‘They want to show us a thinking, feeling Earth’

Positive News

25 years ago an isolated Colombian tribe emerged to share a warning about humanity’s future, captured in a film about them that had a far-reaching global impact. But now the tribe has surfaced again to give us a powerful new message

Shibulata is a Kogi Mama: an enlightened leader of one of the world’s last, lost tribes. In 2008, he and other members of the 18,000 Kogi people living in the remote Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains of Colombia, came out of centuries of fiercely defended isolation, for only the second time in their existence. They refer to themselves as the ‘elder brothers’ of humanity, the guardians of the Earth, and wanted to send us, their ‘younger brothers’, a message. That message is captured in Aluna – a groundbreaking documentary premiering at Raindance Film Festival in London this month. But the story begins much earlier.

In 1988, Alan Ereira, a filmmaker for the BBC, was in Columbia tracking down a lost city, deep in the jungle, when he learned of a nearby tribe who had existed in almost complete isolation for at least the last 500 years. In fact, the Kogi are thought to be the only civilisation to have survived culturally intact since the time of the Incas and Aztecs. They have no wheel, no written word, no language any outsider can speak, but nonetheless possess a wealth of indigenous knowledge lost from the modern world entirely. Ereira sent a message: did they have anything to say to the outside world? Six months later a response came back: come to our village, we are waiting.

But entering Kogi lands is no easy feat. Surrounded on all sides by almost impassable jungle and the terrors of armed guerillas, tomb robbers and cocaine traffickers, the Kogi have remained isolated precisely because it is almost impossible to reach them. When Ereira finally arrived at their settlement – a small mountain village of circular thatch homes and terraced farmlands – he was placed before a council of Kogi Mamas. “I felt completely transparent to them,” he says, “as if they knew my thoughts just by looking at me.” He told them how a camera works, the Mamas deliberated, and by the morning he had a commission.

“The Kogi are trying to show us the delicate interconnections between the natural world: how what happens in one place has a specific, and direct, consequence on what happens in another”

That film, From the Heart of the World: the Elder Brother’s Warning, was released in 1990. In it, the Kogi warn humanity that we are damaging the Earth, and dramatically predict the end of the world if we do not change our ways. The film became one of the most celebrated documentaries about an indigenous people ever made. The president of Colombia asked for their blessing before his inauguration. The King and Queen of Spain came to visit. The Rio Summit took notice. And the Kogi, satisfied that their message was delivered, returned to their mountain and asked never to be contacted again. But we did not listen.

In 2008 Ereira received a message, asking him to return to the Kogi village. They wanted to know why their warning wasn’t heeded, why we kept damaging the Earth. They wanted to try to communicate again with us, but this time – realising that we understand more with our eyes than our ears – they promised to show us the evidence behind their message and take us on a journey that would alter our very understanding of reality itself.

The resulting film is a beautifully shot, and poignant, revelation of one of the world’s last uncorrupted indigenous civilisations. But what makes the film so special is that it isn’t a documentary about the Kogi; it’s a documentary by the Kogi about us.

We follow Mama Shibulata, his daughter Francesca, and other Kogi Mamas from his and neighbouring tribes as they physically lay a 400km line of golden thread between important ecological sites near their mountain home – the tallest coastal peak in the world, filled with layers of distinct climatic ecosystems and recognised, because of that, as a microcosm for the planet as a whole. As we follow their journey we encounter dried up river estuaries, polluted beaches, and disappearing forests – a landscape utterly devastated by industry. “It was like moving through a war zone,” Ereira says.

But the Kogi are not just highlighting the damage we’ve done, they’re trying to show us the delicate interconnections between the natural world: how what happens in one place has a specific, and direct, consequence on what happens in another. The Kogi want to show us that the golden thread is real.

“One of the most striking bits of the film,” Ereira says, “is the way they talk about how rivers function – they are absolutely adamant that the source of the river is affected by what you do at the estuary. That’s not the way we look at it – we don’t have that information, but that view is now beginning to be accepted by many river scientists.”

“One way to understand Aluna,” Ereira explains, “is that the world has life and awareness. It is absolutely mysterious to the Kogi that we do not think the Earth experiences what we do to it.”

The Kogi have a profound ecological knowledge and this is attested to throughout the film by conservationists, environmental scientists and even one, startled, astronomer. Nonetheless, there are occasions when their warning appears to be based in something more closely resembling belief, than hard fact. That they can divine the future by reading bubbles from water is something most viewers will find hard to accept.

But to let our different systems of knowledge and communication dilute their message would be to miss the larger point. For woven between the symbolism of their language, another, more ambitious, message is embedded too. The Kogi don’t want to just show us how we’re damaging the planet, they want to change the way we think about the planet entirely. They want to show us Aluna.

Shibulata, like all Mamas, spent his entire youth mastering a unique form of concentrated thought that the Kogi believe connects them to a kind of cosmic consciousness that underpins the material world and is the basis of reality itself. This is Aluna. For the Kogi, the planet is embedded in pure thought; we exist in a conscious universe. Through this connection, the Kogi believe they are able to commune with the planet as a living entity, enabling them to protect its natural balance, and all living things within it.

“One way to understand Aluna,” Ereira explains, “is that the world has life and awareness. It is absolutely mysterious to the Kogi that we do not think the Earth experiences what we do to it.”

This metaphysical plane, they believe, intersects with the physical world along identifiable geographic lines that are spread out across the Earth. The journey of the golden thread in the film, therefore, in mirroring one of these lines, is an attempt to give visual expression to this underlying reality. The Kogi want to show us the blood and breath of a thinking, feeling Earth.

If we begin to understand the planet in this way, as a living entity, Ereira believes there are logical consequences for environmental policy around the world, one of the Kogi’s fervent hopes for the film. “They feel we need to give our care of the Earth a basis in law, rather than emotion,” he says. “We need to criminalise ecocide and make it illegal to kill an ecosystem.”

Another of the project’s ambitions is that the modern world will begin to utilise indigenous knowledge more effectively. “The Kogi would like to give advice to large scale developments,” Ereira says. “Similarly, they have offered to work with scientists to help protect the Earth.” Indeed, Professor Jonathan Baillie of the Zoological Society of London has expressed interest in the Kogi helping him to locate key refuge areas of certain species – places that they return to in times of ecological disaster, which must be preserved in order to protect against that species’ extinction. That work has yet to begin, but perhaps the most significant breakthrough of all is the acknowledgement that indigenous people have a unique insight into their environment, and a valuable ecological expertise, that comes from living so close to the land; knowledge that we in the developed world have lost and may still need if we are to survive.

Mama Shibulata and his tribe have now returned to their mountain. But despite all the challenges humanity faces, they still have hope. “You do not need to abandon your lives,” they tell us at the end of the film. Perhaps instead, at least to begin with, all we need to do is change the way we understand the Earth: from a collection of disparate habitats to a complex of interdependent systems, from an inanimate object to a living entity. Perhaps then we, the younger brothers, will finally grow up.

Aluna will premiere at Raindance Film Festival on Saturday the 28th September 2013 at London’s Apollo Cinema, Piccadilly, and is currently being scheduled for international distribution. More information: www.alunathemovie.com

Eradicating Ecocide campaign: eradicatingecocide.com

The Tairona Heritage Trust is a charity set up by Alan Ereira to help the Kogi community buy, and restore, land near their home. www.taironatrust.org

Photo title: Mama Shibulata, a leader of the Kogi people, and his daughter Francesca

Photo credit: © Aluna the Movie Ltd

  • swaneagle

    The essence of what must be done continues to be massively ignored. My heart is truly heavy as i see escalating destruction and deep disrespect of Indigenous land based peoples fighting for the remnants of sacred lands. Women are denigrated in unprecedented ways and children are thrown aside like trash in the most powerful country on earth. I fear doom looms, yet will continue to do all i am able to bring about healing of all life and a healthy children’s future.

  • Jay

    Does anyone know where I might be able to get hold of a copy of “From the Heart of the World”? Have tried the library, eBay and amazon…

  • Marie

    From the Heart of the World is on youtube, complete.

  • Brian

    If one looks on youtube one can find the film

  • Brian

    Looking deeper at the core underlying issues effecting “The Bond” that lets our people
    See,, hear,, and “feel” our world in a universal manor, This was addresed “symbolicly ” through the film “Avatar” (the film has it faults as well but is quite a well told Mirror Story) that reflects on and brings to the surface value of ones “own” real world “feelings” and “memorys we all hold inside.
    The Global audence reaction on a collective and personal level was quite astounding, with lots of deep questions our peoples “world View” and on the the core value of ones heartfelt understanding, this was a very non topical experance and “reflects” quite deeply upon many issues The Kogi Mamos are trying to address,
    Its my hope people will take a deeper look at life changing experences they went through
    its everyones hope and intrest
    to give the Kogi mamos a strong voice That will “seen” and “heard” and “reflected upon at” many levels and its our hope that through the film “Aluna” people will gain a deeper “viewpoint” on the issues we all face in a way we can “feel” and relate to and are unable to “deny”

  • Jean-Paul

    Hello Jay,

    If you’d like to make a donation to the Tairona Heritage Trust at their website http://www.taironatrust.org/ you will be sent a copy of From The Heart of the World and Alan’s book of the same title. The funds raised go directly towards helping the Kogi, through this charity, which was setup after the release of the first film, and which has done some great work helping them buy back their indigenous lands etc. The film is on youtube, but that’s been uploaded illegally by someone who’s ignored both the BBC’s rights and the fact that the trust is there to help the Kogi.

    Best Wishes,


  • Vicki Starfire

    It seems the geographic lines or Golden Thread might correspond to the ley lines we’ve known about for years.

  • Cynical News

    If my elder brother hadn’t got to grips with the wheel, was illiterate, and didn’t have indoor plumbing, then I, too, would fail to heed any warnings he might give me. I think there’s a lesson there.

  • Pienkvien

    To help the Kogi ? Seems like we’re the ones needing help ;)

  • David Reid (Sanan)

    4 years ago I moved to the Andes Mountains of Peru, and now work in the local indigenous communities outside my village. What I have found has completely transformed my life and perceptions. Firstly, though the people have very little, almost nothing materially (aside from their families, community, small adobe homes, and piece of land to farm) they are mostly very happy indeed.

    When I think back on the consumption and materialism of North America, it is just amazingly evident, that things, objects, stuff, glitter and illusions do not bring happiness, in fact, they appear to estrange us from ourselves, our families, our very life-connection with the earth.

    From a distance, there appears to be so much suffering in the most materialistic of countries. It is so sad, because the contrast between the indigenous and earth based peoples, those that are still here with us, and the westernized countries is so vast. But what is most sad, is that the simple solution of sharing our love, our knowledge, our resources, creativity and inspiration enters us into an experience of life, that no “thing” can ever ever do.

    It is like a simple secret, that has been lost in the hustle and bustle of this modern world. I want to help reveal that again. There is as much suffering, in it’s own way, in the western materialistic countries as there is in the most poverty stricken ones, just on the other side of the spectrum. But we can step off of this illusion, step out of this endless searching, whether for materialistic emptiness or endless “working on ourselves” which often underneath has a deep unspoken angst it is hiding.

    I have found a simple, secret, hidden truth. It is this: when we offer our gifts, our love, our resources, our very hearts and minds and actions, in some way, no matter how small, to those who are hurting, lonely, sad, forgotten, mal-nutritioned, abused and so on, we gain a thousand times. To give is to receive. We do not need to be perfect to make our mark in this world. Our perfection is our humanness, and our ability to enter into the realm of true love, true service, and true healing.

    We can work on ourselves for lifetimes on end, and never touch the joy and beauty that simple acts of kindness can bring, both to others and ourselves. Once we enter into this “secret wave of love”, it’s almost like the universe takes care of the other stuff. Connecting with the indigenous people’s here in the Sacred Valley of Peru has opened my heart to a new way, that I never knew before.

    While those awakening beings on a path of consciousness and spirit are ever searching to “re-find” their true selves, the indigenous people have never lost that. There is a perfect marriage that happens, as we can let go of our endless spiritual or material striving and begin to help out those who are hurting in some way, wherever and whoever that may be.

    We are all indigenous, from the One Source, whatever you may call that. By doing whatever our practices are in this life, to keep us aligned, to heal our past, to cleanse our blocks to love and life-force, and then to quickly find those who can receive the love and care, knowledge and abilities we have, will bring us to a place of divine happiness that is unspeakable.

    The indigenous people, what is left of them, have a gift for us that is incredibly profound. We can find our own eternal indigenous nature in their eyes, in their hearts beaming back at us, as we offer ours to them. In that reflection, in that simple circle of love and sharing, we will find that “missing link” that we have been long searching for, and a peace that is beyond this world.

    In 2014 Amistad Sagrada, a Non-Profit Service Organization working in Peru, will offer opportunities for friends worldwide to experience this gift of love through co-collaborative service projects in the Andes. Namaste, Sanan :) PS. Please friend us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/amistad.sagrada.7

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  • Gwyneth

    And they have survived for thousands of years without these things. So what? The International Climate Change Panel are giving the same warnings, and I’m pretty sure that they are literate and have indoor plumbing. Nobody is listening, no matter who delivers the message, because the messages sold to us about how we “should” live are louder. Clearly, you have succumbed to the same narrow definitions of success and progress that are contributing the the destruction of the environment.

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