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Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (SNSM) Colombia
“The Heart of the World”
The Colombian Constitutional Court (Auto 004/2009) declared the four indigenous communities of the SNSM, (Arhuacos, Koguis, Wiwas and Kanquamos), to be at risk of cultural extinction. This reality, coupled with economic development plans (mining, dams and tourism) threatens the very existence of these rich cultural traditions that have endured for millennia.
The Elders Project (TEP) was born out of a series of meetings between the Mamos (traditional authorities) of the Kogui, Arhuaco and Wiwa peoples, Barbara Threecrow and Rick Harlow, which took place during the gathering of indigenous leaders in Pasto, Colombia in August of 2009.
TEP’s mission is to work with and provide assistance and support to the traditional authorities (Mamos) of the SNSM in Colombia for projects aimed at strengthening their traditional practices. TEP will provide this assistance primarily through funding those projects the Mamos deem necessary for the protection and preservation of their culture and their ancestral lands in accordance with the “Law of Origin” of their ancestors.
TEP accepts tax-deductible donations through EarthAction, an educational and charitable organization with 501(c)(3) tax status. Donations to “The Elders Project” from US citizens are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.
Projects Supported by the Elders Project
Mamos at the sacred site of Cañaveral, Black Line Journey Jan.2010
Black Line Journey: The Black Line forms a virtual triangle around the base of the SNSM, approximately 100 miles on each side, connecting 54 sacred sites. The Line is a spiritual boundary that demarcates the ancestral territory of the four indigenous groups of the Sierra Nevada, the Koguis, Arhuacos, Wiwas and Kankuamos. The purpose of the Mamos’ journey is to make offerings at these sites in compliance with their “Law of Origin”. The Mamos have been making these offerings for millennia. This is how they care for the Sierra Nevada, which they call “The Heart of the World”.
TEP has been funding Black line journeys since January of 2010. The next journey takes place in 2013.
A film about the Black Line Journey of January 2010 produced by TEP may be viewed below:
A music video titled “La Linea Negra” (The Black Line in Spanish) by the musical group Ganyarikiesvproduced by TEP may be viewed below or by clicking this link.
Mamo Zäreymakú (Juan Marcos Pérez) Arhuaco Leader, (d. 2007)
Archiving and publishing the Elder's wisdom:
TEP is committed to assisting the Mamos in collecting the seeds of knowledge that remain alive in the surviving Mamos of advanced age.
Jesús Ortiz and Nora Díaz (Colombian TEP members) have been compiling voice recordings, films, photographs and minutes of meetings for well over a decade. The recovery of lost knowledge is of great historical and educational value to the four pueblos.
Between 1995 and 2006, Jesus Ortiz and Nora Diaz recorded more than 20 hours of conversations with Mamo Zareymaku. He wanted his knowledge to be written down and published for the benefit of his people. His desire was to safeguard and preserve the pueblos' history and wisdom and to guarantee that this information would be available for future generations.
The Mamos say that publishing this book will provide the four pueblos with a powerful tool for the strengthening of the traditional practices and the unification of the four pueblos in defense of their homelands: la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, “The Heart of the World”.
The successful publication by TEP of the wisdom of recently deceased Arhuaco leaders, Clodomiro Arroyo and Mamo Francisco Torres in 2010, resulted in the printing and ongoing distribution of 2000 copies of the book to the Indigenous Communities of the Sierra Nevada. The book providing guidance for social order was received with enthusiasm and brought about renewed inspiration within the four pueblos.
TEP is now seeking funds to publish this new volume containing the wisdom of Mamo Zareymaku (Juan Marcos Pérez), who passed away in 2007 at the age of 94. He was the last great cacique (traditional leader) of the Arhuaco people.
Mamo Jose Gabriel Alimako, Kogui Leader
Kogui Elders: As the indigenous group of the Sierra who are keepers of a large part of the collective knowledge of the Law of Origin, the Kogui feel a special responsibility to assist the other three pueblos in the recuperation of lost knowledge and ceremonies, such as the Taní ritual dance (below).
TEP supports activities proposed by Kogui Elders to assist the Kankuamo, Wiwa and Arhuaco pueblos in the recovery of lost knowledge.
Revival of the Tani Dance: The Mamos consider the Tani dance to be a most important and fundamental part of their spiritual work and it’s recovery essential for the continuance and strengthening of the traditional practices. This sacred dance was banned by the Capuchin evangelicals and has not been performed for over fifty years in Arhuaco territory.
In 2011 Kogui Mamos traveled to Arhuaco territory, with TEP support, to assist in the first performance of this dance in generations. TEP continues to support the Arhuaco people’s efforts to reinstate this ritual.
Mamo Isael, 98 years old
Mamo Isael is dedicated to sharing his knowledge with the male and female participants of the following two projects:
Sequinkuta: Apprentice Mamo learning to weave a traditional hat under the guidance of an elder Mamo.
Training of apprentices: While most of the children are pressured into public education that weakens their ties to the teachings of the elders, TEP is investing in the traditional education of the many young boys who have chosen to train with the Elder Mamos of the villages of Simonaruwa and Sequinkuta.
Benerexa Márquez, Arhuaco leader
Guatiyina Iku (Arhuaco Women): The past few generations of Arhuaco women who attended the state-imposed evangelical mission schools, were discouraged from participating in their traditional spiritual work.
Today, young Arhuaco women, under the guidance of Benerexa Márquez and Mamo Isael, are committed to studying and reassuming their responsibilities of harmonizing and balancing the energy of “The Heart of the World”.
TEP supports the education of these apprentices. This work is crucial to the continuance of the traditional practices of the four pueblos of the SNSM.