One of the few existing tribes that were living in isolation is the Arhuaco, along with their Wiwa and Kogi neighbors. Once they had to face the Spanish conquistadors back in around the 16th Century, and yet, they were able to survive and retain their culture within their wonderful homeland – the pyramid-like Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. This wonderful place full of glacial peaks and wetlands was declared as a Biosphere Reserve of Man and Humanity by the UN back in 1979 and was referred to as an irreplaceable site of the ecosystem by the Science journal.
The community of three have a rough population of around 90,000 as per Cultural Survival. They call themselves Elder Brothers. They have a spiritual connection with the world and the cosmos. These cultures are ruled over by a mamo priesthood and they have a cosmovision which helps them gain enlightenment. Most of the wise men are chosen by divination and they undergo the long spiritual process, much like the Dalai Lama. According to the founder of the Tairona Heritage Trust and a documentary film maker, they like to keep harmony among nature and act as spirit midwives. According to them, every rock and elements of nature have the thoughts and ideas of their ancestors embedded in them. That’s one of the reasons why a mamo, Izquierdo, and the rest of the community fails to understand how humans can continue to inflict such harm on this planet – as claimed by an anthropologist, Wade Davis.
The community had lived in isolation for a long time. However, the Arhuaco suddenly noticed certain changes. The snow caps of the mountains were melting and the savanna was drying up. Butterflies and amphibians were starting to disappear. It was no longer a mystery- climate change is happening and it is affecting them. For this reason, the Arhuaco tribe came out in the open and revealed themselves. They wanted to share with their Younger Brothers, us, the message of conservation. They went on to establish the Organización Indígena Gonawindua Tayrona and make changes from the government level. The Kogi tribe even invited the filmmaker Ereira to film the movie From the Heart of the World: The Elder Brothers’ Warning.
But the film lacked success. It was not taken well by most people and now, they have returned and called the filmmaker again. This time, they are in for a sequel titled Aluna. There is an urgency in their voice – things are not looking well for the planet and they are repeatedly coming in to warn others about it.
Izquierdo is one of the leaders who is trying to bring about changes in the interaction between Arhuaco and modern human communities. He is in for economic environment and ethno-tourism too. As a way to bring about more cooperation, the tribes have been producing and selling quality organic coffee since 1995. However, the changing climate has pushed them up to cooler areas of the mountain. According to Izquierdo, he wants more people to learn about their culture as well as learn how to cultivate with a proper conscience. It’s his way of saying No to pesticides and harmful fertilizers.
After getting into a cash-based economy, Arhuaco is trying to earn enough cash to buy back the ancestral lands that were taken by the Younger brothers. It’s their way of giving back something to the planet.
Now, all that is left is for us to give something back too – if we are willing to do so.
Image credit Wiki