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Bogotá (AFP) – The ancestral knowledge of four indigenous communities in the Sierra Nevada, the highest coastal mountain range in the world in northern Colombia, was declared Tuesday Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by Unesco.
Living in a vast territory ranging from the coasts of the Caribbean Sea to the peaks of mountains culminating at 5,770 meters above sea level, these four indigenous peoples Arhuaco, Kankuamo, Kogui and Wiwa preserve essential knowledge to “take care of the life of mother nature, of humanity and of the planet”, according to Unesco.
This region at the northern end of the Andes, called Goanawindwa-Shwndwa in the vernacular, is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest coastal mountain range in the world, whose lowlands of tropical forests on the coast are transform over the ascent into savannah, then thorny forests drowned in the altitude mists.
Koguis, Arhuacos, Wiwas and Kankuamos, four distinct but related peoples, walk these steep slopes dressed in traditional immaculate white clothes, woven backpacks slung over the shoulder and woven straw hats, often white as well.
Faced with the expansion of tourism in the Sierra Nevada, the “ancestral wisdom” of the natives “plays a fundamental role in guaranteeing the protection of the ecosystem (…) and avoiding the loss of their cultural identity”, according to the ministry Colombian Culture.
“Center of the world”
“For the Indians, the Sierra Nevada is the center of the world. It is surrounded by an invisible + black line + which connects the sacred sites of their ancestors and delimits their territory”, according to the NGO Survival International, defender of the indigenous peoples of the planet.
“The Indians of the Sierra call themselves ‘big brothers’ and consider that they demonstrate a mystical wisdom and understanding, superior to that of the other peoples whom they call their ‘little brothers'”.
“Big Brothers feel it is their responsibility to maintain balance in the universe,” says Survival. “When there are hurricanes, droughts or famines in the world, they blame themselves for man’s failure to maintain harmony in the world. Balance is established by making offerings to sacred sites to return to the earth what has been taken from it”.
Their spiritual leaders are called “Mamo”, who would be “in our western culture part priest, part teacher, part doctor”.
They are “charged with maintaining the natural order of the world through chanting, meditation and ritual offerings”. Their learning begins at an early age (…) in the heights of the mountains where they learn to meditate on the natural and spiritual world”.
In the book “Orden del Todo” (The Order of Everything), dedicated to these peoples, the native Norberto Torres explains: “Our thought is universal because it encompasses everything that exists, that is, the visible and the invisible, the great mysteries that nature conceals and that, until now, man has not known, obsessed with chemistry and science”.
Coke and “poporo”
“All things have their minds, including plants, stones, all form a thought that goes out to the universe, united like a breath,” according to Mr. Torres, also known as “Mamo” Zeukukuy.
“We have been following this tradition in a practical and oral way for about 3,600 years, since we have our headquarters in this sacred mountain range, considered the heart of the world”, adds Mamo Arwa Vikw, quoted in the same work.
The coca leaf plays a central role in the lives of the Indians of the Sierra Nevada and is used in offerings and ceremonies. “Each man carries a small purse filled with coca leaves which he chews to create a slight stimulating effect”, or “exchange as a sign of mutual respect when he meets another man”, details Survival.
The natives also carry a hollowed-out gourd – the “poporo” – which contains a powder of crushed shells, intended to be mixed with the coca ball in the mouth, and whose alkalinity stimulates the active ingredients of the precious plant.
The Colombian ambassador to the UN, Leonor Zalabata, Arhuaco and the first indigenous woman to represent the country within this body, is also the international voice of nearly 90 indigenous communities which represent 4.4% of the 50 million inhabitants of Colombia.
© 2022 AFP
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In Colombia, the natives of the “sacred mountain” erected to the rank of heritage of humanity
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