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Colombia’s Kogi Indians Guardians of a sacred trust

Thursday 8 September 2011
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In 1990 the Kogi Indians of Colombia contacted film-maker Alan Ereira to make a film with the BBC about their way of life and their deep concorn for what Western man (Little Brother as they call us) was doing to the planet, after which they withdrew. The film received worldwide acclaim.


Morning cloud mist shrouds the Kogis' sacred Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain.

The Kogi are the last surviving civilization from the world of the Inca and Aztec, and their cities are untouched by western influence. The mountain they inhabit in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Columbia is an isolated, triangular pyramid rising over 18,000 feet from the sea, the highest coastal mountain on Earth.
It is on a separate tectonic plate from the Andes and its unique structure means that it is virtually a miniature version of the planet, with all the world’s climates represented. The mountain is
quite literally a micro-cosmos, a mirror of the planet on which every ecological zone is represented and in which most of the plants and animals of the planet can find homes.
The journey to reach their native lands involves passing through a jungle region known to local tomb robbers and cocaine makers as ‘hell’, where Nature and armed gangs combine to seal the Kogi away. Hidden from the modern world, the Kogi are revered by other Native Americans from the Amazon to the Hudson River. Today’s Guatemalan Maya are led by men who were sent as children to be trained by the Kogi; the Seminole people of Florida send offerings to them.
Their spiritual leaders are raised in the dark for their first 18 years to communicate with ‘Aluna’, the thought process that shapes and maintains reality, the source of life and intelligence. They then become Mamos (Enlightened Ones). Some work at remote places which they call ‘hot spots’, where they believe living energy pours into the world. They guard their isolation and secrecy so that they can continue this work.
But now they believe their work has become impossible in the face of modern man’s destructive greed. Now they have another message to share … and we all must listen.
The Kogi say that without thought, nothing could exist. This is a problem, because we are not just plundering the world, we are dumbing it down, destroying both the physical structure and the thought underpinning existence.  The Kogi believe that they live in order to care for the world and keep its natural order functioning, but they recognized some years ago that this task was being made impossible by our mining and deforestation.
In the face of the approaching apocalypse, they will take us on a perilous journey into the mysteries of their sacred places to change our understanding of reality. It is a journey encountering the dangers, the terrors, the power of the force that they perceive as driving reality, and which is now being torn apart and about to be released not as benevolent life, but as savage chaos. This is an epic tale in which the struggles of otherworldly heroes, invoked in fearsome, masked and costumed rituals, are interwoven with the contemporary crisis. They intend to show that their work has visible and measurable results, that they really are taking care of the entire Earth.
As the film is being made with and by the Kogi, they have even trained an indigenous film crew to work alongside the professionals, so that what the modern film crew cannot see may appear to the camera. The Mamos (spiritual leaders) understand that they have to do this because humanity is wantonly destroying sacred sites for profit. They want to show how and why the resulting eruption of chaotic cosmic energy causes climate change, epidemics of new diseases, geological instability and a relentless increase in murderous conflict.
If the Kogi are right, then modern humans urgently need to change how they perceive the Earth itself and how they try to engineer the future.
What follows is an account from film-maker Alan Ereira, as he reveals the world of the Kogi Indians of Columbia, traditional guardians of the world’s well-being, with whom he has a long association
I first visited the Kogi in 1989. My journey began at Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Santa Marta is at the foot of the highest coastal mountain in the world, over 15,000 feet high, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
No-one knew much about these people; they are hidden and secretive. They have small towns of circular thatched houses in steep river valleys above the jungle, starting at about 6,000 ft. There are no roads. Visiting anthropologists had been met by empty towns and by silence. Tourists had been imprisoned. Film-makers had been walked down the mountain again, a journey of four days, beaten all the way. I’m a filmmaker and I had sent messages saying, ‘If you want to speak to the world, I can help you.’ The reply, after many
months, was, ‘We are waiting to work with you. Come.’
I arrived in a deserted town of circular thatched huts. It was in an open greenland above the jungle. I could see copses and a river. The air was cool and sweet. There were no biting insects. And men were approaching on horseback. They were all dressed in pure white, barefoot, the horses shining, the men’s hair shining as it fell onto their shoulders, the horses with plaited red harness, everyone healthy, everyone beautiful. It was like a dream. I was, I thought, the first couch potato to discover a lost civilization.
That night, I was summoned to a meeting in a huge hut, with four fires burning. Now the old men were here, maybe a hundred of them, sitting around the fires and lying in hammocks. They chewed dried coca leaves and carried poporos, gourds of lime. Each would dip a stick into his poporo, then suck it and rub it on the rim, building up a thick layer of lime.
This was a men’s house. The women with me squatted in the door. And then a gabble and an Indian voice translating into Spanish from the dark: ‘You’ve come to speak to us. So speak.’ And so I explained that if they wanted to speak to Younger Brother, I could bring an eye that remembers and an ear that remembers, and people in their own homes could watch and hear them, like the women crouching at the door. I gave reasons why this might be good and reasons why it might be very bad. And then I said, ‘If you say no, you will never see me again. And you will decide with reasons that I cannot understand.’ And a hundred old men rattled the sticks of their poporos and grunted approval. Another gabble and then the translation. ‘We will consider your words and analyse them. At dawn we will hold a divination on a hill-top. And tomorrow night we will tell you.’
A wakeful night. To my surprise, I found that I was more physically comfortable, lying in my hammock with a wood fire, than I’d ever been in my life. Next morning I emerged to stunning beauty. The smoke of the fire filled the thatched roof, and outside, the morning cloud-mist sat at exactly the same height as the smoke within. As the mist lifted, a Kogi was staring meditatively at the emerging mountain ridges, working his poporo. He turns to me and says, in Spanish, ‘Beautiful’.

On one of the ridges I could see the divination in progress. The Mamas were consulting a bowl of water. And then that night, the meeting. Five old Mamas (the Kogi wisdom-keepers and spiritual guides) in a row, everyone else behind them. ‘Do you have a machine that remembers what we say? Turn it on.’ And then the speech, a relay, one taking over from the next.

In the beginning, there was blackness.
Only the sea.
In the beginning no sun, no moon, no people, only Aluna.
In the beginning there were no animals, no plants.
Only the sea.
The sea was the Mother.
The Mother was not a person, she was not anything.
Nothing at all.
She was when she was, darkly.
She was memory and possibility.
She was Aluna.
This was not what I expected. ‘In the beginning …’. This is a Bible, the Kogi Book of Genesis. I was being given an entire history of the cosmos, a history in which Creation is not performed by saying, ‘Let there be stuff ’, but by pure, un-vocalized thought.
Aluna began to think and imagined nine worlds and imagined many creatures and imagined a great cosmic history and imagined people. This was a gigantic, detailed, vast undertaking. How does an eye work? How does a foot work?
And when it was done, the world was completed. In Aluna, in spirit, in thought.
And then, in the dark before the world, she took the stuff of her own material and separated it, opening a space between memory and possibility, between past and future. In that space, that moment between past and future, appeared all Nature, animals, human beings. This momentary space between past and future is the material world, our reality, filled with the energy of material life, bursting from the chaos of infinite possibilities to be moulded each into its own place, its own sphere of activity, so as to find a harmony with the other lives erupting there.
And human beings, with imagination, with thought, live both inside and outside the material world and were created to work with the Mother in Aluna, to hold this precious present reality in harmony, to prevent it from crashing into chaos, like gardeners who have to see the whole garden and who cut back here, encourage there and have to understand the effect of whatever they do on the whole garden.
And they were placed here, in the Heart of the World, the mountain: the great spindle from which the Mother’s thread unwinds as possibilities become reality and pass into memory. Their word for the mountain is Gonavindua. Go means ‘something being born’, or ‘birth’. Na means ‘something coming’. It is the word for the glimmer of light before dawn. Vi means ‘something moving in the stomach’ – like a foetus shifting after the fourth month of pregnancy. Du means ‘all living things’. Duas means ‘sperm’.
This mountain is the quickening of the world, the beginning of life. A few years later, one Indian described the process by saying, ‘The peak Gonawindua appeared. There was a peak above and a peak below and it began to work as the motor of the world.’
There is a picture of this moment carved on a mountain-shaped temple on the other side of the world. On the walls of the outer gallery of Angkor Wat. The story there is taken not from the Kogi but from Hindu mythology. The Puranas, the primaeval ocean that the Kogi describe, is called the Ocean of Milk and the mountain is called Mandara. The bas-relief shows a great serpent coiled around the mountain, which is a huge spindle in the ocean supported on the back of a great turtle. The serpent is being used as a rope pulled alternately by two armies of supernatural beings, the Devas and the Asuras, with Vishnu supervising it all from above the peak. The churning of the ocean produces all kind of marvels, including the elixir of immortality.
And, of course, from that moment on you have the distinction between mortality and immortality; between a world of birth and death, where we live, and the non-material immortal world of spirit, of transcendence.
Angkor Wat is surrounded by vast artificial lakes and the temple seems to be consciously constructed as a mountain rising from the waters. This is where life begins and it is the link between humanity and the transcendent, between mortality and immortality, the funnel through which possibilities become material substance in the present and a record of their passing into memory.
It was the same in the Middle East. Babylonian temples, ziggurats, were also conceived as mountains and in front of each ziggurat was a representation of the sea, a great basin called the apsu, the deep. The oldest ziggurats we know were constructed in the 3rd millennium BC. Mesopotamia is not noted for its mountains; it’s an idea from somewhere else. So it’s older than that. We see the same thing with Solomon’s temple, built on top of a hill called Zion, the dry place, and in front of it a great bronze cauldron 10 cubits across called yam, the sea.
You see exactly the same in Mayan temples. They, too, are mountains, with steps to the summit, as in the Cambodian temples and the Babylonian ziggurats; and they, too, were once surrounded by large artificial lakes.
This was once a tradition that embraced most of humanity. The importance of the Kogi, I believe, is that for them this tradition is alive, flourishing, and in the hands of a profoundly analytical, intellectually sophisticated people. Of course, you wouldn’t know it from any physical structures. They have no stone temples. Nor from any texts, as they have no writing. But it’s all there all the same and sitting talking with the Mamas is as intellectually challenging as any university symposium.
The mountain itself is their temple. The men’s house, the nuhue, where the meeting was held, is a ceremonial house, itself a mirror of the mountain and contains within itself the entire universe. Inside it are the nine worlds and the four corners of the world and the beams that hold it all in place – the natural forces that hold the world in being and, of course, keep the roof from falling down.
At the top of the mountain, Gonavindua, are the sacred pools that give direct access to the Mother, to the terrifying forces that must be held in check for material reality not to be overwhelmed. Here again we meet ideas of immortality, and the link between the mortal world and immortality is gold, imperishable, immutable and immortal substance in a mortal world. The Kogi speak of the pools as the Mother’s vagina, the source of life, and of gold as her menstrual blood, the evidence that the world is fertile. From this came the old story of El Dorado, the man who plunged, covered in gold, into the sacred pool in search of, as the Spanish believed, the elixir of life. In a sense they Arregoces, who eventually became the governore of Gonavindua Tairona, the Mamas’ representative organisation. were right. He re-vitalizes the gold by returning it to Aluna. And then he
dances with it.
We are the Elder Brothers.
We have not forgotten the old ways.
How could I say that I do not know how to dance? We still know how to dance.
We have forgotten nothing.
We know how to call the rain.
If it rains too hard we know how to stop it.
We call the summer.
We know how to bless the world and make it flourish.
The Mamas who made this claim are part priest, part shaman, part judge. Because they stand as the intermediaries between the material world and Aluna, they are the source of wisdom and knowledge for the whole community. Many of them are the children of Mamas; one in ten of them are women. They are chosen for their role at birth, by divination, and then raised in a cave or a double-walled hut, in the dark. They are not to see light for their first nine years. The mother feeds her baby in the dark and when the time comes they are weaned onto a special diet of white foods from before the time of the conquest, without salt, and luke-warm water. They are taught to make offerings in the dark and only taken out at night, and even then with a broad head-covering to prevent moon or starlight falling on their faces.
After nine months in the womb, which is seen as a birthing journey through the nine worlds, they spend a further nine years in this simulacrum of the mountain, the womb of the Mother. During this time the child discovers its aptitudes and is encouraged to pursue them. Then the time comes for a choice: to leave the darkness and experience the world, or to pursue their training for a further nine years.
Those who leave will be diviners, meditators, social workers and leaders of the community. Generally they live in the communities they serve. Those who continue will pursue a specialism – history, medicine, philology (terribly important in a society where the roots of words are hunted down to their deepest origins, knowledge of trees or plants or animals. When they eventually emerge, they generally live in special Mama towns, higher on the mountain, from which they travel to other towns  or consultation. And there are some, living higher than all the others, who remain eternal students, moros, absorbing everdeeper knowledge, semi-mythic beings around whom legends are woven and who appear very rarely, if at all, in the lower communities.
Mamas, as you may imagine, prefer the night. They are the ones who can open the mountain, open hills, build nuhues. Their minds are stocked with memorized knowledge and they are well used to seeing every situation in the round. They carry entire databases of natural and human history in their heads and know what things mean. They also think much faster than I am used to.
Their main work is making offerings, which are intended to stabilize and harmonize the world and balance the effect of human work. For example, take a man making a clay pot. He has come to the Mama because there is illness in the family and the Mama’s divination has revealed that the fault lies in his cooking and eating vessels. To correct this, he must first show that he is a proper man, mature, capable of undertaking the necessary work. Then he must spend a month apart from his wife, meditating, making offerings and slightly fasting, under the Mama’s supervision. Then permission is given, in the form of a bead called a sewa, a safeguard, a spouse, and he is ready to perform the awe-ful work of plunging his hands into the body of the mother to collect clay. He commits his sewa as the offering for this. Then he begins work, making his pot on a woven mat, under which he places tiny offerings of cotton and leaves, stopping frequently to meditate on the meaning of his work, while the Mama stands over him, lecturing. For days. Until the pot is made and is a source of health, not of illness.
Kogi homes have such a pot, upside down, on top of the roof. The house is in the pot. The pot, too, is a womb, like a bag (and babies are carried in bags), like a temple, like a poporo, like the
mountain.
The relationship between the mountain and the ocean is at the core of their understanding of the world. Everything that exists in material reality has its full being, its real nature, in Aluna and Aluna is the transcendental ocean. Duas, which means sperm, also means sea shells. Du is all living things, in the form of the seeds of life. The same word means stars – as in Genesis, the ocean below mirrors the ocean above. There, too, you have the story of the separation of the waters into above and below, and between them the world comes into being.  It’s the same story, filtered through different perspectives.
The lime in the poporo is made from sea shells. The men of the Sierra eat stardust from a gourd shaped like a womb. This, they believe, connects them to the feminine, to life-creating energy. But the source of life is incoherent, chaotic, hard to control and to hold in balance. It is dangerous. Precautions have to be taken when a woman menstruates, as she is closely connected to that life-source and needs to be kept indoors. She is infected with Divine power. And the waters are that power. They are waters of the abyss.
The notion of primaeval waters as both a source of life and a threat to the ordering of Creation is one which is found in the legends of the Near East in Sumerian times. Again, the Kogi are sharing in a widespread story known in many human cultures It appears in cuneiform texts from the early Bronze Age. The Kogi remain a Bronze Age people.
When the Kogi speak, we are listening to very, very ancient voices.
Which brings me back to the history of the world they were teaching me. They explained that the material world was perfect and in harmony, and human beings cared for it, living in the Heart of the World and taking care of Nature as they were instructed by the Mother.
But after the first Creation, another human being was made. This Younger Brother was not like the first people; he was impatient, reckless, lacked respect and did not listen. He ignored and disobeyed
the Mother’s instructions. So he was a danger to the Heart of the World.
So the Mother decided to expel him. She gave him knowledge and sent him far away, across the sea, to lands on the far side of the ocean where he could do no harm. It’s a story rather reminiscent
of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden.
Then the story went on. The Mamas described how the Younger Brother used his knowledge to return across the ocean in ships and his name was Columbus and how the Spanish arrived to seize the land. ‘The native people lived here, the Elder Brother lived everywhere, but then Younger Brother came and made war on us and we fled in fear and we went up into the mountains. We became frightened and we fled. And so we ran and as we ran we left behind all the things that were ours. We lived in our way, with our own hats, our belts and our clothes. But we ran leaving everything behind. They set dogs on us. The dogs gave tongue and we fled and some fell over, some were killed, and the soldiers were chasing us from behind, the conquista-dors, the soldiers of the Conquest were at our backs. Aaii! All the finest things we left behind, they took them and they hid them away. And so when the Elder Brother finally stopped running and looked for his gold pieces and his other things, his bag, they weren't there, they'd fallen, they'd been dropped, all gone, all gone.’
The Elder Brother survived, high on the mountain, but the progress of the conquest ground steadily on. And now, they told me, the Younger Brother is pressing on into this final refuge. And as he does so, he completes his process of plunder, ripping apart the world for profit. Cutting down trees, ripping out gold, minerals and oil, heating up and drying out the world. ‘We know what you have done. You have taken the clouds. You have sold the clouds.’ Now they are killing the Mother. The Younger Brother, all he thinks about is plunder.
The Mother looks after him too, but he does not think.
He is cutting into her flesh. He is cutting into her arms. He is cutting off her breasts. He takes out her heart. He is killing the Heart of the World. When the final darkness falls everything will stop. The fires, the benches, the stones, everything. All the world will suffer.
When they kill all the Elder Brothers then they too will be finished. We will all be finished. This was my commission. To carry this message, the final warning. I made the film with them. It was shown very
widely.
But the conquest did not stop. Today, the small Kogi town where that meeting was held is a Colombian army camp. Guerrillas, paramilitaries and the army are fighting over the whole mountain and the land is being sprayed with defoliant. The Heart of the World is dying, the conquest is almost complete.
And the ice-caps melt and the seas are poisoned and the story of the mountain is probably almost over.
Journey’s end.
Alan Ereira is a well-established director and producer of historical documentaries and author of several history books. After working at the BBC for 30 years, he set up his own company, Sunstone Films, in 1996. His programmes have won numerous awards and commendations. After making From the Heart of the World; the Elder Brothers’ Warning, which was shown by the BBC in 1990, he established the Tairona Heritage Trust to promote knowledge of the Kogis’ message and to help them buy back their lands in the lower part of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, now appropriated by Colombian settlers. It is an ongoing project; donors who give at least £25 ($50 US) to the Trust (www.taironatrust.org) receive a ‘thank-you’ DVD of the film.
This article was originally written by Alan Ereira and published by Caduceus (link to http://www.caduceus.info/index.html), an independent healing and spiritual magazine and website for the community of healers, seekers and world workers. Available both online and in hard copy.
Find out what's in the current issue of Caduceus here (http://www.caduceus.info/current-issue.htm) and to view or order your e-copy please click here (http://www.caduceus.info/subscribe.htm)
All rights to this article are reserved to Caduceus Journal Limited, if you wish to republish this work you must contact the copyright owner by clicking on the banner below. (http://www.caduceus.info/contact.htm) – link this to their logo (their logo is attached)In 1990 the Kogi Indians of Columbia contacted film-maker Alan Ereira to make a film with the BBC about their way of life and their deep concern for what Western man (Little Brother as they call us) was doing to the planet, after which they withdrew. The film received worldwide acclaim.

Now they have re-emerged to make another film with him – Aluna – so concerned are they for the imminent catastrophes that await us if we do not change course.

The Kogi are the last surviving civilization from the world of the Inca and Aztec, and their cities are untouched by western influence. The mountain they inhabit in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia is an isolated, triangular pyramid rising over 18,000 feet from the sea, the highest coastal mountain on Earth.

It is on a separate tectonic plate from the Andes and its unique structure means that it is virtually a miniature version of the planet, with all the world’s climates represented. The mountain is quite literally a micro-cosmos, a mirror of the planet on which every ecological zone is represented and in which most of the plants and animals of the planet can find homes.

The journey to reach their native lands involves passing through a jungle region known to local tomb robbers and cocaine makers as ‘hell’, where Nature and armed gangs combine to seal the Kogi away. Hidden from the modern world, the Kogi are revered by other Native Americans from the Amazon to the Hudson River. Today’s Guatemalan Maya are led by men who were sent as children to be trained by the Kogi; the Seminole people of Florida send offerings to them.

Their spiritual leaders are raised in the dark for their first 18 years to communicate with ‘Aluna’, the thought process that shapes and maintains reality, the source of life and intelligence. They then become Mamos (Enlightened Ones). Some work at remote places which they call ‘hot spots’, where they believe living energy pours into the world. They guard their isolation and secrecy so that they can continue this work.

But now they believe their work has become impossible in the face of modern man’s destructive greed. Now they have another message to share … and we all must listen.

The Kogi say that without thought, nothing could exist. This is a problem, because we are not just plundering the world, we are dumbing it down, destroying both the physical structure and the thought underpinning existence.  The Kogi believe that they live in order to care for the world and keep its natural order functioning, but they recognized some years ago that this task was being made impossible by our mining and deforestation.

In the face of the approaching apocalypse, they will take us on a perilous journey into the mysteries of their sacred places to change our understanding of reality. It is a journey encountering the dangers, the terrors, the power of the force that they perceive as driving reality, and which is now being torn apart and about to be released not as benevolent life, but as savage chaos. This is an epic tale in which the struggles of otherworldly heroes, invoked in fearsome, masked and costumed rituals, are interwoven with the contemporary crisis. They intend to show that their work has visible and measurable results, that they really are taking care of the entire Earth.

As the film is being made with and by the Kogi, they have even trained an indigenous film crew to work alongside the professionals, so that what the modern film crew cannot see may appear to the camera. The Mamos (spiritual leaders) understand that they have to do this because humanity is wantonly destroying sacred sites for profit. They want to show how and why the resulting eruption of chaotic cosmic energy causes climate change, epidemics of new diseases, geological instability and a relentless increase in murderous conflict.

If the Kogi are right, then modern humans urgently need to change how they perceive the Earth itself and how they try to engineer the future.


What follows is an account from film-maker Alan Ereira, as he reveals the world of the Kogi Indians of Colombia, traditional guardians of the world’s well-being, with whom he has a long association



I first visited the Kogi in 1989. My journey began at Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Santa Marta is at the foot of the highest coastal mountain in the world, over 15,000 feet high, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

No-one knew much about these people; they are hidden and secretive. They have small towns of circular thatched houses in steep river valleys above the jungle, starting at about 6,000 ft. There are no roads. Visiting anthropologists had been met by empty towns and by silence. Tourists had been imprisoned. Film-makers had been walked down the mountain again, a journey of four days, beaten all the way. I’m a filmmaker and I had sent messages saying, ‘If you want to speak to the world, I can help you.’ The reply, after many months, was, ‘We are waiting to work with you. Come.’

I arrived in a deserted town of circular thatched huts. It was in an open greenland above the jungle. I could see copses and a river. The air was cool and sweet. There were no biting insects. And men were approaching on horseback. They were all dressed in pure white, barefoot, the horses shining, the men’s hair shining as it fell onto their shoulders, the horses with plaited red harness, everyone healthy, everyone beautiful. It was like a dream. I was, I thought, the first couch potato to discover a lost civilization.

That night, I was summoned to a meeting in a huge hut, with four fires burning. Now the old men were here, maybe a hundred of them, sitting around the fires and lying in hammocks. They chewed dried coca leaves and carried poporos, gourds of lime. Each would dip a stick into his poporo, then suck it and rub it on the rim, building up a thick layer of lime.

This was a men’s house. The women with me squatted in the door. And then a gabble and an Indian voice translating into Spanish from the dark: ‘You’ve come to speak to us. So speak.’ And so I explained that if they wanted to speak to Younger Brother, I could bring an eye that remembers and an ear that remembers, and people in their own homes could watch and hear them, like the women crouching at the door. I gave reasons why this might be good and reasons why it might be very bad. And then I said, ‘If you say no, you will never see me again. And you will decide with reasons that I cannot understand.’ And a hundred old men rattled the sticks of their poporos and grunted approval. Another gabble and then the translation. ‘We will consider your words and analyse them. At dawn we will hold a divination on a hill-top. And tomorrow night we will tell you.’

A wakeful night. To my surprise, I found that I was more physically comfortable, lying in my hammock with a wood fire, than I’d ever been in my life. Next morning I emerged to stunning beauty. The smoke of the fire filled the thatched roof, and outside, the morning cloud-mist sat at exactly the same height as the smoke within. As the mist lifted, a Kogi was staring meditatively at the emerging mountain ridges, working his poporo. He turns to me and says, in Spanish, ‘Beautiful’.



A gathering of Mamas in front of their community huts, Alan Eriera visible behind the central figures

On one of the ridges I could see the divination in progress. The Mamas were consulting a bowl of water. And then that night, the meeting. Five old Mamas (the Kogi wisdom-keepers and spiritual guides) in a row, everyone else behind them. ‘Do you have a machine that remembers what we say? Turn it on.’ And then the speech, a relay, one taking over from the next.

In the beginning, there was blackness.

Only the sea.

In the beginning no sun, no moon, no people, only Aluna.

In the beginning there were no animals, no plants.

Only the sea.

The sea was the Mother.

The Mother was not a person, she was not anything.

Nothing at all.

She was when she was, darkly.

She was memory and possibility.

She was Aluna.

This was not what I expected. ‘In the beginning …’. This is a Bible, the Kogi Book of Genesis. I was being given an entire history of the cosmos, a history in which Creation is not performed by saying, ‘Let there be stuff ’, but by pure, un-vocalized thought.

Aluna began to think and imagined nine worlds and imagined many creatures and imagined a great cosmic history and imagined people. This was a gigantic, detailed, vast undertaking. How does an eye work? How does a foot work?

And when it was done, the world was completed. In Aluna, in spirit, in thought.

And then, in the dark before the world, she took the stuff of her own material and separated it, opening a space between memory and possibility, between past and future. In that space, that moment between past and future, appeared all Nature, animals, human beings. This momentary space between past and future is the material world, our reality, filled with the energy of material life, bursting from the chaos of infinite possibilities to be moulded each into its own place, its own sphere of activity, so as to find a harmony with the other lives erupting there.

And human beings, with imagination, with thought, live both inside and outside the material world and were created to work with the Mother in Aluna, to hold this precious present reality in harmony, to prevent it from crashing into chaos, like gardeners who have to see the whole garden and who cut back here, encourage there and have to understand the effect of whatever they do on the whole garden.

And they were placed here, in the Heart of the World, the mountain: the great spindle from which the Mother’s thread unwinds as possibilities become reality and pass into memory. Their word for the mountain is Gonavindua. Go means ‘something being born’, or ‘birth’. Na means ‘something coming’. It is the word for the glimmer of light before dawn. Vi means ‘something moving in the stomach’ – like a foetus shifting after the fourth month of pregnancy. Du means ‘all living things’. Duas means ‘sperm’.

This mountain is the quickening of the world, the beginning of life. A few years later, one Indian described the process by saying, ‘The peak Gonawindua appeared. There was a peak above and a peak below and it began to work as the motor of the world.’

There is a picture of this moment carved on a mountain-shaped temple on the other side of the world. On the walls of the outer gallery of Angkor Wat. The story there is taken not from the Kogi but from Hindu mythology. The Puranas, the primaeval ocean that the Kogi describe, is called the Ocean of Milk and the mountain is called Mandara. The bas-relief shows a great serpent coiled around the mountain, which is a huge spindle in the ocean supported on the back of a great turtle. The serpent is being used as a rope pulled alternately by two armies of supernatural beings, the Devas and the Asuras, with Vishnu supervising it all from above the peak. The churning of the ocean produces all kind of marvels, including the elixir of immortality.

And, of course, from that moment on you have the distinction between mortality and immortality; between a world of birth and death, where we live, and the non-material immortal world of spirit, of transcendence.

Angkor Wat is surrounded by vast artificial lakes and the temple seems to be consciously constructed as a mountain rising from the waters. This is where life begins and it is the link between humanity and the transcendent, between mortality and immortality, the funnel through which possibilities become material substance in the present and a record of their passing into memory.

It was the same in the Middle East. Babylonian temples, ziggurats, were also conceived as mountains and in front of each ziggurat was a representation of the sea, a great basin called the apsu, the deep. The oldest ziggurats we know were constructed in the 3rd millennium BC. Mesopotamia is not noted for its mountains; it’s an idea from somewhere else. So it’s older than that. We see the same thing with Solomon’s temple, built on top of a hill called Zion, the dry place, and in front of it a great bronze cauldron 10 cubits across called yam, the sea.

You see exactly the same in Mayan temples. They, too, are mountains, with steps to the summit, as in the Cambodian temples and the Babylonian ziggurats; and they, too, were once surrounded by large artificial lakes.

This was once a tradition that embraced most of humanity. The importance of the Kogi, I believe, is that for them this tradition is alive, flourishing, and in the hands of a profoundly analytical, intellectually sophisticated people. Of course, you wouldn’t know it from any physical structures. They have no stone temples. Nor from any texts, as they have no writing. But it’s all there all the same and sitting talking with the Mamas is as intellectually challenging as any university symposium.

The mountain itself is their temple. The men’s house, the nuhue, where the meeting was held, is a ceremonial house, itself a mirror of the mountain and contains within itself the entire universe. Inside it are the nine worlds and the four corners of the world and the beams that hold it all in place – the natural forces that hold the world in being and, of course, keep the roof from falling down.

At the top of the mountain, Gonavindua, are the sacred pools that give direct access to the Mother, to the terrifying forces that must be held in check for material reality not to be overwhelmed. Here again we meet ideas of immortality, and the link between the mortal world and immortality is gold, imperishable, immutable and immortal substance in a mortal world. The Kogi speak of the pools as the Mother’s vagina, the source of life, and of gold as her menstrual blood, the evidence that the world is fertile. From this came the old story of El Dorado, the man who plunged, covered in gold, into the sacred pool in search of, as the Spanish believed, the elixir of life. In a sense they Arregoces, who eventually became the governore of Gonavindua Tairona, the Mamas’ representative organisation. were right. He re-vitalizes the gold by returning it to Aluna. And then he dances with it.

We are the Elder Brothers.

We have not forgotten the old ways.

How could I say that I do not know how to dance? We still know how to dance.

We have forgotten nothing.

We know how to call the rain.

If it rains too hard we know how to stop it.

We call the summer.

We know how to bless the world and make it flourish.

The Mamas who made this claim are part priest, part shaman, part judge. Because they stand as the intermediaries between the material world and Aluna, they are the source of wisdom and knowledge for the whole community. Many of them are the children of Mamas; one in ten of them are women. They are chosen for their role at birth, by divination, and then raised in a cave or a double-walled hut, in the dark. They are not to see light for their first nine years. The mother feeds her baby in the dark and when the time comes they are weaned onto a special diet of white foods from before the time of the conquest, without salt, and luke-warm water. They are taught to make offerings in the dark and only taken out at night, and even then with a broad head-covering to prevent moon or starlight falling on their faces.

After nine months in the womb, which is seen as a birthing journey through the nine worlds, they spend a further nine years in this simulacrum of the mountain, the womb of the Mother. During this time the child discovers its aptitudes and is encouraged to pursue them. Then the time comes for a choice: to leave the darkness and experience the world, or to pursue their training for a further nine years.

Those who leave will be diviners, meditators, social workers and leaders of the community. Generally they live in the communities they serve. Those who continue will pursue a specialism – history, medicine, philology (terribly important in a society where the roots of words are hunted down to their deepest origins, knowledge of trees or plants or animals. When they eventually emerge, they generally live in special Mama towns, higher on the mountain, from which they travel to other towns  or consultation. And there are some, living higher than all the others, who remain eternal students, moros, absorbing everdeeper knowledge, semi-mythic beings around whom legends are woven and who appear very rarely, if at all, in the lower communities.

Mamas, as you may imagine, prefer the night. They are the ones who can open the mountain, open hills, build nuhues. Their minds are stocked with memorized knowledge and they are well used to seeing every situation in the round. They carry entire databases of natural and human history in their heads and know what things mean. They also think much faster than I am used to.




Arregoces, who eventually became the governore of Gonavindua Tairona, the Mamas’ representative organisation.

Their main work is making offerings, which are intended to stabilize and harmonize the world and balance the effect of human work. For example, take a man making a clay pot. He has come to the Mama because there is illness in the family and the Mama’s divination has revealed that the fault lies in his cooking and eating vessels. To correct this, he must first show that he is a proper man, mature, capable of undertaking the necessary work. Then he must spend a month apart from his wife, meditating, making offerings and slightly fasting, under the Mama’s supervision. Then permission is given, in the form of a bead called a sewa, a safeguard, a spouse, and he is ready to perform the awe-ful work of plunging his hands into the body of the mother to collect clay. He commits his sewa as the offering for this. Then he begins work, making his pot on a woven mat, under which he places tiny offerings of cotton and leaves, stopping frequently to meditate on the meaning of his work, while the Mama stands over him, lecturing. For days. Until the pot is made and is a source of health, not of illness.

Kogi homes have such a pot, upside down, on top of the roof. The house is in the pot. The pot, too, is a womb, like a bag (and babies are carried in bags), like a temple, like a poporo, like the mountain.

The relationship between the mountain and the ocean is at the core of their understanding of the world. Everything that exists in material reality has its full being, its real nature, in Aluna and Aluna is the transcendental ocean. Duas, which means sperm, also means sea shells. Du is all living things, in the form of the seeds of life. The same word means stars – as in Genesis, the ocean below mirrors the ocean above. There, too, you have the story of the separation of the waters into above and below, and between them the world comes into being.  It’s the same story, filtered through different perspectives.

The lime in the poporo is made from sea shells. The men of the Sierra eat stardust from a gourd shaped like a womb. This, they believe, connects them to the feminine, to life-creating energy. But the source of life is incoherent, chaotic, hard to control and to hold in balance. It is dangerous. Precautions have to be taken when a woman menstruates, as she is closely connected to that life-source and needs to be kept indoors. She is infected with Divine power. And the waters are that power. They are waters of the abyss.

The notion of primaeval waters as both a source of life and a threat to the ordering of Creation is one which is found in the legends of the Near East in Sumerian times. Again, the Kogi are sharing in a widespread story known in many human cultures It appears in cuneiform texts from the early Bronze Age. The Kogi remain a Bronze Age people.

When the Kogi speak, we are listening to very, very ancient voices.

Which brings me back to the history of the world they were teaching me. They explained that the material world was perfect and in harmony, and human beings cared for it, living in the Heart of the World and taking care of Nature as they were instructed by the Mother.

But after the first Creation, another human being was made. This Younger Brother was not like the first people; he was impatient, reckless, lacked respect and did not listen. He ignored and disobeyed the Mother’s instructions. So he was a danger to the Heart of the World.

So the Mother decided to expel him. She gave him knowledge and sent him far away, across the sea, to lands on the far side of the ocean where he could do no harm. It’s a story rather reminiscent of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden.

Then the story went on. The Mamas described how the Younger Brother used his knowledge to return across the ocean in ships and his name was Columbus and how the Spanish arrived to seize the land. ‘The native people lived here, the Elder Brother lived everywhere, but then Younger Brother came and made war on us and we fled in fear and we went up into the mountains. We became frightened and we fled. And so we ran and as we ran we left behind all the things that were ours. We lived in our way, with our own hats, our belts and our clothes. But we ran leaving everything behind. They set dogs on us. The dogs gave tongue and we fled and some fell over, some were killed, and the soldiers were chasing us from behind, the conquista-dors, the soldiers of the Conquest were at our backs. Aaii! All the finest things we left behind, they took them and they hid them away. And so when the Elder Brother finally stopped running and looked for his gold pieces and his other things, his bag, they weren't there, they'd fallen, they'd been dropped, all gone, all gone.’

The Elder Brother survived, high on the mountain, but the progress of the conquest ground steadily on. And now, they told me, the Younger Brother is pressing on into this final refuge. And as he does so, he completes his process of plunder, ripping apart the world for profit. Cutting down trees, ripping out gold, minerals and oil, heating up and drying out the world. ‘We know what you have done. You have taken the clouds. You have sold the clouds.’ Now they are killing the Mother. The Younger Brother, all he thinks about is plunder.

The Mother looks after him too, but he does not think.

He is cutting into her flesh. He is cutting into her arms. He is cutting off her breasts. He takes out her heart. He is killing the Heart of the World. When the final darkness falls everything will stop. The fires, the benches, the stones, everything. All the world will suffer.

When they kill all the Elder Brothers then they too will be finished. We will all be finished. This was my commission. To carry this message, the final warning. I made the film with them. It was shown very widely.

But the conquest did not stop. Today, the small Kogi town where that meeting was held is a Colombian army camp. Guerrillas, paramilitaries and the army are fighting over the whole mountain and the land is being sprayed with defoliant. The Heart of the World is dying, the conquest is almost complete.

And the ice-caps melt and the seas are poisoned and the story of the mountain is probably almost over.

Journey’s end.


This article was originally written by Alan Ereira and published by Caduceus, an independent healing and spiritual magazine and website for the community of healers, seekers and world workers. Available both online and in hard copy.

Alan Ereira is a well-established director and producer of historical documentaries and author of several history books. After working at the BBC for 30 years, he set up his own company, Sunstone Films, in 1996. His programmes have won numerous awards and commendations. After making From the Heart of the World; the Elder Brothers’ Warning, which was shown by the BBC in 1990, he established the Tairona Heritage Trust to promote knowledge of the Kogis’ message and to help them buy back their lands in the lower part of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, now appropriated by Colombian settlers. It is an ongoing project; donors who give at least £25 ($50 US) to the Trust (www.taironatrust.org) receive a ‘thank-you’ DVD of the film.

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