Adjacent to the “Museo Prehistórico” of Neiva, Colombia lies a giant monument on a public plaza. Although not a single sign at the monument provides information about its meaning, a deeper look reveals a historical significance so powerful that it warrants the construction of such a large structure.
Built in 1974 by sculptor Rodrigo Arenas Betancourt, the monument stands atop three yellow pillars with a dramatic scene unfolding on top. It was originally constructed as a political symbol in honor of Gaitana, an indigenous member of the Yalcón Tribe of Colombia’s Upper Magdalena Valley.
Gaitana is known among the local indigenous community for organizing 6,000 Yalcón people in the 1500s to rise up against Pedro de Añasco, the brutal Spanish conquistador ruling over the Yalcón at the time. When Añasco burned Gaitama’s son alive, she responded by successfully leading her people to independence. As punishment, she tore Añasco’s eyes out of their sockets and dragged him from town to town by a noose until he died.
After learning of Gaitama’s story, Betancourt constructed the La Gaitama Monument in Neiva, a city nearby former Yalcón lands, to connect this little-known piece of history to the larger issue of anti-colonialism.
The monument depicts Spanish conquistadors in a battle with the natives, with an eagle-masked Yalcón firing arrows at two Spanish horses and a centaur knight. At the center of the monument lies Añasco, with a cross, a shield, and empty eye sockets, being dragged by a rope by Gaitama. To show Gaitama’s contrasting personalities, Betancourt sculpted her to have a compassionate motherly face yet a powerful dress with a jaguar at the bottom.
While La Gaitana Monument is little-known worldwide, the scale and beauty of it shows the immense meaning it has to the Yalcón.