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Living with our earth: can we hear the message of the Kogi Indians? : Aluna

I had never heard of the Kogi Indians until a couple of weeks ago. Then, after,  I had arranged to go and see Aluna, I was surprised to find them referred to frequently in the book I was reading “Last of the Ancient Sunlight”

Who are they and what can we learn from them?

They are a tribal people living in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains in  Columbia. 20 years ago a BBC filmmaker,  Alan Ereira, contacted them and they responded, realising that the risk of them continuing to live in isolation was greater than communicating a message they had to give to the world. This film “From the Heart of the World: the Elder Brother’s Warning”, was released 1990. At the time it was well received. Many people listened to their message that we are on a process of destroying our earth, but nothing has significantly changed. Indeed we could argue that the rate at which we are destroying our earth is increasing.

So the Kogi contacted Ereira again so they could send another message with this film, Aluna.

So what is special about their message that we don’t already know? And why are we not able to act upon it?

They are a tribal, pre literate people who have lived in isolation from the rest of the world and have retained what we could call the “old ways”. Thomas Hartman uses them as an example of how people used to live to show that it is possible to live in co-operation with each other, in connection with the rhythms of the earth, and with a direct connection to the divine. The priests within the Kogi society, the Mamas, are kept in a dark cave until the age of puberty, with just enough light to keep their eyes developing and their ears hearing sound so that when they emerge, they experience the wonder and divinity of the world. They describe thinking as listening. Because of their deep connections, and the stability of their way of life, they have been able to experience at first hand the changes in the environment happening around them: which have speeded up dramatically in the past century.

They experience a strong connection between their mountains and the sea. They describe water as being the blood of the earth. In the film, Aluna, we follow their journey along the coast, carrying a golden thread which they use to link special places where they make offerings. They are increasingly concerned as their “younger brothers” have been interfering with the energy of these special places by building power stations, draining lagoons and generally polluting. They argue that these effects are also destroying their home in the mountains through effects such as changes in wildlife, vegetation and snow cover.

Their knowledge comes not only from a divine connection with the land, but an awareness of the stars and a divine mind, “Aluna”. The priests seem to have been traditionally men, but one of the Mamas’s daughters, Francesca, has been initiated. They refer to “Aluna” as “feminine”; the great “mother” who is the creator of all worlds. They end the film with a positive message about what we can do; listen to the voices of the women and teach the new borns, as they are the new life for the earth and the connection with this divinity.

Much of what they tell us, we already know. So why can we not listen to them and the earth and respond appropriately?

Of course initially, thousands of years ago, when we started living unsustainably, by burning wood, using more energy than daily sunlight provides(Hartman), we were in such small communities that it did not make that much difference to the overall balance of the earth’s resources. However, gradually we started using more and more resources, developing new ways of living, and populations have exploded. We have forever altered the balance of the earth, the trees, the rivers, the water, the Earth’s blood. We have created a new earth and a new way of relating to the earth. In many ways we have become different beings than our older brothers and sisters, the Kogis.

However we are now aware of the implications of our actions. Some scientists, especially in the field of quantum physics, have begun to understand how everything is interconnected. We can see daily the damage that we have caused for the earth. Our constant search for growth has got so out of control that we ourselves have become a growth, a cancer. We have lost the checks and balances of valuing pause, and rest: having, in the dominating cultures, abolished the concept of a 7th day of rest, much less the Hebrew idea of a rest every 49 years: the Jubilee. At the Jubilee, all debt was forgiven, slaves freed and there was a levelling of wealth. We have forgotten that the cycle of life includes rest and death. We were created from the death of star. There is an end to all life, not just us, but, ultimately the earth herself.

We have the capacity to develop new technologies which are sustainable. Yet, although we have known this for over 30 years, why have we continued on our path of unsustainable living and constant growth? This is a complex question and a combination of many factors. These include:

denial : we will find a solution before time runs out

a basic sense of instability and lack of support in dominating cultures which drives our desire to accumulate more even when we have more than enough.

a cushioning from the effects of our actions: we only experience the benefits without the destructive effects of our actions.

Unlike the Kogi, many of us have had to shut down much of our daily connection to the divine because if we were that aware we wouldn’t be able to survive in modern culture with its inbuilt competitiveness and destruction. Most of us don’t live in harmony with our natural environment, and so have lost touch with the seasonal changes which remind us in winter, and with lengthening days, to slow down and get more sleep and rest.  Instead we live in states of ultra stimulation.

Yet we can live some of the time with our senses open so that we can start to create a new world which is sustainable. It is easier to do in a natural environment, but even when we are sat at desks and working with computers and with made objects, we can choose a different relationship to them.

However, we can only open our senses if we are aware of our own internal reality. Modern culture values the knowledge of the intellect and devalues other senses, especially more intuitive aspects. Our head/brain has become over valued in relation to the rest of our body.  In order to live in a more connected way, we need to start by listening to our bodies and honouring our own internal rhythms, stop pushing ourselves when we are tired, resting and having energy for our families, working in jobs which nourish us. As we nourish ourselves, so we nourish the earth.

Here are some simple suggestions to remind yourself to come more fully into the present moment and to engage with modern technologies with more of your senses.

1: engage with how your body is right now

Many of us spend a lot of time sitting and working at computers. It is easy to lose track of our connection with our whole body sense. Make sure that you regularly remember your body.  Right now you can take a few moments to soften your eyes, sit back away from your computer and start being more aware of how your body is. Notice how are you are sitting. Take time to notice if you feeling comfortable, rested, energised, stressed or anxious. Take regular breaks to get up and move around.

2: become aware of your computer in a different way: not just with your head.

Spend some time relating to your computer with your other senses! Touch your computer screen…run your fingers over it…maybe even close your eyes to feel it.  Feel the textures, temperatures.

3: be aware of the room in which you are sitting and the space outside the room

Take regular breaks to look away from your computer screen and notice other objects in the room…As you move your eyes, turn your head…begin to have a sense of how different objects in the room feel. Perhaps get up, move around and touch them.

Take breaks to stand up and look outside the window and notice the world outside the room in which you are sat. Is it day? Night? Windy.. rainy… sunny….

cres moon 2

4: notice how your body feels when you stop engaging with a computer screen

Pay attention to what you feel as you start to focus outside away from the screen? Notice if your body changes. Take time to bring your attention to your feet. Start to focus on the earth below you. How far away is it? Feel as though you are a tree and start to feel that from your feet there are roots going down and down into the very centre of the earth. How deep can you feel yourself going. How does this change the feeling in your body. Does the computer screen start to feel any different?  Are your thoughts any different? What can you now hear?

The Kogi’s have reached out to us and our way of doing things,making films, travelling outside their land. We can reach back to our memories of our older brothers and sisters, the capacity to simply be and live in a more simple way in connection with the divine. We can work directly with them: marrying tribal awareness with scientific knowledge. Younger and older together can join to create new sustainable ways of living with ourselves and our earth, while accepting that at some point, we all need to go to our final resting place.

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  1. Jessica Johnson on 05/02/2014 at 12:50 am

    Thank you Suzanne. What a beautiful article. I met Alan Ereira years ago and knew two anthropologists who worked with the Kogi and were involved with the film. I am so glad that these extraordinary people are speaking again. Their communications to “younger brother” in the original film made a deep impact – can it be 20 years ago?

    • suzanneyates on 05/02/2014 at 12:51 pm

      Thanks for that Jessica. I forgot you had spent time in Columbia. If you want to write a follow up piece on your thoughts on the original film and your understandings of the Kogi, that would be fascinating….
      And what’s happened over the last 20 years!

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