Arhuaco by Wade Davis

wade davis

Photo by Mark Thiessen

Explorers Council, Explorer-in-Residence, 2000-2013
source of below extract

Wade Davis was named by the NGS as one of the Explorers for the Millennium, he has been described as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity.” In recent years his work has taken him to East Africa, Borneo, Nepal, Peru, Polynesia, Tibet, Mali, Benin, Togo, New Guinea, Australia, Colombia, Vanuatu, Mongolia and the high Arctic of Nunuvut and Greenland.

An ethnographer, writer, photographer, and filmmaker, Davis holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his Ph.D. in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University. Mostly through the Harvard Botanical Museum, he spent over three years in the Amazon and Andes as a plant explorer, living among fifteen indigenous groups in eight Latin American nations while making some 6000 botanical collections. His work later took him to Haiti to investigate folk preparations implicated in the creation of zombies, an assignment that led to his writing Passage of Darkness (1988) and The Serpent and the Rainbow (1986), an international best seller later released by Universal as a motion picture.

His other books include Penan: Voice for the Borneo Rain Forest (1990), Shadows in the Sun (1993), Nomads of the Dawn (1995), One River (1996), which was nominated for the 1997 Governor General’s Literary Award for Nonfiction, The Clouded Leopard (1998), Rainforest (1998), Light at the Edge of the World (2001), The Lost Amazon (2004), Grand Canyon (2008), Book of Peoples of the World (ed. 2008) and The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, the 2009 Massey lectures. His books have been translated into fifteen languages, including Basque, Serbian, Korean, Mandarin, Bulgarian, Japanese and Malay, and have sold approximately 800,000 copies worldwide.

Published on Jul 31, 2015

Ancient Voices, Modern World: Acclaimed anthropologist Wade Davis journeys into hidden worlds to find cultures that have preserved their ways of life in the face of modern society.

Part 1: Mongolia

Acclaimed anthropologist and explorer Wade Davis travels to the Central Asian steppes of Mongolia to meet descendents of Genghis Khan. These people are remnants of an ancient nomadic horse culture that thrived in the region’s harsh conditions for more than 2,000 years.

Part 2: Australia

National Geographic joins Wade Davis on a journey deep into the Australian outback to document the disappearing cultures of Australia’s Aborigines, thought to be one of the oldest groups of peoples on earth. After losing clan members to disease, war, and famine–as well as battling enforced relocations–small Aboriginal clans must fight to keep traditions alive for the next generation.

Part 3: Amazon

National Geographic ventures into the rain forest with Wade Davis for an up-close look at the Barasana River people, a group believed to be descendents of the legendary “lost” Amazonians. Davis embarks on a symbolic journey that will honour the group’s ancestors and witnesses the rituals that demonstrate respect for this tropical landscape.

Part 4: Colombia

Acclaimed anthropologist and explorer Wade Davis makes a remarkable journey into the heart of war-torn Colombia to visit one of the indigenous groups that call themselves the Elder Brothers. These extraordinary people claim to be the last descendants of a once-great civilization, the Tairona, and to speak with their voice. Could they be the last window we have on the great high civilizations of the ancient Americas?


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.