Kogi by Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff


following is an extract of the original. go here for full text

ETHNONYMS: Arouaques-Kaggaba, Cágaba, Cogi, Cogui, Kágaba, Káuguia, Köggaba, Pebo


Identification. The self-name “Kogi” means “jaguar”—the Kogi trace their origin to mythical jaguar beings. The term “Kágaba” means “people,” whereas “Pebo” means “friend.”
Location. The Kogi live in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, in northern Colombia, inhabiting mainly the northern slopes of the valleys of the Palomino, San Miguel, and Garavito rivers, with a few settlements on the eastern and western slopes. They practice agricultural transhumance on these slopes, which range from about 500 to about 2,500 meters in elevation.

Demography. Exact demographic figures are unavailable; in 1988 the Kogi population was estimated at about 4,000.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Kogi language, together with those of their immediate neighbors, the Ika and Sanha, belongs to a subgroup of the Chibchan Family.

History and Cultural Relations

The Kogi claim to be the descendants of the ancient Tairona Indians who, in prehistoric and early historic times, inhabited parts of the northern and western flanks of the Sierra Nevada and who had created a society that, at the time of the Spanish Conquest, was more advanced than most of the chiefdoms of interior Colombia. Some archaeological and mythological evidence seems to support this claim. In the early sixteenth century the narrow coastal strip lying to the north and northwest of the Sierra Nevada was inhabited by warlike tribes that offered fierce resistance to the Spanish invaders. Even after the founding of the town of Santa Marta in 1526 and the establishment of an uneasy peace, local rebellions occurred frequent. Only during the violent Spanish campaign of 1599-1600 were the Indians finally subdued. Their fields and villages were burned and sacked, chieftains and priests were executed, and those who survived, now decimated by force of arms and spreading diseases, fled into the mountains. During the seventeenth century these scattered remnants of different ethnicities reorganized in the more inaccessible valleys and began to form three or four groups, each with its own, but related, language. During the same century, the name “Tairona” was introduced by Spanish chroniclers as that of the ancient Indians of the Santa Marta region, the archaeological remains of whom are known to this day under this designation. It is to these semimythical and archaeological Tairona that the Kogi refer in their traditions.
Although the Kogi had been exposed to sporadic missionary influences since early Conquest times, the first permanent mission stations were founded only during the eighteenth century. Many Kogi became nominal Catholics but otherwise continued to resist changes in their religious and cosmological beliefs. During the last centuries, however, the Kogi have adopted many old-world food plants together with iron tools, some cattle, domestic fowl, and trousers for men, a selection carefully controlled by the native priesthood. In Colombia, Kogi culture is related to that of the ancient Muica of the Bogotá highlands and to that of the present-day Tunebo Indians. The possibility of ancient Mesoamerican influences in Kogi culture cannot be dismissed.


Kogi villages, consisting of five to more than fifty circular, single-family houses, are not permanently inhabited but are social and ritual centers where people gather only at certain times of the year or for short overnight stays while on the way to their fields. People spend most of their time in scattered homesteads spread over the mountain flanks at different altitudes. A family might own up to five or more houses, each one located in a small field clinging to a slope or nestling in a narrow bottomland area. All houses have one door, are windowless, and have a dirt floor; the diameter of an average house is 3 meters. The walls are traditionally made of plaited, flattened canes or, more recently, of wattle and daub. In the cold highlands the walls of some houses are built up of rough stones. The conical roofs of all houses are thatched with mountain grass.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. At the time of the Spanish Conquest, some native groups of the Sierra Nevada constructed terraces for agricultural purposes, with retaining walls of boulders and stones, the remains of which can still be seen in many parts of present-day Kogi territory. At that time the staple food was maize, but when, during the following centuries, creole peasants pushed the Indians higher up into the mountains, the Kogi had to readapt; maize cultivation declined and was largely replaced by plantains, squashes, and tree crops. Game has become very scarce; people collect some beetles and river crabs and occasionally hunt birds or small rodents.

Industrial Arts. Kogi material culture is extremely simple. The men weave coarse cotton cloth for the entire family, but spinning may be done by both sexes. The women weave cotton or agave fibers into small carrying bags for personal articles; basket weaving is almost unknown. Household items such as benches, string hammocks, open-net bags, cooking vessels, gourd water jugs, gourd spoons, and wooden mortars are of coarse manufacture.

Trade. Trade relations have been going on for centuries. The Kogi manufacture primitive sugarcane presses and exchange or sell bricks of raw sugar to the Colombian lowland peasants who, in turn, provide the Indians with bush knives, cast-iron vessels, salt, sun-dried fish, steel needles, and similar items. In recent times some Kogi families have been growing coffee for sale in the lowlands. Wage labor is practically unknown.

Division of Labor. Both men and women work in the fields, help in house construction, and spin cotton thread. In other activities, however, a marked division along sex lines is observed. Weaving is a strictly male activity, and so are pottery making and coca planting. Carrying water, cooking, and laundering are female tasks, whereas the men procure firewood, clean the village premises, build bridges, and maintain the mountain trails, the fences, and the roof thatch. Most ritual activities are carried out by men, and women are forbidden to enter the temple or other ceremonial enclosures.

Land Tenure. All cultivated lands are privately owned. Hunting and gathering territories are communal property, but occasionally some wild-growing fruit trees have individual owners. Several years ago the Colombian government established a large Indian territory in the Sierra Nevada and began to buy up many small farms owned by encroaching creole settlers and returning them to the Indians. Lately, the Indians have been laying claim to many archaeological sites, which they consider to be a sacred heritage from Tairona times, and problems are arising between tradition-minded tribal authorities and government agencies in charge of prehistoric monuments.


Kin Groups and Descent. The basic structural principle is parallel descent, by which a son follows his father’s lineage and a daughter follows her mother’s. Some of these lineages lay claim to lordly or priestly status; some claim to be direct descendants of the Tairona, whereas others admit to being of mixed origin or trace their lineages to historical or mythical groups that were not related to the Tairona. Among men, membership in a certain lineage is a matter of pride; women sometimes ignore the names and attributes of their lineages. Intermarriage with Hispanic or Black elements is nonexistent, but rape and concubinage, probably going back to Conquest and colonial times, cannot be ignored in the present genetic constitution of the Kogi.

Kinship Terminology. Traditional terminology seems to follow the Hawaiian system.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Patriand matrilines are ranked and named; each descent group has a mythical ancestor and place of origin and is associated with a certain “male” or “female” animal species. The traditional ideal was a marriage between the male predator and the female prey. During the last three or four generations, these marriage rules have been largely ignored, although most active priests continue to insist upon them. Polygyny is uncommon but, in view of the frequent scarcity of convenient, young, marriageable women, a young man might marry a woman considerably older than himself and later on marry a young girl; the first wife stays on as a “cook.”

Domestic Unit. Nuclear families are the rule. In Kogi homesteads, husband and wife traditionally occupy separate huts, but in the village the men will pass the night in the temple dancing, chanting, or discussing village affairs.
Inheritance. Fields, houses, and domestic animals are passed from father to son and from mother to daughter. Tairona heirlooms, lime containers, and other ritual objects are male property; bone needles, cooking vessels, or necklaces of Tairona beads are female property.

Socialization. Child training is very strict, much emphasis being put upon obedience, collaboration, food sharing, respect for elders, self-control, and silence. Aggressiveness is severely punished, as is any manifestation of infantile sexuality. Physical or verbal contact with the father is uncommon during infancy.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Hierarchical structures are very important in mythical thought and in the daily appreciation of social and natural phenomena. Esoteric knowledge carries great prestige. Earthly possessions are of no importance, the Kogi value system being antimaterialistic and, at the same time, exalting the moral and ethical qualities of their religious and intellectual elite. The entire sociopolitical orientation is based upon their concepts of occupying the “center” of the world, of being the “elder brothers” of all humankind, and of leading an exemplary life. These cultural truths are constantly being extolled as the leading principles of Kogi society, family life, and individual behavior.

Political Organization. Remnants of the Spanish colonial cabildo (village council) system are combined with the authority of native priests. Civil and religious authority have been closely linked since early colonial times and, possibly, before that. Some priestly lineages claim to be the overlords of certain regions and are respected as such. Most family and village affairs are taken before the local comisario or priest, but some cases are taken before the Colombian authorities in one of the neighboring lowland towns.

Social Control. Kogi society condemns all manifestations of aggressiveness: murder, arson, rape, and vandalism are almost unknown. Petty thefts do occur and drunken fistfights are fairly frequent. The Kogi are a quarrelsome people; they like to indulge in long-winded discussions of personal or community misgivings. A major control system is provided by the native institution of public confession, which covers a wide range of offenses mainly relating to sexual matters or interpersonal hostilities. Punishments consist of beatings, short-term hard-labor tasks, or religious penitence. The main threat for misbehavior is supernatural punishment by illness.

Conflict. Kogi traditions speak of many conflict situations in the past, some of them going back to the Spanish Conquest, whereas others refer to past intertribal warfare. There has been no tribal revolt against established authority since 1600, and the Kogi pride themselves on their peaceable attitudes in the face of outside pressures or occasional interpersonal tensions. Local nativistic movements, mainly in the 1940s, were of little consequence, and, at present, sporadic revivalistic movements have only a few followers. The concepts of opposition and alliance constitute recurrent themes in Kogi cosmology, myth, and philosophy; however, in spite of apparent dualistic classifications and categories, the concept of “balance” is predominant.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The creation myth describes the process of embryogenesis in a cosmic womb, paralleled by the unfolding of individual consciousness and the first structuring of the universe. The creator-goddess is the Mother, a self-existent and initially self-fecundating Magna Mater. Next to the Mother are her sons, who are the Lords of the Universe; together with their divine sister-spouses, they are in charge of all aspects of nature and of people’s behavior. The Mother also created Sun and Moon, to establish a precise cosmic clockwork order. There also exist a large number of male or female spirit beings, rain and thunder beings, animal spirits, and others. The three basic dimensions of divine creation are: a nine-layered universe, a nine-tiered temple, and a nine-month-phased human womb. Religious activities refer mainly to fertility and to the need to achieve balance between the opposing forces and tendencies in nature and human minds.

Religious Practitioners. Kogi priests must undergo a long and very exacting training period, during which they must develop a strong and dominant personality of high ethical standards together with a broad understanding of political and ecological issues. Priestly activities are centered upon temples that, apart from being sun-watching stations, symbolize the womb of the Mother.

Ceremonies. The annual ritual cycle is marked by the four solstitial and equinoctial ceremonies, dates that coincide with the onset of the rainy or dry season. Masked dances or minor ceremonies are celebrated to honor a host of spirit beings throughout the year. Local priests are in charge of all rituals of the individual’s life cycle. Private ritual actions are very frequent, consisting of offerings to the Mother or to the ancestors, public confessions, dietary or sexual restrictions, solitary pilgrimages to sacred sites, and the learning of dances, songs, and traditions. During some of the major ceremonies, priests wear ancient Tairona ornaments such as carved masks, ritual objects of polished and carved stone or wood, and pectorals or wristlets of gold or tumbaga (tombac).

Arts. Singing and dancing are the principal Kogi artistic expressions and are highly formalized. Rhetoric, the recital of cosmogonic myths accompanied by prescribed stances and gestures, is an important art form. Applied decorative arts are nonexistent except for some colored stripes on clothes or carrying bags, the function of which is lineage identification.

Medicine. Minor Kogi priests, who have a lower, shamanic status as healers, have a good knowledge of herbal medicine. Many diseases, however, are attributed to malevolent spirit beings, vindictive ancestors, or social dysfunctions; in these cases the priests, elders, or family members prescribe adequate offerings or confession.

Death and Afterlife. At death the soul-stuff returns to the Mother’s womb because life is but a brief period between two intrauterine states. Earthly annihilation is followed by the soul’s wandering to the Land of Death, where it is accused, judged, and punished. The soul then proceeds, over one of the many trails assigned to it, to its final destiny.
Preuss, K. T. (1926). Forschungsreise zu den Kágaba: Beobachtungen, Textaufnahmen und sprachliche Studien bei einem Indianerstamme in Kolumbien, Südamerika. Vienna: Anthropos.
Reichel-Dolmatoff, Gerardo (1985). Los Kogi: Una tribu de la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia. 2nd ed. 2 vols. Bogotá: Procultura.
Reichel-Dolmatoff, Gerardo (1987). “The Great Mother and the Kogi Universe: A Concise Overview.” Journal of Latin American Lore 13:73-113.

Reichel-Dolmatoff, Gerardo. “Kogi.” Encyclopedia of World Cultures. 1996. Encyclopedia.com. 23 Apr. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com&gt;.


John Lundin, invited by the Mamos

MewiththeFiveAmigos_bestFrom the ‘Heart of the World’            John Lundin  October 7, 2013

ed: the extract below is from here

john lundin blog

When I arrived in Colombia from the United States two years ago, I had no idea I would still be here two years later, or that I might live the rest of my life here. But that‘s what’s happened. I’ve fallen in love. No, not with a beautiful Colombian woman. I’ve fallen in love with the Heart of the World – la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. And you know what they say: the only danger is in never wanting to leave!

I came to Colombia at the invitation of the indigenous elders, the Mamos, of la Sierra. I’m a writer, something of a spiritual writer. I had written a book with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and I was in New York where he was to be the featured presenter at the Newark Peace Education Summit in May of 2011. Earlier I had met a delegation of Kogi, Arhuaco and Wiwa elders from la Sierra. They had been participating in an historic gathering of Native American elders from throughout the Americas, and were also presenters at the Peace Summit. They would also be meeting with the Dalai Lama.

During the ten days in New York, the Mamos and I became friends and they extended an invitation to me to come to Colombia, to live with them, to learn from them, and to write a new book that would present their environmental and spiritual message to the world – their message that our Earth Mother is in danger, and she will surely die if we, the ones they call the Younger Brother, do not change our ways.

Obviously I accepted their invitation.

I arrived in Colombia in September, two years ago, and spent the first three months living in Medellín with friends who worked with the indigenous peoples on issues of protecting their sacred lands from exploitation. I loved Medellín. It’s the best of both worlds – a thriving modern city, yet nestled between two fingers of the Andes countryside. City life and country life rolled into one; the perfect place for me to get my first taste of beautiful Colombia and its people and its culture. If I ever felt the need to live in a ‘city’ again, I would probably choose Medellin over any of the many cities I have visited throughout the world.

But I was in Colombia to experience the rural life, and in fact a country life of a sort that pretty much disappeared from the earth some five hundred years ago. The indigenous peoples believe la Sierra to be the Heart of the World, and I would not disagree. I’m now living part-time with the descendants of the Tayrona, in their villages of thatch roof huts, and full-time in my simple home in the beautiful eco-village of Minca, surrounded by coastal jungle and only a half-hour drive up the hill from Santa Marta.

Little has changed in the indigenous villages since their ancestors fled the conquistadores five hundred years ago. There’s no electricity and no machines, most notably no automobiles. Very few metal tools. In the village of Minca things are not much more modern either. Electricity, yes, but very little need for it. Few modern conveniences and the automobile is largely replaced by the trusty mule. I live a very simple life, by choice, and I’m rediscovering my connection with my Earth Mother. My one concession to modernity is a laptop computer, the one on which I’m writing this note and also writing my book, a novel, tentatively titled, Journey to the Heart of the World.

below is an excerpt from John’s blog. read the original here.

Update – January 4, 2011:

Today I am heading to La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta to begin learning from my friends the Mamos – the Elders – of the Kogui, Arhuacos, Cankuamo, and Wiwa. I will be posting updates on my adventure as often as possible, but there will be extended periods of time when I will not be on the computer or the internet. Photos and wisdom will be shared with all of you soon…

…from July, 2011:

This fall I will be accepting an invitation to journey to the Heart of the World – the high Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta of Colombia. This past May, I was honored to greet and escort the Mamos (the Elders) of the descendants of the Tairona of northern Colombia – the peoples of the Kogui, Arhuacos, Wiwa and Cankuamo. The Mamos had left the seclusion of their mountain home to participate in an historic gathering of Native American Elders from throughout the Americas at Menla Mountain in upstate New York.

The peoples of the Sierra Nevada fled the onslaught of the Spanish conquistadors at the time of Columbus and settled into seclusion in the Sierra Nevada, where their ways have remained largely unchanged for five hundred years. The Mamos are intensely spiritual and fully in touch with what they regard as our Earth Mother. They consider their purpose in life to be the care and nurturing of the planet, and they regard themselves as the Heart of the World.

They came to New York with a message for the peoples of the world – that their world, your world and my world, is in serious jeopardy. And the cause is not climate change or the over-use of fossil fuels. No, the problem – and the solution to the problem – is a spiritual one.

The Mamos refer to themselves as the Elder Brother, and to us in the so-called civilized West as the Younger Brother, and they have come to call us to participate in a global shift in consciousness. It is time, they say, for us to shift from blindly taking our marching orders from economic and political authority, and return to the natural order of spiritual authority. They are calling us to fundamentally change our relationship with our Earth Mother, to reclaim the spiritual relationship with Her that we were born with, but which we have un-learned. And we need to return to our spiritual roots NOW – before we destroy our Earth Mother forever, and ourselves with her.

The Mamos have invited me to be one of the very few outsiders ever allowed to become a part of their cultural family, and to learn at an experiential level their wisdom and their profound understanding of – and love for – our Earth Mother. And further, they have asked me to help them communicate their urgent spiritual message to the world. They have asked me to be a voice for the Heart of the World.

In the months to come, I will be using this forum to share with you my preparation for my journey, and then periodic reports from La Sierra. I will be largely “un-plugged” and living embedded alongside my new friends, exactly as they live, and will only have sporadic opportunities to return to the base of the mountain and update my journal here. And after my adventure of several months, I will be writing what I hope will be an important and engaging book that chronicles my journey, and mytho-poetically presents the poignant and important spiritual message of the Mamos – the spiritual message from the spiritual Heart of the World.

I invite you to follow my journey through the journal that will be this site in the coming months.

Want to Visit the Tairona: Kogi?

ed:    tours to the “lost city” la ciudad perdida (it is not lost, it is a sacred site) are not sanctioned by the Tairona:Kogi. there are also videos encouraging tours. these video invitations are also not sanctioned (see sidebar links) if you care about yourself, our world, the kogi -keepers of humanity and our environment, do not seek out the kogi, the elder brothers who are daily doing ceremony for the rest of the world – that is their job, their task, their ceremony which holds back much social and environmental devastation. If the Tairona:Kogi wish to meet you, they will send a trusted emissary.

indians_737810cas  Alain Ereira of  Tairona Heritage Trust says,

The first thing to say about meeting the Tairona is – PLEASE DON’T TRY.


Alain Ereira

These people are the conscientious guardians of a tradition, philosophy and form of thought that has been pretty effectively destroyed everywhere else in the world by the advance of our own culture.  The most isolated of the Tairona communities, the Kogi, know very well that isolation is their only possibility for survival.

The original European invaders of America carried death on their breath and their bodies, in the form of invisible infections which wiped out perhaps as many as nine out of every ten inhabitants of the continent.  Even the best-intentioned among them were, however inadvertantly, the carriers of destruction.

We also carry infections.  But more than that, we carry our own way of perceiving and understanding the world, and however well-intentioned we may be, we re-form the consciousness of others.  We teach more than we learn, and so we change the people we meet.  That is why the Kogi demand that we stay away.

For the new film, ALUNA, the Kogi themselves organised everything in the Sierra, and eventually took complete control of the filming.  They also reviewed, discussed and changed the film cut.

The Kogi think in terms of levels of cultural pollution; the lower down the mountain they go, the more of it they encounter.  Whole areas of the Sierra are closed to whole groups of Kogi, because they have become too polluted by outside contact.

The Tairona do not want to be met.  But they do want to be listened to.

And that is not for their sake.  It is for ours.

How to access Aluna the movie.

extract from Jonathan.  read the whole thing here.


jonathan evatt

please know that they have NO interest in people coming to visit them and their sacred lands. This includes visiting La Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City), which for the Kogi was never “lost”. Rather, it was purposefully hidden, because it is an incredibly sacred site that even many Kogi are not permitted to visit… and certainly not tourists.

The Kogi have gone to GREAT lengths, for the past 500+ years to keep their sacred lands free from the energy and unconscious spiritual issues of outsiders. This is something the average “Westerner” might have a hard time understanding. But all we need to understand is that the Kogi DON’T want people visiting their lands, and whether we understand the spiritual reasons for this, or not, is unimportant. Being in their territories uninvited is like walking into a complete stranger’s house, uninvited, and walking through the rooms of that house as if it were your own. It is rude and inappropriate. Please take this to HEART and KNOW what it means to violate their wish to NOT have outsiders in their sacred lands.

If you feel—and KNOW within your heart—that you have a genuine calling (not just idle curiosity) to support the Kogi in some way, my only recommendation is that you take a serious and sincere interest in recovering your attention from the great many distractions—most especially “spiritual” distractions—and doing what it takes to come into greater consciousness of who you are as Spirit, where you are from as Spirit, and precisely why you are here, as Spirit. This is hard and, at times, painstaking work.

Most importantly, know that the message of the Kogi is a practical one. That we day-by-day apply ourselves to the deep work of resolving our issues, misconceptions, projections, negative tendencies, etc. And that we do EVERYTHING within our power to stop living a lie (the Modern world) which is quite obviously destructive and out of alignment with LIFE. In simple terms, they are making it clear that the Western world must drastically change its ways, less we go through drastic changes. If you’re reading this, that likely includes you. The Kogi are not simply something interesting for our entertainment or idle curiosity. They do NOT wish to be idolised, for that only marginalises the deep importance of their message, which is, in reality, the Mother’s message. AND once more, they do NOT want people trying to visit their sacred lands in Columbia. Such actions are deeply inappropriate.

Read much more of the Kogi on Johnathan’s site


Sierra Nevada Indians: Kogi (or Kaggaba), Arhuaco (or Ika), Wiwa, Kankuamo

to assist the kogi and other sierra indians (Arhuaco (or Ika), Wiwa, Kogi, and Kankuamo), please go to the trust which was established in collaboration with the indians themselves . . . . Tairona Heritage Trust.

Aluna the movie

source of below extract

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a unique pyramid-shaped mountain on the northern tip of the Andes in northern Colombia. On its slopes live four separate but related peoples: the Arhuaco (or Ika), Wiwa, Kogi, and Kankuamo. Together they number more than 30,000.

The mountain’s peak is over 5,000m high. Rising from the shores of the Caribbean, the lower plains are clad in tropical forest, turning to open savannah and cloud forest higher up.

To the Indians, the Sierra Nevada is the heart of the world. It is surrounded by an invisible ‘black-line’ that encompasses the sacred sites of their ancestors and demarcates their territory.

Older brothers

The Sierra Indians call themselves ‘the older brothers’, and believe that they have a mystical wisdom and understanding which surpasses that of others. They refer to outsiders as ‘the younger brothers.’

A meeting amongst the lush landscape of the Sierra Nevada

A meeting amongst the lush landscape of the Sierra Nevada © Danilo Villafañe

The older brothers believe it is their responsibility to maintain the balance of the universe. When there are hurricanes, droughts, or famines around the world it is said that they are the cause of human failure to keep the world in harmony.

Balance is achieved by making offerings to the sacred sites to give back to the earth what is taken out of it.


Arhuaco man, Colombia.

Arhuaco man, Colombia. © Survival

Spiritual leaders are called Mamos. The Mamo is charged with maintaining the natural order of the world through songs, meditations and ritual offerings.

Mamo training begins at a young age and continues for around 18 years. The young male is taken high into the mountains where he is taught to meditate on the natural and spirit world.

In Western culture, the Mamo could be seen as the priest, teacher and doctor, all rolled into one.

Coca vs cocaine

Surplus seashell powder creates a thick rim around the poporo over time

Surplus seashell powder creates a thick rim around the poporo over time © Danilo VillafañeThe coca leaf plays a central role in daily life and is used in offerings and ceremonies.

Each man carries a bag of the leaves, which are chewed to create a mildly stimulating effect. When two men meet, a handful of leaves is exchanged as a sign of mutual respect.

A hollowed-out gourd called a ‘poporo’ contains crushed seashells. A stick is used to transfer the powder to the wad of coca in the mouth – the highly alkaline shells react with the coca to stimulate its active ingredients. Surplus powder is rubbed on the neck of the poporo – over time, this becomes a thick collar.

The poporo is a symbol of manhood and a mark of civilization amongst the Indians.

The poporo is a symbol of manhood and a mark of civilization amongst the Indians. © Danilo Villafañe

Coca is also grown by non-Indian settlers as the raw material for cocaine. Colombia has long been dubbed the cocaine capital of the world, and its production has had devastating consequences for the indigenous population.

The lower slopes of the Sierra have been occupied by colonists growing coca for the drug trade that funds much of the armed conflict between guerrilla groups and paramilitaries in the country’s long-running civil war.

Despite the Indians’ peaceful nature, they have frequently been caught in the crossfire between the army and illegal armed groups, and many have been killed or forced to flee from the quasi-civil war raging on their land.

Keep off our land!

'The entrance of non-Indians is prohibited', sign at an Arhuaco village

‘The entrance of non-Indians is prohibited’, sign at an Arhuaco village © Kelly Loudenberg/Arianna Lapenne

For us, grave robbing is the same as taking a mother and removing her guts, taking out her teeth and replacing them with dentures, removing an eye and replacing it with glass. Mamo Ramon Gil

The Sierra Indians are descendants of the Tairona, a great civilization whose masterful gold work and architecture draw tourists and grave robbers alike to the region.

Each tribe has adapted to the invasion of their lands in its own ways: the Kogi shunned outside invasion by fleeing higher up the Sierra. They have remained particularly averse to visits from camera-toting tourists.

The Arhuaco, whose men are distinguished by their white conical hats, organized a strong political movement to defend their rights, while the Kankuamo living on the lower foothills were almost entirely integrated into mainstream society.


Water is highly revered by the Indians and there is strong opposition to existing and planned hydroelectric dams in the region. Dams interfere with the natural water cycle of the Sierra and threaten the tribes’ crops and livestock.

Privately owned land and development projects are making it increasingly difficult for the Indians to move within their ancestral territory and make offerings to keep the world in balance.