Our Family Tree: Learning Balance from the Heart of the World
“For our people, Cerro Gonavindua is the center of the universe and the mountain’s health controls the health of the entire planet. Our entire social organization and spiritual and cultural foundation are based on sacred practices carried out throughout these traditional lands. We believe that the Sierra Nevada is the “Heart of the World.”
The ancient Kogi, Arhuaco, Kankuamo and Wiwa of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia know themselves as the Elder Brothers, dismissing the rest of humanity as new-comers, as the Younger Brother who chooses to neglect and destroy the balance of the world. With their prayers and spiritual practice, the Elder Brothers work to maintain the cosmic balance.
They are a people who exemplify a wholly profound relationship to nature and to the Earth. Wade Davis describes that for the Mamas, the priests and shaman of the Sierra Nevada, "A hill can also be a house, the mountains a model of the cosmos. The white hats worn by Arhuaco men also symbolize the snowfields of the sacred peaks. The hairs on a person's body echo the forest trees that cover the mountain flanks. Every element of nature is imbued with higher significance, so that even the most modest of creatures can be seen as a teacher, and every feature of the world mirrors the whole."
For Kogi priests, time is to be manipulated, detached from or forgotten entirely. The Mamas “reach beyond this sphere, and attempt to manipulate a cosmic machinery of surprising dimensions.” In “The Sacred Mountain of Colombia's Kogi Indian” the anthropologist Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff describes Kogi cosmology; “Traditional Kogi religion is closely related to Kogi ideas about the structure and functioning of the Universe, and Kogi cosmology is ... a model for survival in that it moulds individual behaviour into a plan of actions or avoidances that are oriented toward the maintenance of a viable equilibrium between Man's demands and Nature's resources. In this manner the individual and society at large must both carry the burden of great responsibilities which, in the Kogi view, extend not only to their society but to the whole of mankind.”
Initiate Mamas, who begin training as young as two or three years, cast off their circadian rhythms; rising at sunset and going to sleep at dawn, leading nocturnal lives while learning ways to manipulate time and light and darkness across two periods of nine years.
Reichel-Dolmatoff explains “The knowledge and interpretation of circadian rhythms is used by the mámas in their attempt to deflect young children from biologically-based activity patterns, in order to create in them another, culturally-defined, perception of the relativity of time and space. Time and space are not thought to set inescapable barriers to the human condition, and a true mama must be able to step outside of time.”
Upon return to society, a Mama's role is to “turn back the sun or to drown (the world) with rain”. The Kogi "feel responsible for the moral conduct of all men ... there is great interest in foreign cultures ... The training of novices is, therefore, a necessity not only for Kogi society, but also for the maintenance of the wider moral order...The education of a máma is, essentially, a model for the education of all men (who) should follow a máma's example of frugality, moderation, and simple goodness.”
In 1974, Reichel-Dolmatoff noticed the emergence of younger priests “who do not conform to the basis established by tradition, but who glimpse new horizons and new dimensions in which human destiny might fulfill itself.”
After founding the Gonavindua Tairona Indigenous Organization of the Mamas in 1987 in order to defend and promote indigenous culture, traditions, independence and autonomy, the Mamas began to emerge from a policy of complete isolation to further their message and invocations of balance.
By 1988, responding to a request by BBC film director Alan Ereira, fieldwork and production began on a documentary with the Kogi, who maintained a high degree of creative intent and control of the project. Shortly afterwards (two years before 1700 of the world's leading scientists released the document known as World Scientists' Warning to Humanity) the release of the film “From the Heart of the World - the Elder Brothers' Warning” carried a message from a Kogi Mama: “Up to now we have ignored the Younger Brother. We have not deigned even to give him a slap. But now we can no longer look after the world alone. The Younger Brother is doing too much damage. He must see, and understand, and assume responsibility. Now we will have to work together. Otherwise, the world will die."
This project led to the establishment of a small British-based NGO, Tairona Heritage Trust, which, along with Gonavindua Tairona successfully raised money for the purchase of ancient territories.
Describing the importance of exchange, offering and gratitude in maintaining the balance of all life, David Applebaum relates “That which the Kogi remember, and that we the Younger Brothers have forgotten, are the laws of exchange. Nothing may be responsibly taken from the created universe -- the Mother -- without giving something in return … (engaging) a vital circulation of energy between this and higher worlds. When the circulation is cut off, as it is with our thoughtless appropriation of the planet's resources, the Earth will go down, all life will languish.... The Mamas are aware of the importance of the transformation of energies in the maintenance of cosmic order. Their lives are centered around the act of offering.”
At the beginning of 2008 Wade Davis and National Geographic traveled with the Mamas to the Heart of the World to create a new film. In this video, entitled "The Worldwide Web of Belief and Ritual," from the 2008 TED Conference, Wade Davis relates his experiences making the film with the Elder Brothers, powerfully sharing a message and presenting an offering to the possibilities of unity, integrity and balance.
For further information, and to assist the indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, visit Program to Support the Heart of the World.Tweet