The Elders Project (TEP) was born out of a series of meetings between the Mamos (traditional authorities) of the Koguis, Arhuacos and Wiwas of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (SNSM), Barbara Threecrow and Rick Harlow. The elder Mamos expressed their desire to find funding for projects that would strengthen their traditions and support their spiritual work as “caretakers of the water and the life of the planet”. They asked for our help and we signed an agreement with them.
The Black Line Journey of January 2010 was the first and most urgent of these projects. Mamo Seukukwi (Norberto Torres, a 90 year-old Arhuaco, known as the spiritual geographer of the SNSM) was grateful for the opportunity to pass along his vast knowledge to two generations of Kogui, Arhuaco and Wiwa mamos and apprentices. Among the delegation was one of Mamo Seukukwi’s sons and one of his grandsons.
The journey began on January 16, 2010 in Valledupar at the site known as Pozo Hurtado on the Guatapuri River and ended ten days later at the same site. The group of thirteen mamos and apprentices accompanied by TEP support staff made the journey around The Black Line, visiting a total of forty sacred sites or “points of payments” (puntos de pagamentos) where spiritual offerings were made in accordance with “The Law of Origin.”
Tragically, all is not well in the SNSM. The Black Line, as the mamos call it, is the ancestral territorial boundary of the four Indigenous pueblos and is in great need of restoration. Many of the sacred sites have been severely degraded by abuse and misuse. Some sites have been paved over and are not accessible. Others are on private land being developed by government and private corporations. At Puerto Brisa the Mamos were not allowed access to the sacred site and were unable to make their pagamentos. Frequently along the journey the Mamos would point out the damage caused by development, mineral extraction, harmful agricultural practices, tourism, litter and graffiti. They insisted repeatedly that the Colombian Government return control of the sacred sites to them so they can properly care for and heal the damage. The Mamos emphasized repeatedly the importance of making at least two, and preferably four trips every year around The Black Line.
To accompany this report, TEP has included a twenty-five minute film that shows the Mamos making offerings at sacred sites while collecting materials from the sea and riverbeds for future use as offerings high up in the mountains. We also see the condition of many of the sacred sites and rivers along The Black Line. This film was produced from fourteen hours of footage of the journey, which is now serving as an important archival and educational tool within the Indigenous communities in the Sierra.
The list of participants:
Mamo Seukukwi (Norberto Torres) Arhuaco
Mamo Vicente Torres “
Mamo Javier Torres “
Mamo Jose Vicente Zalabata “
Mamo Jose Maria Perez “
Mamo Nestor Torres “
Bienvenido Arroyo, Excabildo Gobernador “
Mamo Jose Gabriel Alimako Kogui
Mamo Pedro Conchacala “
Mamo Jose Maria Conchacala “
Mamo Mayor Carmen Conchacala Daza “
Catalina Daza Gil “
Mamo Jose Ignacio Dingula Wiwa
TEP Colombian Support staff:
Nora Diaz, Secretary
Jesús Ortiz, Coordinator for Mamos
Jan Willem Meurkens, TEP filmmaker
Rick Harlow, TEP coordinator, photographer,
TEP USA Support Staff;
Lee Martinez, Laurie Rabut, Barbara Threecrow
Rick Harlow, July 21, 2010
The Elders Project is a project of the EarthAction Network based in Amherst, Massachusetts. EarthAction is grateful to the Kalliopeia Foundation, Geser, son of Geser DBA Save Our Spirits, Alexia Borden, and the many other generous donors that made this project possible.