The four indigenous Peoples of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Columbia, speak different languages yet they hold the same beliefs: the mountain range they inhabit is alive, the sacred sites in the range are living Beings, and the great creator dictated that they must protect and nurture these lands. The Kogi, Arhuaco, Wiwa, and Kankuamo Peoples are the guardians of “the heart of the world.”
These Elder Brothers watch as non-indigenous peoples, the younger brothers, wreak havoc in their homelands, both environmentally and culturally. Forests fall, wars kill, a new seaport demolishes sacred sites (see Cultural Survival, March 2014 for more information: www.culturalsurvival.org). Their priests, the Mamos, continue in their spiritual quest to maintain the world equilibrium, praying from high places to allow the spirit of the land and its people to carry forward.
Writing of the Arhuaco and their spiritual connections to the land, Wade Davis wrote, “One’s inclination upon hearing such an account is to dismiss it as being hopelessly naïve or so impossibly beautiful as to be untrue.” The Wayfinders (2009, p. 147).
How did we allow the sacred to become naïve? When did respect and spiritual connection become hopelessly beautiful? How did destruction in the name of progress become more acceptable than a cosmology that fosters life and spirit?
Several years ago, I sat in the audience of a panel presentation on Religion and the Environment. Down the row of speakers came explanations of what their religion or church was doing to become more environmentally responsible: recycling, solar panels, a few education programs. At the end, an American Indian who was also a leader in the church (Father I believe, but I cannot recall clearly) stood and talked for twenty minutes – they had been allotted five. His message was that there would be no future without a cultural shift. Not until we remember that the earth is sacred, not until we live with respect for the spirit within all things, will change come about. The rest is minor dressings on fatal wounds. The audience seemed to miss the meaning, smiling at each other, glancing at their neighbors with a nod and an oh, that’s just the way he talks look.
To carry a sense of the sacred. To feel the animate spirit in all things. When that happens, then the world changes and is seen for what it is: a place of grace and beauty. It also means destruction and waste become painful — intolerable. It is easier to turn a blind eye, and let go of the sacred. It is more comfortable to continue on in the same way we have for so long here in the United States and elsewhere. And the world is dying even as we buy our plastics, cut the forests, kill the Peoples in tragic wars.
The Mamos continue their prayers. They maintain the sacred thread that weaves through the lives of the Peoples and the earth. Bound together in a reciprocity of being, the Kogi, Arhuaco, Wiwa, Kankuamo, and the natural world they embrace move forward into an uncertain future. Like so many other indigenous people and sacred lands of this world.