Decolonial: Abya Yala’s Insurgent Epistemologies


The term decolonial has partially been diluted from its original meaning. Many of us probably won’t disagree. Centering land and Indigenous sovereignty is certainly a way to reinspire the term, but we should go further by replacing the decolonial at the center of Latin American epistemologies. This is what Sergio Calderón Harker proposes to do in this small text, invoking a powerful pantheon of Abya Yala thinkers.

Caledron Harker Funambulist 1
Indigenous activists leading a protest at Plaza de Bolívar in Bogotá, on October 21, 2020. / Photo by Matthieu Cattin.

Decolonization, which sets out to change the world, is, obviously, a program of complete disorder.

Published in 1961, these words from Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth set the stage for thinking of the decolonial as both a world-shattering and world-building project. This was subsequently reflected in the multiple manifestations of decolonial endeavors in the late 20th century. For some, decolonization was a call for an emancipatory and popular nation-building process, severing the shackles of imperial political and economic entanglements. For others, it was the reassertion of autonomy in its different arrangements: institutional, spatial, and oftentimes even cultural. Across the board, what remained was the centrality of the “political”; the necessity to think and enact the decolonial project as a collective and communal question: a re-imagining (and abolition, some would argue) of the world as it is.

This, too, remains central to the decolonial epistemologies which find their home in Abya Yala, the term various Indigenous communities and nations use to refer to the American continent. The name has its origins in the Guna people who live in the Darién Gap, located in today’s northwest Colombia and southeast Panama.