Friday, February 15, 2008

From the Heart of the World

This stunning photograph was presented as a Valentine's Day greeting yesterday. It is so beautiful in and of itself as are all the photos on Nihihiro & Shihiro's Flickr site. But it reminded me of a wonderful book I read many years ago: Alan Ereira's From the Heart of the World.

Somehow Ereira learned of a tribe of Indians in Colombia who had an oral history of Columbus' arrival in their part of the New World. This members of this indigenous tribe, the Kogis, are remnants of the Tairona civilization that flourished in the Santa Marta mountain area before the arrival of Columbus. When relations with the gold hungry Spanish deteriorated this people retreated further and further up the Santa Marta, finally settling in the furthest reaches of it, the Sierra Nevada. They lived there in the mountain heights for many centuries, avoiding contact with civilization but watching those whom they call their "younger brothers" (us) from afar.
The Kogis believe it is their duty to take care of their Mother and ours, the Earth. About the time Ereira learned about them, their leaders, called Mamas, had decided that the "younger brothers" were doing things that were hurting the Mother, our Earth. So after centuries of avoiding civilization, the Mamas came to believe that it was time to reach out to us and to warn us that we were harming the Earth.

Alan Ereira's book, which was later republished under the title, The Elder Brothers, is the story of his meeting the Kogi Mamas and of how he worked with them to make a film about them and their message to us about our Mother, the Earth.

In the time that has passed between the release of Ereira's film which I believe was in the 1980"s and the present, the Kogis and three other Tairona peoples have experienced many difficulties resulting from the intrusions of Younger Brother. One of the most devastating intrusions has been the result of the U.S. government's War on Drugs.

The coca bean has been an essential part of Kogi life over the centuries. Chewing the bean has helped them withstand extreme cold and perservere in the intensive labor necessary to successfully farm the slopes of the Sierra Nevada. In an effort to control the trafficking of cocaine, the U.S. government has sponsored aerial fumigations of vast stretches of Kogi lands. Other troubles have occurred because the Colombian government has resettled other Colombian in the Kogi land reserves.

Perhaps worse than anything else that has befallen them, the Elder Brothers' warning to us, their undisciplined Younger Brothers, has not been heeded, and they are watching the precious snows disappear from the Sierra Nevada, the snows which feed the streams that water the lands all the way down to the bottom of the Santa Marta mountains of Colombia.

The indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada knew about global warming before we did. They've been living in the heart of the earth and they have been watching their Younger Brothers wound the Mother that sustains us all. Their concern led them to emerge from their hidden retreat to warn us about our careless treatment of our Earth. Ever since I read about them I have held the Kogis and the other Tairona peoples in my heart. I truly believe I feel the grief and the helplessness that they must feel. I believe the Kogis and other indigenous peoples carry within them a wisdom which we do not have. I believe we should listen to our Elder Brothers.