Infobox Ethnic group
group = Cofán
pop = 1,500 - 1,600 (2000 est.)
region1 = flagcountry|Ecuador
pop1 = 800 (2000 est.)
ref1 = Juncosa 2000, cited in SIL, " [ Cofán] ", "Ethnologue."
region2 = flagcountry|Colombia
pop2 = 600-700 (2000 est.)
ref2 = Borman 2000, cited in SIL, " [ Cofán] ", "Ethnologue."
languages = Cofán, Spanish, Siona, Secoya, Napo Lowland Quichua
religions = Christianity, Animism

The Cofán (A’i) people are an indigenous people native to Napo Province northeast Ecuador and southern Colombia, between the Guamués River (a tributary of the Putumayo River) and the Aguaricó River (a tributary of the Napo River). Their population is only 1,500 people, down from approximately 15,000 in the mid-16th century. They speak the Cofán language or A'ingae a language of the Chibchan family. The ancestral land, community health and social cohesion of Cofan communities in Ecuador has been severely damaged by several decades of oil drilling. However, reorganization, campaigning for land rights, and direct action against encroaching oil installations have provided a modicum of stability. Major settlements include Sinangué, Dovuno, Dureno and Zábalo, the latter of which has retained a much more extensive land base.

At the moment they are doing things in Zabalo to bring back some of the traditional animals of their culture to the tributaries of the Amazon where they live. They are raising turtles and caimans to be released. They are also starting to raise chickens as a source of food. Many animals that live within their domaine are endangered in other regions, including several monkeys, tapir and pink dolphin. All have healthy populations in Cofan territories.

Political representation is through the Federacion Indigena de la Nacionalidad Cofan del Ecuador (FEINCE), translated in English as the Federation of the Indigenous Nation of the Cofan of Ecuador. Until December 22 of 2006, FEINCE was a member of CONFENIAE, the regional indigenous confederation. Membership was withdrawn, however, in protest to the political infighting presently going on in this organization. FEINCE maintains its headquarters in Lago Agrio, in the province of Sucumbios.

The Cofan are entitled to live in and patrol the 195-square-mile Bermejo Cofán Ecological Reserve ("Reserva Ecológica Cofán de Bermejo"), which was created on January 30, 2002. The Cofan are presently in control of almost 4,000 square kilometres (1,000,000 acres) of rain forest. Although this may seem like a lot, it is only a fraction of the more than 30,000 km² originally belonging to this nation.


The Cofáns have had many encounters with Europeans, Spanish colonial forces and Ecuadorians and Colombians. They defended their vassals and allies from Spanish colonization in the late 16th century and eventually destroying the Spanish town of Mocoa, inducing a Spanish retreat. Padre Rafael Ferrer, a successful Jesuit missionary who arrived in 1602, was chased out only after soldiers and colonists sought to follow his lead. Occasional visits from outsiders seeking gold, land, trade, and converts occurred over the next few centuries as European diseases caused a population crash. The Amazon rubber boom, in the 19th and early 20th century, brought increased contact, especially with missionaries, both cultural and religious. Measles, malaria, and tuberculosis brought the population down to no more than 350; before contact there had been 15-20,000 Cofáns.ref|Borman

Randy Borman describes the Cofan response to this traumatic history as follows: an attitude “which can be best termed stoic acceptance of the incomprehensible ways of the outsiders as a survival strategy. Rape and robbery are preferable to death, and if we do not rock the boat, the outsiders will eventually go away, and we will pick up the pieces and continue.”ref|Borman186

A Cofan Foundation has been formed to help preserve the culture, restore traditional foods in the rivers and to raise money to send a few children to Quito for education. The tribe does build large fibreglass canoe for river travel which it uses and sells. They use the new canoes to preserve the few large trees along side the rivers. It takes 7 hours my motorized canoe to get from the nearest road to Zabalo.

An abortive oil surveying mission by Shell Oil visited Cofán territory from 1945 through 1949.

Bud and Bobbie Borman, a husband and wife team of missionaries from the Summer Institute of Linguistics, were among the few outsiders to stay. SIL’s mission was to translate the New Testament into new languages and introduce Christianity. The Bormans provided medicines, opened a school in the Cofán language, and offered skills training. The Bormans went further by raising their children in Cofán culture and acting in cooperation with the Cofán chief Guillermo Quenama.

In 1964, Geodetic Survey, Inc. cleared seismic trails and detonated underground explosives to locate petroleum deposits for a Texaco-Gulf consortium. A road was built in 1972 from Quito to the new oil town of Lago Agrio and oil extraction began. Colonization by landless peasants from the highlands followed. By 1982, 47% of the population consisted of migrants, 70% of whom had arrived in the last decade of major oil development. Meanwhile, oil spills, gas flaring, and untreated wastes undermined the environment, and compromised the subsistence and health of both the Cofáns and the colonists.


# Randall B. Borman, “Survival in a Hostile World: Culture Change and Missionary Influence Among the Cofan People of Ecuador, 1954-1994,” "Missiology" 24, no. 2 (1996).
# Randall B. Borman, “Survival in a Hostile World: Culture Change and Missionary Influence Among the Cofan People of Ecuador, 1954-1994,” "Missiology" 24, no. 2 (1996): 186.
# Hicks, James F., et al. "Ecuador’s Amazon Region: Development Issues and Options". Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 1990.

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • cofán — 1. adj. Se dice del individuo de un pueblo amerindio que habita en la región oriental ecuatoriana. U. t. c. s.) 2. Perteneciente o relativo a los cofanes. 3. m. Lengua hablada por los cofanes …   Diccionario de la lengua española

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  • cofán — kōˈfän noun (plural cofán) Usage: usually capitalized Etymology: Spanish, of American Indian origin 1. a. : a nearly or wholly extinct people of western Ecuador b. : a member of this people …   Useful english dictionary

  • Cofán — ISO 639 3 Code : con ISO 639 2/B Code : ISO 639 2/T Code : ISO 639 1 Code : Scope : Individual Language Type : Living …   Names of Languages ISO 639-3

  • cofán — co·fán …   English syllables

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