For the Indigenous Kogi, Arhuaco, Wiwa and Kankuamo Tribes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia; the displacement of traditionally held lands and waters from its people is not simply a loss of chattel, it’s the loss of identity. It’s the severance of a compact between people and the Great Mother. Based upon a sacred vow made with the great Mother, their shared imperative is to uphold the Great Mother’s original law – that all must protect and nurture the planet, our home. For this reason, they work and live together committed to their primary mission – serving as caretakers of the Earth.
Their ancestral lands, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a triangular massif tectonically bordered by faults and lineaments on its three sides, a snow-covered pyramid uplifted 18,000 feet above the Caribbean Sea.i Containing Earth’s full bio-diverse ecological range, the Sierra’s 600 streams birth thirty-six major rivers. To the tribes, the Sierra is a reflection of the entire Earth: the entirety dependent upon the Sierra’s constituent parts, an interconnected web of life. Individual parts equivalent to the whole, each atom contains the essence of all lands, waters and skies. Consequently, logic holds that their rituals extend beyond traditional lands, encompassing the entire world system. In this light, the well-being of their mountains embracing the well-being of the Earth counsels: they must preserve their traditions.ii
When the Spanish arrived to colonize the South American Indigenous civilizations of the Sierra Nevada, the Kankuamo, who lived closest to the base of the mountain extensively lost their ancestral language and customs. The Kogi lived at a higher elevation and are to this day skilled spiritual warriors (they do not use weapons). To some extent, the Kogi were able to mentally discourage the Conquistadors from pursuing them. The Wiwa had as part of their mission to protect the Kogi who spent much of their lives meditating on the inner planes and they suffered personal loss to honor their mission. The Arhuaco, tasked with keeping the balance were forced to interact with the colonists, but steadfastly refused to abandon their ways even though it meant their lives. Eventually, with the arrival of the Capuchin missionaries during the 1920’s, the Arhuacos migrated further up the mountains to avoid cultural cleansing. There they joined the Kogi, each sharing their respective teachings and language while maintaining their individual traditions. Of note is that the indigenous of the Sierra Nevada never fought among themselves. They always honored each others missions and worked together to serve The Mother. Also, their communities were widely dispersed. They came together only for festivals and council and lived primarily in very small communities.
Fundamental to their way of life is the belief in Aluna, Primordial Consciousness. For them, the entire world system is connected through Aluna. From Aluna, the physical world is realized as male and female polarities as the entirety of Nature and individual physical bodies. The magnetic correspondence of male and female energies is a direct reflection of negative and positive natural polarities.
From the mountain, they’ve observed the destruction of the world’s ecosystems. As with changes throughout the Earth, the tribes have seen the snow cease falling and the rivers dry up. Of eight Sierra ridges once snow-covered, only one remains. Impending seaport construction along the north coast of their ancestral lands, as well as incompatible development of the lower foothills, threaten the fifty-four of their sacred sites circling the base of the mountain that mediate with the sea.
People and landscape severed from each other is a severing of stories from ancestors, sinew and blood from mountains and rivers, breath and heat from winds and currents, hearts and souls from transactional grounds with divinity. Loss of healers, teachers, lovers, companions.
We are eager to protect our sacred sites because these sites are like the eyes, ears, lungs, arms of nature. Each site is a Being; a mother or father spirit who is alive and has a spirit. Our rivers are like the veins that run from the head in the glacier peaks thru the body of the mountain. If these things are destroyed, it will bring an end to our indigenous culture, it will destroy us as a people.iii
It struck my heart that it is from this same beautiful mountain top the Mamos have been observing the destruction of the world’s ecosystems for generations. The felling of large plots of trees, Industrial agriculture, building of dams, and coal mines has caused mass devastation to the Sierra. This is not a singular story to Colombia but witnessed all over the world.
We see how, for millennia, when the great forests covered these valleys, these mountains, we lived in complete harmony. There were countless water sources, birds, and animals. Birds of prey that were messengers; the thunder could be heard in its full meaning; the wind was pure; every one of them was the messenger of them all. But if today I sit anywhere on this mountain ranges to engage in my reflections —as we have been doing for over 25 centuries—, what I interpret now may be wrong; for here we cannot meditate anymore.
Similar, to the climate changes observed across the Planet, in recent years, they have seen the snow stop falling and the rivers dry up. Eight of the mountain ridges were once covered in snow but now only one remains. During my trip I saw a Mamo with tears of complete devastation because the river that supplies water to his village has run dry. A river that supplies all the water needs for his entire people. The loss of the river is a loss of his whole village. They see the displacement and disconnection from their sacred ancestral lands as the cause for this calamity as well as increased natural disaster and disease. In order, to perform the proper rituals and pagamentos to repair the river it would require that they recoup the lost ancestral land that is adjacent to this village. It would require that they work in harmony with the local spirits to bring back the balance of the water.
The Mamos and Zagas maintain their sacred sites by abiding in a state of constant meditation with the consciousness of Aluna. Cultivating full awareness of the Earth’s connections and the efforts necessary to assure the well being of its inhabitants, the Mamos and Zagas maintain a deep communion with the spirits of each animate and inanimate thing, and their roles within the whole system. Their vow is to keep the balance and harmony of all forces within Aluna. The Mamos while holding deep respect for the life force of the Earth, the tribes perform their sacred work through ceremony, rituals and pagamentos (offerings).
Their deep meditations connect them to everything in the landscape and nature around and within. These mediations have shown that all of existence self-arises in spirit from the Void of Creation, Aluna. Our efforts to be in harmony and balance must first start there. Aluna is comparable to Tao, the One, the All that gives rise to the appearance of duality through the principles of dark and light, feminine and masculine, positive and negative, receptive and creative, wisdom and method. The Mamos say that the laws of the Great Mother are simple. Love and Harmony. Love is the connector that forms the harmony between the balance of polarities. It is not the dichotomy of balancing opposites but the harmony of complementary principles. Through the silence of meditation, in stillness you connect to something greater than the Self (Ego). You connect to the eternal. Through these teachings we were cleansed physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. And shown how to greet and give respect to the water, rocks and trees. For they each give us life; the water we drink, the earth we stand on and the air we breathe. They cannot understand how humanity can plunder and mine the earth for natural resources. They speak about how our wisdom is written in the Rocks and our memories are held by the waters. The rocks have been here through the history of time. The water is the same water that was here a million of years ago.
The world of the Kogi has nine layers: above and below the level of the earth there are four strata, diminishing in size to give the shape of two cones, joined at the base. Each layer corresponds to a type of soil, to one of the nine months of human gestation, and to one of the nine daughters of the Earth Mother. The double cone is the sunwise turning spindle worked be the Earth Mother to create the yarn of the universe. The fifth or middle plane of earth is the spindle whorl and the shaft of the spindle is the axis of the total world, the creation of which is described as a setting of the spindle upright. iv
We are composed of the same five elements as the landscape around us. Our blood is the water, our breath the air, our inspiration and desire the fire and our flesh the earth. The subtlest level of the five elements exist as balanced male/female energy arising from Primordial awareness, Aluna. As the frequency or movement of the cosmic ocean coalesce and condense that energy forms the subtle level of the Elements. The movement of Aluna appears as the gale or wind of vital energy that forms these elements. Through the distorted perception of duality, the elements first appear as the basis of our Consciousness then condense as the sense perceptions and our bodily systems. And these same elements exist within all of Nature, whether that is the Nature of our human essence or landscape. We are aware of the elements through the inner winds as the movement, integration, comprehension of our thoughts and emotions. These same winds or elements form our physical bodily systems; digestive, nervous, circulatory, respiratory, musculoskeletal. As the cords of the gale are cut there is surely death. There is no separation between the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual existence as outer, inner, and secret they are reflections in landscape symbolized as the Sierra Nevada Mountain.
Composed of the same five elements that produce our physical bodies, the physical landscape of the Earth is produced by the thoughts and actions undertaken through the collective karma of sentient beings. The collective delusions and karmic tendencies resulting in attraction, repulsion and indifference, determines the essential characteristics of our world system. v
They shared with us that cotton is one the Indigenous most sacred plants, they believe that it is closest to our own human consciousness. It is the material that we wear and sleep in, so it picks on our energy, thoughts and emotions and holds them. It is a fiber that is both strong and soft. They meditate while manipulating the fibers into yarn and thread; with the same male and female principles, Ganzin twisting or spinning to the left as male energy and Durga twisting or spinning to the right is female. To keep the balance of energies, the men create the fabric since the loom is considered the female Earth Mother. All their teachings speak about the importance of harmony of these complementary pairs. It is the result of disharmony that disease and disaster arise. The yarn and thread are a medium of this principle that is then used to make their clothes, mochila bags and pagamentos. Aluna directs the rituals, ceremonies and meditations that are used for each step. From the preparing of the soil, planting of the seeds, harvesting the crops, spinning the yarn and creation of tapestry. It is not simply a garment or bag. They are interwoven with their very deep connection to Aluna and enlivened.
Our breath is our Mantra. The primary relationship of our Soul is with the soul of the world, the divine spark in every cell of creation. By bridging the opposites, soul weaves the cosmos into existences. The mystery of turning lead into gold is a revelation of the hidden light within the darkness of matter. vi
The Mamos believe that each human has a golden Sun laying in potential located in the cave of our inner heart. This Supernal Sun is our spark of divinity and individual share of the Primordial consciousness of Aluna. Through their deep meditations with the male and female energies in perfect harmony and balance in Aluna, the golden seed blooms and ignites an eternal flame of the Supernal Sun. Once it is activated it is the bridge that connects each of their sacred sites on the mountain, their heart of the world, to the Primordial existence within each of them. As their Gale of consciousness coalesce it forms a bond between the people and the landscape. Just as the outer sun reflects the inner Sun; our outer breath reflects the solar gale. The ritual of greeting the morning Sun reminds me of the Supernal Sun that resides within my heart. The visible sun as a reflection of the hidden Supernal Sun. From which the solar out-breath gave me life. As this gale blows it quarters the world and forms the 6 physical directions. The Supernal Sun feeds the tree of life, the Axis Mundi. That grows forth from the Golden seed that lies on the cosmic ocean within the core of each and every sentient being. This golden seed holds all possibilities in potential and moves on the waters of creation. If given enough contemplation and attention or the deep silence of meditation will bloom into the Golden flower of Tao. The radiance of the solar out-breath that illuminates the inner chamber of the heart and shines forth in All that exists.
Ritual action expresses that relationship with wisdom greater than our conscious mind leading to a larger view of self and world. vii
During the time when the earth was first formed great mother planted a spindle in the fresh soil of the Sierra. The thread from the spindle weaved the land, plants and animals, it weaved man and woman. This thread joins all of her creations and breathes life into form. As the shaft of the spindle turns through time like the churring of the milky way, our life stories are written. It is the turning of the Shaft that creates the friction to produce heat or energy that moves through the branches of the human nervous system as their energetic pathway, the microcosmic reflection of the Macrocosmic. The thread connects our inner heart with the same the heart of the mountain that was first formed when the Mother planted the Spindle into the earth.
In the beginning of time, the Mother Goddess took a spindle and pushed it upright into the newly created and still soft earth, right in the centre of the snowpeaks of the Sierra Nevada, saying: “This is the central post…!’ and then, picking from the top of the spindle a length of yarn, she drew with it a circle around the spindle-whorl and said: “This shall be the land of my children’.” viii
The thorough understanding concerning the weaving of the cosmos as well as the fabric of life is essential to their way of being and cosmology. The turning of the shaft of this spindle causes the friction or force of Wirakokwa, the golden sun in the heart of our Planet. It was the powerful force of Wirakokwa that pulled the elements from the Cosmos when the planet was first formed. And the love of Ingwikugui that gave Wirakokwa the tranquility and balance which allowed the birth of the 4 elements; Air, Fire, Water and Earth. The lovers Ingwikugui and Wirakokwa are in constant embrace in the heart of Gunnekun.
Gunnekun, the great Mother Earth, has 4 son’s that quarter the world and each gave a teaching to the four tribes of the Sierra Nevada. Aruawiku the guardian of the east gave the Kankuamo the solar laws represented by the weaving of the white thread of the day. As well as health, life and clarity. Serankua the guardian of the south gave the Wiwa the teachings of the essence of the male force of the Earth. Sey Kukwi the guardian of the west gave the Arhuaco the Lunar laws of the night forces represented by the weaving of the black thread. As well as vegetation, crops, illness, death, silence, darkness and shadows. Nankua the guardian of the north gave the Kogi the teachings of the essence of the female forces of the earth.
The Four tribes are represented by the above symbol that was first given to the Arhuaco by Gunnekun the sacred Great mother.
The four fires in the large temple symbolize the four sons of the Great mother, the four lineages of the four tribes, the four cardinal directions, the four limbs of man, the four layers of the underworld, the four layers of the upper world and the four seasons of the sun.
At the base of the Sierra there is a Black line, linea Negro, that connects 54 sacred sites which circle the mountain to the ocean and the river basins. Each site has its unique purpose and carries its singular energy. They are a dynamic piece to the whole. With the energy of the ceremonies and pagamentos performed in each location, the vibrations of the sacred water are carried up to the glacial pools at the peaks. And Great mother reciprocates this gesture with giving the life sustenance of the rivers flowing back down the mountain through the villages in a mutual relationship of interrelated dependency. All 54 sacred sites are crucial to the energetic well being of the people, mountain and in reflected correspondence, the world. In their cosmology, 54 is the culmination of the 9 spirals that our consciousness travels multiplied by the 6 directions (mother and father plus the four cardinal) of spiritual and temporal space. These sacred sites that surround the mountain exist in Male and Female pairs. They are reflection of the 108 energetic pathways that radiate from the heart of a human being and in turn the world. These 108 pathways are the branches of the tree of life, Axis Mundi. Their designation of this line with the color black is interchangeable with the color Gold. It is symbolic of the same divine universal energy. The Mamos said that they use the word black instead of gold because it encompasses all colors within the Great circle.
Interdependence, of course, is a fundamental law of nature. Not only myriad forms of life, but the subtlest level of material phenomena, as well, is governed by interdependence. All phenomena, from the planet we inhabit to the oceans, clouds, forests and flowers that surrounds us, arise in dependence upon subtle patterns of energy. Without their proper interaction, they dissolve and decay.” ix
The number 54 has appeared in many of the ancient civilizations as a sacred number. In the Sanskrit alphabet there are 54 letters with male (Shiva) and female (Shakti) aspects with a total of 108. And the Sri Yantra, which is symbolic of the cosmos macrocosmically and the human body microcosmically, has 9 interlocking triangles within a circle; five downward pointing triangles representing the female (Shakti) principle and four upright pointing triangles representing the male (Shiva) principle. Only two of the overlapping male and female triangle touch the enclosure of the circle at 6 points. The overlapping of all 9 triangles form 54 points of intersections. The Sri Yantra is a geometric symbolism of the Mamos cosmology, this is not a coincidence. Also, in the ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese acupuncture traditions there are 108 (54 x 2) conjunction points formed from the five; digestive, nervous, circulatory, respiratory and musculoskeletal bodily systems. They are the 108 energy lines (Nadis) or points (chakras) that radiate out from the heart which are used throughout all Pranic traditions. The Sierra Nevada as the Heart of the world with its 54 sacred sites in male and female polarity or the 9 levels of the spiral of consciousness times the 12 constellations of the sun; both totally 108 which is symbolic of this same Pranic teaching.
Gaira is one of these scared sites that was being threatened with by seaport construction. It was imperative to restore and safeguard the sanctity of this parcel for the tribes. In Colombia it is required to not only purchase the parcel of land but have a topography done as well as fence the property to keep ownership. For the Mamos, in conjunction with their entire way of living, the building of the fence must be done in a sacred way. Gaira is 80 hectares and will require living Morundwa trees. They cannot simply pierce the flesh of the Mother with posts and metal. They will also have an additional cost of building temples and homes for the establishment of their people. This particular piece of land will be a gathering place for all people. It is proposed and planned that Gaira will be a sacred learning site for not only the Indigenous but open to all beings that will come to learn about the sacred teachings of the Mamos and Zagas. This proposal calls for 5 temples; 2 female, 2 male and 1 large temple as the gathering place for teachings. The large temple will be built to hold four places for fires. The number four is very sacred, it represents not only the four tribes of the Sierra but in their cosmology the four sons of the sacred Great Mother (Gunnekun); Serankua, Nankua, Aruawiku, Sey Kukwi. The creation of this temple will replicate the Original creation of the Earth and the quartering of the cardinal directions which is the Great loom laid upon the land. It will emphasize the importance of the weaving of life within their cosmology with the rising and falling of the sun throughout the day microcosmically, the year macrocosmically. This proposal also calls for the building of 9 homes that will be built in the ancestral sacred ways. Nine is the most sacred cosmic number in their tradition. It represents the nine levels of their universe, nine spirals of the Soul, nine months of the human gestation and the nine daughters of Gunnekun. Some will be in a circular shape and others square depending on the energy required.
Contributed by Lanette Padula
i Charles M. Tschanz, Richard F. Marvin, Jaime Cruz B., Harald H. Mehnert, Gerald T. Cebula; “Geologic Evolution of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Northeastern Colombia.” GSA Bulletin: 85 (2): 273–284. doi: https://doi.org/10.1130/0016-7606(1974)85<273:GEOTSN>2.0.CO;2
ii Beliefs are similar to the Japanese Kegon Buddhist School. See Junjiro Takakusu. The Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1978): 112-130
iii Jose de Los Santos Sauna, Kogi Cabildo Governor. See Atossa Soltani and Evelyn Arce. “The Kogi: An Urgent Call from Guardians of the Heart of the World”, Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine, March 2014. https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/kogi-urgent-call-guardians-heart-world
iv Adrian Snodgrass, Architecture, Time and Eternity Volume 2 (New Delhi, 1990) pg 509
v Tenzin Gyatso, H.H. The XIVth Dalai Lama. “Buddhist Concept of Nature” in Cho Yang, Vol. I (Dharamsala: Council for Religious and Cultural Affairs).
vi Aphrodite – Iona Miller.
vii (Miller, 2016)
viii Reichel-Dolmatoff, Gerardo, The Loom of Life: A kogi Principle of Integration, 1978, pg 13
ix H.H DL https://www.dalailama.com/messages/environment/global-environment Universal Responsibility and the Global Environment – Address at the Rio Earth Summit