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People and Culture spoke nearly 100 different languages. Today, an estimated 78 are “living” (still spoken) and about 20 have become extinct. The number of native language speakers is diminishing ­rapidly. The loss of native tongues (hence, cultures) presents a moral and cultural dilemma. Many individuals and numerous organizations stress the importance of cultural survival among traditional societies. They want these small, often dying cultures to preserve their language and other aspects of their traditional (therefore “primitive”) way of life. The author respects their romanticism and desire to know that such people still exist in some remote setting. At the same time, however, he recognizes that such actions create many problems. Is it fair for cultur-­ ally ­well-­developed people who live a life of urban comfort to impose their will on others? In essence, if their whim prevails, these small, powerless, remote groups will be destined to short, meager, impoverished lives. They will be economically, politi-­ cally, and socially marginalized while surviving as living human museum pieces in some ­wilderness. Religion When the Spanish conquerors arrived, the region’s native peo-­ ples practiced many different belief systems. Within decades, Catholic missionaries had introduced their faith to all but the most remote native tribes. The strength of their faith and resulting missionary zeal is illustrated by the fact that, today, an estimated 95 percent of all Colombians claim Catholicism as their faith. Historically, the Church also played a very powerful role in many, if not most, of Colombia’s institutions. Its often heavy hand was felt in political, economic, and social realms. It also played a very positive role (in addition to theology) in such areas as health care, education, and serving as a unify-­ ing bond for Colombian society. Although the vast majority of Colombians claim to be Roman Catholic, very few actively practice their faith. This situation is widespread throughout



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