Saturday, 15 November 2008

Kogis, documentaries, and voluntary isolation

Early this year, while going through a Ralph Metzner Interview we recorded in 2003 my curiosity was piqued by his mention of the documentary: "From the heart of world." In Google I found the documentary, about Colombia's Kogi Indians, had been shot in 1991, broadcast by the BBC, gone on to video(released in the US by the fantastic Mystic Fire Video) and gone on to become somewhat of a lost cult classic. Never reissued, the VHS used to fetch quite outrageous prices (used to be more than $100, lately around $39)

Since the doc seemed out of my reach. I bought the book instead (reviews here, but buy it here and give back to the Kogi)

I cannot recommend the book enough. Much is amazing about the Kogi: The fact that they have managed to keep their culture alive by a practical form of voluntary isolation... while living right next one of the first places where Europeans disembarked into the Americas. The role that the "Mamas" (priest/leader/healer) play in their culture, not to mention the extreme training to become one, which includes keeping future Mamas living inside a cave, in perpetual darkness, throughout much of their childhood. During their training years they´ll never see the light of the day, while being taught every night, "concentration". Can you imagine what the world must look like after 10 years of darkness. Nothing short astounding, and that is precisely what they are being taught.

"...told me that Mamas are educated from infancy in the dark, and only allowed into the light when their education is complete, after two periods of nine years. Nine is the number required for completeness, as a foetus spends nine lunar months in the womb, and there are nine worlds. There are also characters called moros, he said, whose education continues for two more periods of nine years. These I would never meet; they live high in the Sierra, and speak only with Mamas. These are the oracles who determine ultimate policy. These creatures are the ones who have seen the approach of the end of the world. I later discovered that moro is the word for any pupil studying to be a Mama. It does seem quite possible that some students are not released into the light until they are over thirty. . . . The Kogi are profoundly ascetic, and prepare themselves for important moments by fasting, meditation and sexual abstinence; contact with anyone who is still locked into the gross physical world can, they believe, render this preparation useless. Javier's moros would be in this heightened state all their lives, and it would therefore be impossible for me ever to set eyes on them, but he suggested that they would have their eyes on me" -- pp. 77-8

The book tells the story of how the Kogi decided to break their silence to issue one last warning to "the younger brother" (that's us) how Alan Ereira was chosen to deliver that message to the world. The message itself, one of upcoming ecological apocalypse brought by the warming of the earth is all the more spooky when taking in consideration no one had told the Kogis about global warming, they observed it. I was completely fascinated by the book, and so was my gf who got it after me.

this point I went on a quest to to find more about the Kogi. First I looked for Reichel-Dolmatoffs pioneer study on the Kogi. Now *that* was a difficult book to track, by pure chance I found out it had been republished by a small-print literary magazine in Spain a decade ago. I ended up finding a copy in an appointment-only second-hand store in Madrid. The book added a whole new layer to my understanding of the Kogi, and also put a lot of things in perspective, there are many tribes who feel they live literally, at the center of creation, and see themselves holders of the world order (that old ethnocentrism), also the whole warming up and drying of the earth message that the Kogi delivered 20 years ago, and that seems so prophetic nowadays, can be as related to local weather changes caused by erosion in the Sierra de Santa Marta (already at work in the 60s) as to global circumstances. None of this makes the Kogi less extraordinary.

Then I found out a copy of the documentary could be had by donating more than $50 to The Tairona Heritage Trust, an NGO set up by the film director, Aran Ereira. I donated, and that´s how I got to see the film, which is well worth it.... and so is the cause the it supports.

Last week I received a letter form the foundation describing their purchase of large tracks of land to create an "environmental and cultural cordon" of "border towns" to literally manage the encounter between the outside world and the restricted zone they hope to have declared as Kasankwa (sacred territory) by the UNESCO.

Do donate

Meanwhile, in a recent talk at TED, anthropologist superstar Wade Davis tells of his encounter with the Elder Borthers, and -guess what- he claims the Mama's do not spend childhoold in the dark, but isolated, working in Aluna. However, Davis wasn´t with teh Kogs but with teh Arhuacos. Here´s the video starts at 10:30. He also spoke about the Kogis in 2003 here starts at around minute 8 but the whole talk really is must.

In the last year, the wonderful Free University in the Internet has posted a full copy of the doc (along with many other wonderful things)

And the blog socially responsible films.. has followed suit which doesn´t mean you shouldn´t contribute to the cause if you can (and you can).

In spite for the obvious call to being left alone that the Kogis made at the end of the doc the story has continued, "L. Condor" a former Ford employee is putting together a documentary with a *second* older brother´s message, the prophecy of the eagle and the condor, and apparently some mamas made it to Georgetown University (!) Here's an Australian homeopath's strange story .. and a healer named Sequoya Trueblood claims to have been telepathically contacted by the Kogi


In a more serious and worthwhile note, the French geographer Eric Julien has shot 2 more documentaries and written two books about the Kogi, has also started an NGO with the purpose of purchasing land for the Kogi

Indeed, in spite of that the first documentary might have implied the Kogi are not completely isolated, they regularly engage in commerce and interchange, have missionaries and nuns living with them etc. In Colombia they seem to be well known. Here's a TV news clip form a recent ceremony by Kogi Mamas to cleanse the mountains of the toxicity left by FARC guerilla land mines. It was attended by Colombia´s vice-president, and Carlos Vives on of the country´s biggest pop stars. The news anchor even uses the term "younger brothers" without feeling the need to explain its meaning. Indeed "La muralla" a Kogi settlement for the benefit of tourism is in the process of being built (newsclip in Spanish). Seems like the older bother´s message has penetrated the collective unconscious (or pop culture)

It couln´t be any other way. Everything about the Kogis, from their ecological message, their poetic rejection of industrial culture, their matriarchal mythology (a goddess of creation, at last!) their voluntary isolation, etc. position them like no others to become, quite against their will, the poster tribe of all things New Age. They don't even posses all those other qualities (like penchant of warfare) that make other indigenous cultures so unconformable to westerners. They are an indigenous culture like we would like all indigenous cultures to be, pacific, spiritual, and ecological.

My recomendation? Read Ereira's book.

3 coments:

Christina said...

I first heard of the Kogi in Wade Davis's book "One River" and have been taken with their story ever since. There was also an article in the October 2004 National Geographic, with a foreword by Davis, announcing them to the world, so to speak. They are enduring attacks, including murder, from settlers and cocaine growers, as well as persecution from leftist guerilla forces and the paramilitary. It seems to be the dawn of a sad era for a beautiful and ardent people. More than anyone, they are the ones I'd like to go visit given the chance. However, considering their message that they'd like to be left alone, true respect means that I'll have to choose another destination.

jeronimo m.m. said...

That doesn´t mean you cannot help them, though. I included links to a three of NGOs devoted to buying back their land from the new settlers. Do contribute.

jan-frank said...

On this web site you will find information about the campaign: ‘Gold for the Kogi’.

The web site is in English, German, Spanish, Dutch and French.
With the donation of the golden objects we want to show respect to the Kogi for there work for Mother Earth. The goal of this campaign is getting attention for the message of the Kogi: The way we treat the earth will lead to big disasters. Live with respect for the earth.