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The Emergence of a National Narrative: A Nation Divided By Regions


Colombia’s 1992 Constitution defined the nation as “pluricultural,” with the official slogan as “Unity in Diversity.” Although there are hints of unity, there is no denying that the regions of Colombia are in fact hierarchical, divided by their levels of civilization (Applebaum “Conclusion” 214).

Over a century later after Codazzi’s death, those living in the core of the Colombian Andes identify as “normal” Colombians or común y corriente, or white/mestizo. Those normal people of Colombia have a strict perception of the people of the rest of the country as “Others” who are violent, inferior, and uncivilized. Colombia had become a nation that was the sum of many regional types that diverged in their appearance and customs. The different people and regions created an endless variety of types—defined by race, caste, occupation, level of “civilization,” sex, and geographic location (Applebaum “Conclusion” 214).

During the Commission, Codazzi favored mixing “a large population mass….with them and form[ing] a distinct race, as has already succeeded in other parts of the Republic” (Applebaum, “Solitary Deserts,” 137). The wide open, seemingly empty Eastern Plains of Casanare needed occupation by “whiter” Colombians, likely from the Highlands, in order to produce a region worthy of integration into the larger Colombian nation. 

By designing his maps to reflect the Andean region as crowded with life, geography, and history, Codazzi could then emphasize the cultural emptiness of the Plains. He silenced the indigneous tribes living in the area, both by refusing to map their settlements and by refusing to properly source indigneous informants that helped to create his maps (Applebaum, “Solitary Deserts,” 131). The Eastern Plains became an empty grassland, or llanos, that Andean Highlanders would have to settle in order to properly incorporate the territory into Colombian culture. 

The Choreographic Commission, while mapping the national borders of Colombia, also mapped the regional fault lines that represented Colombia’s internal borders. Instead of viewing each individual region as Colombian, the Commission produced maps that labeled the Andean region  as “true” Colombian culture, while other regions needed colonization and settlement by “whiter” Highlanders. The external borders mattered less than the internal borders in creating a national narrative. 

Thus, the national narrative produced by the Commission reflected wishes of the “civilized” Bogota government, high in the Andean region. In order to assert control, the geological, oral, and physical maps reflected the idea that the Andes were the cradle of civilization and the other regions of Colombia now needed to be “civilized” by those from the Highlands. 

The “eruption” of the Andes mountains had prevented those in the Lowlands and Plains from becoming properly civilized (Applebaum, “The History,” 167). By combining geological narratives, as well as ethnographic data, Codazzi and the rest of the Commission could argue for a singular narrative that was reflected in the geography of the nation. Indigneous oral histories and the culture those histories represented were discarded if they failed to meet the narrative decided upon by those in power. 

By refusing to adequately represent the regions of Colombia, the Chorographic Commission contributed to the regionalization of Colombia, even while creating a national narrative. The narrative, however, found only one region truly Colombian and others regions that needed to be “whitened” or settled by those from the Highlands. Codazzi used silences on maps to emphasize the nascent nation, ready to expand to fill the national borders and reach its full potential. The Commission did not unify Colombia, but instead created a blueprint for expansion. The spectre of the Choreographic Commission continues today, with regions still silenced under Codazzi’s maps.


Applebaum, Nancy P. “Solitary Deserts The Eastern Plains and Amazon.” In Mapping the Country of Regions: The Chorographic Commission of Nineteenth-Century Colombia, 131–66. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2016.

Applebaum, Nancy P. “The History of These Sublime Cordilleras Geology, Prehistory, and History.” In Mapping the Country of Regions: The Chorographic Commission of Nineteenth-Century Colombia, 167–83. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2016.

Applebaum, Nancy P. “Conclusion: The Country of Regions.” In Mapping the Country of Regions: The Chorographic Commission of Nineteenth-Century Colombia, 203-214. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2016.

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