To gain access to the Kogi, I had to write a letter to their Political leader in order to make a photographic essay on their culture. As luck would have it, I was allowed into their world and was fortunate enough to also go to the home go their spiritual leader and take some portraits of him. Traveling almost 9,000 kilometres from the UK, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, intense heat and high humidity tested me to my limits, but just to have an insight into this mysterious world was worth the hardship. Encountering poisonous snakes, giant spiders and scorpions just added to the excitement.
As I started my trip through the dense jungle to see the Kogi, it wasn't long before I came across them. We approached a river called the Buritaca, where we came across our first hamlet.
Dressed in white tunics and with jet black hair, members of Colombia’s Kogi tribe come across as mild and meek – so it’s hard to believe they’re actually one of the most outspoken indigenous groups in South America.
Protectors of their homeland, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, they’re fierce environmentalists who have previously protested against potentially damaging industrial developments. The Kogi know secrets about nature that would make our scientists rethink their ideas on the environment and the universe. They have a presence about them that commands respect. The power of their mind is beyond comprehension. But few people outside of Colombia know who they are and what they represent.
They fear that ‘little brother’ (the white man) is destroying our planet, signified by an increasing number of natural disasters and unpredictable weather patterns. They believe it’s their duty to warn the world about the impact of such behaviour, and the dangers that might lie ahead if they refuse to stop.
Living a secluded life for 500 years since Spanish conquistadors invaded their territory, Kogi communities can be found dotted along the world’s highest coastal mountain in the north of Colombia. The Kogi believe they are descendants of this ancient pre-Columbian civilisation, and still perform sacred ceremonies at some ruins, where no media are allowed. The Kogi live in the higher regions of the Sierra Nevada. Many self-sustaining communities are on the Western part of the Mountain accessible through Valledupar, which is located in the State of Cesar. You can also enter Kogi land via Santa Marta, a coastal city, but it is a little more difficult. The Sierra Nevada is the highest coastal mountain in the world only 26 miles from the beach. It is located near the Equator, which means it has no seasons. Day and night are of equal length all year round. It has every eco-system in its 17,000 km2 area (8,000 sq. miles) You can find coral reefs, mangroves, arid deserts, rain and cloud forest, and in the higher elevations, plains and snow-capped peaks with temperatures close to –20 degrees. The highest peak is the Pico Simon Bolivar at 5,775 mtrs. In 1965, archeologists found the remains of a lost Tairona religious align=”left” and called it the “Lost City.” It is a three-day hike in dense jungle to witness a true wonder of the past. Rumour has it there are 2 more lost cities yet to be found.
By refusing to adopt Western dress and mentalities, the Kogi have successfully preserved their culture. Males carry around a Poporo – which is vital to their existence - a gourd given to boys when they enter manhood – and also a small bag of coca leaves, which are crushed and mixed with calcium shells. ‘Mambear’ the action of taking the coca pasta from the Poporo. Women are distinguishable by the garlands of beads worn around their necks. The Kogi men live separately from their wives for reasons still unknown.
For the first 18 years of their lives, spiritual leaders live in darkness as they try to fully understand Aluna. Their outlook on life is simple; respect and love the environment you live in. By co-existing in harmony with the forest, they have a connection with nature we lost a long time ago.