Juan Ramon Vives is a man of spirit. I met him on the trail one day, in a gathering of people from all over the world, where he and a shaman from Colombia were presenting the Kogi worldview.
The shaman’s name was Kajuyali Tsamani. He was dressed in traditional white Kogi attire and had many interesting things to say about his people, the globe, the environment, society, our relationship with nature, and humankind’s separation from it.
Having first heard about the Kogi on a trip to South America a few years ago, I was intrigued. I had heard legendary stories about them, and even watched an obscure BBC documentary on them, which had made a distinct impression on me. I had never thought I would come across one of these people or their representatives, let alone speak to them in person. They were supposed to be unreachable and out of touch with modern civilization.
It started centuries ago, after the arrival of the Conquistadores. The Kogi’s ancestors, the Tayrona, nature’s keepers and guardians, upended by the wayward and destructive ways of Westerners, retreated into isolation. They took refuge in Sierra Nevada (present-day Colombia), where they held on to their pre-Columbian culture, working on the world’s natural harmony by acting on it through the spirit world. They remained in hiding for centuries, morphing into the Kogi culture.
In the 1980′s the Kogi broke their exile. The reason was warmer climate. Their perennially snowcapped mountain peaks were melting for the first time in their history, and they became very afraid. Having consulted with the spirit world about what was going on, they divined that Mother Earth was dying, and that we, Younger brother – as they call Westerners/outsiders – were killing it. So they reached across the threshold to tell us what they knew i.e. to warn us of the unfolding calamity.
Alan Ereira, a filmmaker associated with the BBC, found out about the Kogi and got in touch with them. They gave him access to their lands, and told him their story, sharing their world and message with him (us) for a few precious moments, before retreating back into obscurity.
Until now. Elder Brother, as the Kogi call themselves, have decided to kindling their ties with Younger Brother, as they call us, to remind us of their message and warning.
To do so they opened their gates and welcomed in their midst a few outsiders, with whom they shared their knowledge and way of life. One of them is Kajuyali Tsamani, an anthropologist and shaman, whom they initiated to their ways and made one of their own.
Kajuyali Tsamani is now one of their envoys and representatives.
So is, Juan Ramon Vives.
I spoke with Juan Ramon Vives about it, how it all came about, where it was leading. This is what he had to say, in his own words:
‘In 2004 I visited a small museum in Holland about indigenous people. I told the people of the museum that a friend from Colombia would visit me soon. This friend is Kajuyali Tsamani, an anthropologist and shaman, with whom I do projects since 2000 for the preservation of traditional knowledge of healing plants and medicine i.e. shamanism, in Colombia. They asked me if Kajuyali could visit the museum to check a box with objects from tribes from Colombia. This box was donated to the museum by some missionaries, but they did not know from which tribes the objects were.
‘During this visit, Kajuyali found two flutes and a crystal chain in the box. He knew that they came from the Tairona [sic] culture. The Tairona were the ancestors of the Kogi tribe. He told the people from the museum that these objects should not be in a box in a museum, but given back to the Kogi so they could do their spiritual work with them.
‘The museum rejected this idea, but in 2007 I read in a newspaper that the museum had to close down and that their collection was handed over to the Wereld Museum in Rotterdam. I wrote a letter to the director of this museum with the same request. During a meeting with the director he proposed that the objects could be handed over to some Kogi Mamas (shamans) during the inauguration of an exhibition about the Inca culture, summer 2010.
‘During a long drive to Berlin, chewing coca leaves to stay awake, I was thinking about what I read in a book about the Kogi. “The Kogi say that gold is vital for the health of Mother Earth. It is her blood. They used gold for ceremonies for the healing of Mother Earth. But all the gold has been robbed and now Mother Earth is sick.”
‘During that trip I decided to start a small campaign to collect gold and give it to the Kogi as a sign of respect for their work for Mother Earth. I sent a call to people on my mailing list and to my surprise I received half a kilo of gold within three months. I took it to Colombia where a goldsmith made a golden frog of the collected gold (see their site here). During a ceremony at Nabi Nunhue (House of the Jaguar in Kogi language), the compound of Kajuyali, we handed over the golden frog to Mama Barnardo, the main Mama who is around 100 years old.
‘We have now started a new campaign to collect gold. With this campaign we go public to get attention for the message of the Kogi. Until now we collected more than 1000 grams. A goldsmith will turn it into pure gold (will be 500/600 grams) in the form of coins so we can transport it easier to Colombia. In October, Mama Juan (Kogi) and an artist will make several artefacts. So for the first time since the Conquista (Spanish invasion) a Kogi will work with gold.
‘We will hand over this gold during a ceremony at the Sierra Nevada at the beginning of the next year, 2011. We will also hand over the crystal chain and the two flutes the museum returned to us. The whole event will be filmed by a global TV network and made into a documentary.’
Juan Ramon Vives is currently traveling to-and-fro from South America, preparing the event…