Ika Hands



Robert Gardner, 1988

Runtime: 58 minutes

In the highlands of Northern Colombia the Ika live a strenuous and isolated life economically dependent on small gardens and a handful of domestic animals. They are thought to be descendents of the Maya who fled from the turmoil of Central American High Civilization’s warring states to the remote valleys of Colombia’s Sierra Nevadas. The Ika still inhabit a spectacular but demanding terrain extending between five and fifteen thousand feet, an almost vertical geography through which they move with prodigious ease.

Their lives are filled with a multitude of tasks which they perform with rare dexterity and purpose. Their labors, though they belong to two quite separate realms, the practical and the spiritual, contribute equally to the well being of everyone. Both days and nights are long and arduous. Indeed, the central figure in Ika Hands , Mama Marco, is a man whose priestly calling is simply another career undertaken in addition to that of farmer and householder.

Ika society is the result of quite distinct cultural choices, of what seem to have been decisions by generations of individuals to persevere with tradition and to resist the compelling alternatives offered by an ubiquitous modernity. There is something almost melancholy about these stubborn heroes of a doomed way of life.

“At one level the film shows the rounds of daily life while at the same time it tries to disclose the interior life of a leading figure in the community. What is seen is a man who is part mystic, part priest, and part ordinary householder who performs rituals and offers prayers in lonely and seemingly painful meditation.”

—Peter Allen
The American Anthropologist

The 2008 Special Edition DVD includes:

  • The film Ika Hands (58 minutes)
  • A conversation with Octavio Paz (27 minutes)
  • Photo gallery featuring still images and journal entries read by Robert Gardner (14 minutes)

distributed by Documentary Educational Resources