7. 7.

    See Urrea-Giraldo and Rodríguez-Sánchez (2014, pp. 13–14).

  8. 8.

    The 2005 census question on ethnic-racial information was: “According to your culture, people or physical features, do you recognize yourself as? 1. Indigenous 2. Rom 3. Raizal from the Archipelago of San Andrés 4. Palenquero from San Basilio 5. Black, mulatto, Afro-Colombian or Afro-descendant 6. None of the above.”

    If an interviewee chose “Indigenous”, then there was another question: “To which indigenous community do you belong?” Nowadays in Colombia, there are 102 Indigenous groups recognized by the National Constitution.

    The categories 3, 4 and 5 in Colombia are considered as Afro-descendants, generally accepted as meaning Black people.

    The category “None of the above” refers to people without ethnic or racial self-recognition (non-ethnic-racial belonging). Nevertheless, in several empirical studies—for example Urrea-Giraldo et al. (2014)—it has been demonstrated that more than 85% of people self-classified in this category (“None of the above”) were at the same time self-recognized as White or Mestizo, when the question was phrased in racial terms.

  9. 9.

    According to the 2005 census, this Indigenous community is the second largest Indigenous group in Colombia, with a total population of 195,400 people, which represents about 13.4% of the national Indigenous population (1,458,212 people in 102 Indigenous villages). Most of the Nasa-Indigenous people are settled in the department or province of Cauca: 173,125 people or 88.6% of the total Nasa people in Colombia. Of these, around 66% live in northern Cauca, of which 56.0% (63,987 people) are settled in the three municipalities with a predominantly Nasa population: Caldono, Jambaló, and Toribío.

  10. 10.

    The Embera people, studied by Arias-Valencia (2005), is an Indigenous people who inhabit the humid tropical rainforest of the Colombian Pacific region. It is an aboriginal group with very different sociodemographic patterns from the groups of the Colombian Andean region, such as Nasa, Misak, Coconuco, Yanacona, and Pasto. These five Andean groups have a peasant economy, based on small producers. On the other side, the same fertility differences can also be observed for the Wayuu people, who mostly live in a semi-desert region at sea level in the north of the country. According to the 2005 census, 78.6% of Colombian Aboriginal populations lived in rural areas, and less than 8.0% lived in large cities.

  11. 11.

    Author’s estimates based on the 2005 census data.

  12. 12.

    ECLAC: The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. In Spanish it is CEPAL.

  13. 13.

    In 1993, Villa Rica was not yet a municipality, but this settlement has had, since its foundation, a Black majority.

  14. 14.

    An example is the Misak or Guambiano Indigenous community in Cauca. By 2005, Misak women had a Total Fertility of 3.16 births per woman and a health coverage of 80.8%. This contrasts with the TF of 4.51 and the 56.6% health coverage observed for the three Nasa-Indigenous municipalities in northern Cauca for that year. Thus, important differences in reproductive patterns and health coverage among Indigenous peoples in Cauca, as in other regions of Colombia, can be observed.

  15. 15.

    See Fig. 2.4, in the case of Nasa-Indigenous women in the three Indigenous municipalities. For Black women living in the Black municipalities the value is estimated from data reported by public health programmes of the department of Cauca.

  16. 16.

    SISBEN III’s register does not have a question of ethnic-racial self-recognition, as the Colombian population census has. Therefore, it is not possible to differentiate Black from White-Mestizo population. However, in the Black municipalities of Puerto Tejada and Villa Rica, almost all the population are Black.

  17. 17.

    In Colombia, the 2005 census corresponds to the census round of the 2000s in Latin America.

  18. 18.

    Resguardos: these were the lands that the Spanish Crown gave to the Indigenous peoples, and that lately several republican constitutions, particularly the one of 1991 (in Colombia), have acknowledged.


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I would like to thank Andrés Fernando Valencia for his insights and for improving the text in English. Also, the valuable assistance of Andres Felipe Candelo Álvarez whose expertise greatly assisted this research. Lastly, I appreciate the helpful discussions of the work with Christian Mauricio Chacua, Luis Gabriel Quiroz, and Angela Melissa Guzmán.

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See Tables 2.7 and 2.8.

Table 2.7 Sociodemographic and standard of living indicators for three Nasa-Indigenous municipalities and two Black municipalities of northern Cauca, compared to the Department of Cauca and Cali, 1993 and 2005
Table 2.8 Sociodemographic and living standards indicators for Nasa-Indigenous people of three northern Cauca municipalities by 2014/2015 versus Black, Indigenous and White-Mestizo (non-ethnic) populations in Cali by 2012/2013

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Urrea-Giraldo, F. (2019). The Demographic Transition in the Nasa-Indigenous and Black Populations of Northern Cauca (Colombia). In: Anson, J., Bartl, W., Kulczycki, A. (eds) Studies in the Sociology of Population. Springer, Cham.

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