The Kogi people are warning society of destruction we face if we fail to embrace nature.
The Kogi (/ˈkoʊɡi/ koh-gee) or Cogui or Kágaba, meaning "jaguar" in the Kogi language, are an indigenous ethnic group that lives in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia. Their civilization has continued since the Pre-Columbian era.
The Kogi are descendants of the Tairona culture, which flourished before the times of the Spanish conquest. The Tairona were an advanced civilization which built many stone structures and pathways in the jungles. They made many gold objects which they would hang from trees and around their necks. They lived not much differently from modern day Kogi. Before the Spanish conquistadors arrived, the Tairona were forced to move into the highlands when the Caribs invaded around 1000 CE. The decision to flee to the mountains proved beneficial and strategic by the time the Spanish entered modern-day Colombia in the 15th century. In 1498, the Spanish arrived in Northern Colombia where they began to enslave indigenous groups. Threatened by dogs and soldiers alike, the Tairona remained in isolation. Regardless, many priests were hanged, women were stolen and raped, and children were forced to accept Spanish education. Later, missionaries came and also began to influence their way of life, building chapels and churches amidst their villages to train and convert the locals. In the years since, the Kogi have remained in their home in the mountains, which allows them to escape the worst effects of colonization and aids them in preserving their traditional way of life.
The Kogi base their lifestyles on their belief in "Aluna" or "The Great Mother," their creator figure, whom they believe is the force behind nature. The Kogi understand the Earth to be a living being, and see humanity as its "children." They say that our actions of exploitation, devastation, and plundering for resources is weakening "The Great Mother" and leading to our destruction.
Like many other indigenous tribes, the Kogi people honor a holy mountain which they call "Gonawindua," otherwise known as Pico Cristóbal Colón. They believe that this mountain is "The Heart of the World" and they are the "Elder Brothers" who care for it. They also say that the outside civilization is the "Younger Brothers" who were sent away from The Heart of the World long ago.
From birth the Kogi attune their priests, called Mamas (which means sun in Kogi), for guidance, healing, and leadership. The Mamas are not to be confused with shamans or curers but to be regarded as tribal priests who hold highly respected roles in Kogi society. Mamas undergo strict training to assume this role. Selected male children are taken from birth and put in a dark cave for the first nine years of their lives to begin this training. In the cave, elder Mamas and the child's mother care for, feed, train, and teach the child to attune to "Aluna" before the boy enters the outside world. Through deep concentration, symbolic offerings, and divination, the Mamas believe they support the balance of harmony and creativity in the world. It is also in this realm that the essence of agriculture is nurtured: seeds are blessed in Aluna before being planted, to ensure they grow successfully; marriage is blessed to ensure fertility; and ceremonies are offered to the different spirits of the natural world before performing tasks such as harvest and building of new huts.
The Kogi Mamas have remained isolated from the rest of the world since the Spanish Conquistadors came to plunder South America for gold. In order to preserve their traditional way of life, they rarely interact with the modern world or with outside civilization. Outsiders are not allowed inside their ancestral lands. The Kogi Mamas say that the balance of the earth's ecology has been suffering due to the modern-day devastation of resources by Younger Brother. The Kogi Mamas in turn believe that their work as Elder Brother is instrumental in helping to prolong and protect life on earth. In a desperate attempt to prevent further ecological catastrophe and destruction, the Kogi Mamas broke their silence and allowed a small BBC film crew into their isolated mountaintop civilization to hear their message and warning to Younger Brother.