Colombia, Indians of Sierra Nevada

Colombia, Indians of Sierra Nevada


K. Korotkov

14 August 2005, 6.20 am. 1860 meters (6100 ft) above sea level, a mountain stream babbles nearby, gushing over stones. I’m sitting on a little rock beneath an enormous pine, watching as clouds of fog rise above the surrounding mountains in the rays of the emerging sun. The only trouble is the drops from the branches which periodically fall directly onto the pages of my travel journal. Columbia, valley of the Sierra Nevada. There was a tropical downpour at noon yesterday, but when I went outside at 2 am, the sky was covered with billions of stars, among which I could barely make out something faintly resembling the Southern Cross. From time to time, bright little stars flew into the sky – it had been officially announced that the Earth intersected with a strip of cosmic dust, and tiny meteorites were burning up brightly in the atmosphere. Meteorites are in fact no rarity in Columbia. It is said that a big meteorite fell in the neighbouring valley, narrowly missing a local dog, and the meteorite, weighing in at 22 kg (48.5 lb), is kept in the national museum of Bogota.

Yesterday we travelled four hours to get here from the little town of Valledupar. At first the road went happily by along the highway surrounded by cocoa plantations and green fields, but after an hour we left the tarmac behind and went up into the mountains. At that point the road ran out. For the road our Landcruiser had slowly taken was barely a road at all. At some point this track had been passed over by a mighty grader, cutting a relatively smooth road out of the humps, but it was clear that a lot of time had passed since then, and nature had steadily returned the construction to its natural state. Bursting streams had eroded the clay soil, creating deep troughs in it, huge stones rolled down from the surrounding steep slopes, and our Landcruiser crept along the edge of deep precipices which took our breath away with a sensation of dizzying depths. But our Indian guide calmly turned the steering wheel whist still managing to chat on his mobile phone, which he kept pressed between his ear and his shoulder – he wouldn’t have been able to control the car with one hand. During three hours of journey we met three jeeps coming in the opposite direction, one of them, as is usual, in the most inconvenient place possible, and we rolled back a fair way to give way. The higher we went, the more frequently we met picturesque horseman in white clothing, prancing around sedately on business.


After the first incline, there before us was a green valley, surrounded by the gentle hillocks of the foothills. It was reminiscent of the crater of an ancient volcano, so perfectly formed was the ring of foothills, surrounding the valley. We saw a group of neat hats with reed roofs, which immediately made me think of Ukrainian mazanki (daub cottages). And most surprising of all: oranges and lemons were growing in orchards next to a green maize field, small coffee plantations were the equivalent of our kitchen gardens, and above the valley the air was full of the wonderful scent of fresh pine. Huge scale-winged insects flew past, black suckling pigs busily rummaged in the earth, a parrot jumped in the branches, and the gaggle of poultry resounded from every village.


Indians have been living in this valley of paradise for the last two to three thousand years. And so it was that historically these places were never touched by great American empires – neither by the Incas from the South or the Maya-Aztecs from the North, and the Indians lived in the vast territory of the Sierra Nevada, out of reach of merciless conquerors. The Spanish went up into the mountains in the 16th century, but there had never been gold there and they lost interest.

The most surprising thing of all is that these tribes have managed to maintain their traditions and their autonomy over the last 500 years, in the face of pressure from modern civilization.

We climbed out of the jeep and passed a few small well-kept houses, and we were led along a path behind the village. Crossing the ford, we went up the hill and saw a large group of Indians in white clothing and white hats sitting under a high tree. They were waiting for us. All around stood women in white who were constantly knitting something and small children were running around. As a welcome, the chieftain gave each of us 4 white cotton threads – a symbol of what man gets from nature. The Indians extract these from the huge leaves of the cactus plant and then make clothes, bags and sacks out of them. The resulting cloth is quite tough and resembles jute. A leisurely discussion ensued. I spoke in Russian, Alexei translated into Spanish, and the chieftain, having listened to each long tirade translated the whole thing in its entirety into the local language. He then replied in excellent Spanish. Sometimes the Indians struck up a discussion; they spoke in turn without interrupting each other, as if thinking carefully at the end of each speech. All the while they hewed on coca leaves which they took out of special little sacks. The bowed to greet each other and exchanged coca leaves from their sacks.

The Chieftain said that their tribe retained the traditions of their ancestors and the way of life which had survived here for thousands of years. They refused electricity and European tools and equipment. They deliberately don’t repair the road to limit the influx of tourists and official persons. It has to be said that once you’ve travelled on that road you don’t want to repeat the experience.

During our entire meeting the women were knitting, gaggles of lovely children were running about. It was clear from the number of children that evenings here are long and dull, and the tribe has certainly made provision for its future survival.

The exchange of opinions about the world and nature continued until three o’clock. When the chieftain announced the end of the discussion, it began to rain. This was warmly welcomed, as it was the sign of the benevolence of the heavenly forces. After that we were invited to eat with them: chicken soup with yucca and vegetables, and roast chicken with rice. As we had noticed, there were many chickens running around in the yards, but it seemed chicken was festive food for the Indians. A tropical downpour severely restricted our activities after that, and we spent most of the evening engaged in leisurely discussions. When dusk came we went to bed. When dawn broke, we woke up. Village life without electricity does have its charms all the same.

After a breakfast of papaya and pineapple we took GDV measurements from several Indians; then we were invited into the cabin of ceremonies. After passing through the village, we crossed a stream, stepping on small stones, and along a narrow path came to a clearing where there were two round reed cabins, and the Indians were sitting there in groups. They were the ceremonial cabins, one for women, the other one for men. The internal structure was made of iron poles, bound inextricably, and the central pillar, about five meters in height. From the outside the cabin was crowned with a cone structure from poles resembling a modern dish. Indeed, the Indians said that was an ancient structure to generate energy from the sky; the energy goes into the cabin by the system of poles where it feeds the ever-burning fire. This is another argument in favor of theories about extraterrestrial contacts. The smoke gradually went out through the wicker roof and the entrances.

Then dancing began. To the sounds of the drum and flutes women started to whirl slowly on the ground, all together and then in pairs. Their slow movements reminded of a special event “for those who are more than 30 years of age” before drinking the third glass of booze.


After that we went into the men’s cabin and measured the “mamos”. Now a few words about who they are. Approximately 20,000 Indians live on the vast territory of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. They live there as small villages, sometimes as individual families. Rich nature, even temperature, 20-25◦C throughout the year, the absence of predators and mosquitoes creates ideal conditions for living in these mountainous parts. However, such conditions lead to a leisurely, lazy life not requiring much effort and struggle for existence. There are no wars, no newspapers, and no big cities. No need for writing and developing handcrafts. Dried pumpkins serve as plates; clothing is woven from threads of cactus. Exchange between the territories has always been difficult: walking along mountain paths was difficult, and horses were brought only by Europeans. This is a tribal system preserved through the centuries.

All management of life has been carried out by the “mamos”. It the local language “mamos” means “the wise”. They are selected among the most intelligent young man, and then the older “mamos” pass on the traditions and customs to them. The “mamos” grow up, get married, have 8-10 children and live the life of ordinary people. They are asked for advice, for the resolution of disputes and for making decisions that are important for the tribe. Several times a year all “mamos” gather in the central village, Nabusimake, sit together, talking slowly, chewing coca leaves. In a special place, under a sacred tree, the Holy Spirit descends upon them.

The Colombians, with whom we talked in Cartagena and Barranca, believe that the “mamos” have special properties. They can anticipate events and subject the world to their will. For example, the spring before the “mamos” reported that in summer they would be visited by scientists whom they would receive. The “mamos” are very selective in their contacts with civilization, and it is almost impossible to come and meet with them.

The Indians of the Sierra Nevada try to preserve their identity, and “mamos” are their spiritual leaders in this process. They protect their people from the influence of Western civilization. In many ways they manage to do this. Most people, including the young generation, wear national clothes and adhere to their traditions. Naturally, the Catholic missionaries came to the land of “mamos”, built a church and began their sermons. The struggle lasted many years, but finally in 1980 the “mamos” managed to expel the missionaries. The church doors are closed, and the Indians, as thousands of years ago, worship the spirits of mountains and rivers. However, they are happy to use mobile phones and many of them wear shoes instead of hand-made sandals: shoes are more comfortable in the rainy season.

Of course, civilization gradually penetrates into their life. Metal pots are more convenient than those made of ceramics. Children are happy munching cookies and candies. The local arrack is poured into plastic bottles. Not to mention the horses’ saddles and harness. Some Indians wear jeans and wide-brimmed hats.

A big problem is the state of health. The government opened an infirmary, and a handsome doctor can give first aid at the level of a rural doctor. Of course, in difficult cases he can only spread his hands. The Indians take it quietly, “The Gods give life and the Gods take it away”.

We examined a few patients. They had diseases common to rural life and lack of hygiene: intestinal parasites, the effects of old injuries, children’s illnesses. Since they have no normal road they can only rely on the forces of nature. Interestingly, none of the Indians knew his age. In the world where practically there is no change of seasons, life goes as one smooth flow.

We took measurements in different places of Indian villages. The energy level was very high, but steady and quiet. What else could be expected in the Garden of Eden? However, when we took measurements on the rock where the “mamos” communicate with the Supreme Beings the result was quite unexpected! The entropy of the signal varied within wide limits, the graph curve “jumped” up and down, though ten meters away everything was quiet. It is obvious that this place has a very special energy, and we can only stretch our imagination to understand how this cosmic influence has maintained a civilization of the “mamos” Indians for centuries, and, perhaps, many residents of Colombia as well (fig.18).

At parting, the “mamos” asked us to convey their message to the civilization: “Let us live our own lives. We have managed to maintain our traditions over the centuries, let us continue to live this life. In our villages people are working, they are happy and quietly raise their children. There is no theft, no crime; people live according to their conscience, to the laws of their ancestors. We do not need cars and television. With them there come licentiousness and drunkenness. We chew coca leaves and we are content. We trust our spirits, and they guard our lives for millennia. Leave us alone and let us live our own life”.

Fig.18. Time dynamics of Entropy parameter in the Indian village

(A) and at the Holy Stone

(B). Sensors: 1 – wood; 2 – earth; 3 – water; 4 – air


Measurements at the Holy Stone

After lengthy negotiations the “mamos” were able to negotiate with the Government of Colombia on their autonomy. A “black line” was drawn limiting the territory of the Indians of the Sierra Nevada. But, as “mamos” complained, the Government was constantly violating those boundaries, and when the Indians tried to address the Government about these cases nobody would listen. They have had enough troubles with drug cartels and guerrillas.

The Indians of the Sierra Nevada announce their needs at the international level, too. Their leader Rogelio Mejia, on the invitation of UNESCO, participated in the Congress of tribal cultures in Tokyo in 2004. He did not like the city. “There are too many people, very noisy, everybody is running somewhere”. In the autumn he is going to go to a Congress in Spain. There should be simpler there, because all speak Spanish.

We were leaving the Indian village in the middle of the day. The clouds had already covered the sky, and the way back was to be “fun”. Indeed, a couple of times we had to pull the jeep out of a deep muddy pit, let alone the art of the driver who was sliding on the wet road over the cliffs making my heart throb. So in many places we chose to get out of the car and proceed on foot, which was something more reliable.

The “mamos” were smiling goodbye and patting us on the shoulder. We were coming downward, back to civilization, to our concerns and problems, and they remained in the world of clean energy, tinkling streams, and good smiles. May God preserve their life in this state! Humanity develops new technologies and Space, destroys each other in wars, drinks and wastes time near TV screens, and somewhere in the mountains of Colombia the Indians of the Sierra Nevada call rain tapping with a tortoise shell. It is this very diversity that manifests the greatness of the Human Spirit, the prospects of continued development and renewal. Therefore, it is necessary to preserve cultural identity, preserve their individuality and promote the desire to avoid the western standards. The more diverse the world, the richer the Soul of Mankind!

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