When I was first introduced to the Kogi of the Sierra Nevada de San Martin through the film “From the Heart of the World: The Elder Brothers’ Warning”, I reacted the same way I did when my littlest brother informed me that I was doing my physiology homework incorrectly. “Thanks for the tip, Einstein” I replied smugly and I continued doing my homework the same way, because I knew that I was doing it correctly.
For a pre-Columbian society to break a 500 year silence to the modern world and announce that they know (apparently based only on the local weather variations in their small community?) that the other 6 billion of us are tempting the fates by living the way we do seems a bit presumptuous. Who are they to tell me that even though I try to live a “green” lifestyle (hey, I recycle) that my way of life is murdering Aluna, the Kogi word for a spiritual world they believe is innately connected to the world we live in.
After the film however, I began to reflect on the paradigm in which the Kogi exist. For this small group of South Americans, the world is a very different place than it is for most of us. The world is not a lump of dirt circling the sun at thousands of miles per hour. They do not exist to provide a decent living for their families and try to save enough to retire by the time they are 65. For the Kogi, life is learning to become a member of the community in which they live. The community consists not only of people, but of animals, insects, plants, rocks, and spirits. These people still consider themselves a part of their worlds community, unlike modern civilization.
In addressing my original question to the Kogi, who are they to tell me how I ought to live and treat the world, the above line of thinking leads to one obvious conclusion: the Kogi, not us, are the real authority when it comes to coexisting with everything on the planet. As the film points out, the Kogi have continuously occupied the same land for hundreds of years. A modern structure would crumble away long before the Kogi city begins to erode. “Don’t fight nature” a Kogi mama might urge, “Learn to live with it. Follow its natural cycles and resonate with them.”
At first blush, the very name that the Kogi give to the rest of civilization, Little Brothers, is diminutive and condescending. After a moments meditation however, we realize that the contrast the Kogi see between our two communities is quantitative, not qualitative. They do not see us as a lesser species or as having decreased intelligence. There is no special attribute that we lack that divides us from the Kogi. We just have some growing up to do before we understand the world as our wise and concerned elder brothers. I say, let’s hear their message.