The Heart of the World

I remember seeing the documentary film when it was first released by the BBC. Made by the accomplished film maker, Alan Ereira, it allowed the Kogi, an indigenous people, living on the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia, to speak. They see themselves as the 'elder brother', custodians of the original tradition and of the task of world conservation, of maintaining ecological balance and harmony. They see 'us' as the 'younger brother' who is dangerously failing to understand the importance of that balance and is, through their actions, systematically dismantling the world, making it unviable for life. They represent one of the pre-Colombian civilizations that retreated to the remote Sierra in the face of the European invasion of Conquistadors and Christianity, resisting both.

They decided to speak now, having lived consciously separated lives, because the signs of dissolution were all around them (for example, the glaciers on their mountain tops were in retreat, the balance of their ecosystems upset). Not that it is only their excellence at ecological observation in the micro-climates of the Sierra, but in the disruption in the 'aluna' - that is the matrix from which all things are born and the harmony of which the 'Mamas' (the Kogi 'priesthood') have a critical role in preserving. 'Aluna' is a difficult notion to translate because it rests on different, non-material premises than those entertained by mainstream science. As far as the Kogi are concerned, so much the worse for 'science'. What is remarkable about them is far from falter in their sense of identity before the onrush of the West, they have retained it and regard us as the 'primitive' (without our accompanying aggression towards it).

Having finished Ereira's book accompanying the film, I was reminded both of the seriousness of their claims and the honesty of the film maker. The Kogi are decidedly different as a society, living by very different metaphysical assumptions to the one's that bind the 21st century West, but Ereira never once suggests that the Kogi are a perfect society. They are never romanticised. But they are shown to have a cogent, coherent perspective that deserves a voice (grounded in a highly effective society that has nurtured sustainable well-being for centuries).

At heart, you realises that what matters is meaning (and well-being) and that this has precious little to do with consumption (though interestingly ownership, and its complexities, does provide real grit to how the Kogi manage to live with one another, a grit not always harmoniously resolved) and that the Mother Earth that bears us can only do so if what we take from her is either given back or recycled. Time is seen here in long stretches and, therefore, robbing the future to enjoy the present is seen as wholly unacceptable.

Since we did not 'get it', sadly, the first time, the Kogi decided to speak again, making a second film ( and you can only pray that we, the cloth eared younger brother, will get it...eventually...and before it is too late.


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