the .raw story : kogui
I’m having the hardest time trying to figure out where to begin when telling the stories from Colombia.
So, I’ll start with the kids from the Kogui. The kids are the easiest to connect with. They’re the most curious and just genuinely don’t have any judgement.
We headed to the Kogui camp to learn about their culture and in exchange do a few service projects with them. Upon arriving we headed straight to the edge of their village and dropped supplies. We were greeted with a welcoming ceremony from the Mamos (leaders) but still needed the approval for our help and offerings from head mamo who was in the field somewhere. We headed back to our side of camp and waited til he returned. We waited all afternoon. This was the first time a group of our small size of 10 outsiders had ever visited the village at one time. We understood how overwhelming that could be. So we waited patiently.
The kids on the otherhand were anxious. A few at a time they started peeking their heads around and lurking closer and closer until eventually every kiddo from the village was on our side of camp. And basically while we waited approval we hosted the best PE kids camp you could ever do with very little equipment. There’s only so many games you can make up with oranges, sticks & rope. But the kids loved it. And we even got some parents giggling in the background watching from afar.
The Kogui are a decedents from the ancient Tairona civilization that inhabits the Sierra Nevada mountain range on the northern coast of Colombia. They are one of the few tribes left in Colombia to have never be colonized by the Spanish. There are still 20k koguis to this day thriving in the jungles of Colombia. Their life mission is to pray for the humanity of the world. They call themselves the elder brothers of the world, with everyone else being the younger brothers. And they can’t understand why we are doing what we do to our planet.
I will share more history and stories from the days spent with these beautiful people, but for now, enjoy a few of my first favorite photos while I decompress and process the amazing experience that I am so blessed and grateful to have gotten to be a part of.
If you’re interested in learning more, watch the only ted talk about this civilization here.
Tairona clothing & traditions with some beautiful portraits. Everyone wears the traditional white fabric dress. It’s a piece of fabric folded in half, sewn together with cut outs for arms & neck. At this particular village they did not have a loom so they don’t make their fabric in house. They will go into the next village or town that does and bring back fabric. The boys and girls wear the same dress until they are close to their teens. Then the boys will get pants. While there I also never saw any type of diaper. Toddlers & babies were just naked or in the dress.
The men carry around a poporo. Pronounced po-po-do. This is the gourd all the men are carrying in their hand. The gourd is given to the man when they turn 18 as a part of the coming of age ceremony. The men can now chew the coca leaf and begin building his gourd. The coca leaf is the sacred plant of South America. It's the root plant in cocaine but the tribes of South America use it for a much different use. It’s used as a stimulant yes but its much more mild than what you’re thinking. The plant is a delicate leafy tree. The women are the only ones who are allowed to pick it and the men are the only ones who are allowed to chew it. After the leaves have been picked, they are toasted by the men. The toasting process is a ritual in itself. A softball size stone is thrown into the fire until hot. The stone is then added to the mochilo (woven bag) filled with fresh coca. The stone is tossed around in the bag for 20 minutes or so until all the leaves have a nice crisp. Once the stone is cool, the coca has been toasted. The coca leaves alone are a stimulant but to enhance and really activate the plant, the Kogui pair it with lime residue from crushed seashells. This is a practice that has been performed for many, many years. The crushing of the seashells is another process. They take a plant that’s similar to what we know as a bamboo stalk and cut it into small fine strips. It’s then stacked side by side creating a small shelf. The seashells from the ocean 30 miles away are laid across the shelf and then topped with another bamboo layer followed by another layer of shells. A fire is lit underneath the shells and burned until the color from all the shells has been burned away and all thats left are hot white shells. Combined with water, the shells then turn to a powdery dust. They are so brittle at that point that the shells basically crumble and create the lime residue needed to activate the leaves. This powder goes into the hole on top of the poporo. The stick coming out of the top of the gourd is a key component in the coca chewing process. A handsome pinch of leaves are taken from the bag and placed into the cheek of the mans mouth. They then take the stick and wet it with their saliva. It’s then dipped into the hole filled with sea shell residue to collect the dust. Next its wiped on the leaves that are inside their mouth. They are very careful not to touch anywhere else in their mouth but the leaves - the lime will burn the skin on the inside of the mouth - its only to be used to touch the leaves. The combination of the seashells, leaves and saliva activate the plant and a stimulating sensation occurs. After the stick has been wiped on the leaves there’s still lime residue left on the stick. It’s then rubbed back and forth on the top of the gourd where you see the yellow round formation forming. This is molded and grown over years and years of wet lime residue and the chewing of coca. The more they chew the larger their gourd gets. Each one is different and unique to the man and they become a piece of art once they’ve become too big. The size of the gourd reflects the time they’ve owned this particular gourd. The men get multiple in a lifetime but they must be given a new one by the head priest mamo. The men chew coca all day, every hour, every day. I never saw a man without the poporo in their hand or at least in their mochilo.
The women wear the same white clothing but in dress form. They also have a necklace of beads, the more extravagant, the wiser and older they are. I’m not sure when the girls get their first necklace but we saw girls around the age of 10 or so wearing a few. Please note, the first women is 98 years old!! The women also have a mochila, but not to carry coca, they use it to carry their babies! The babe will sit inside the bag and they will hang the strap from their head. The baby will hang in the front or back of the mother & a lot of times you will see the older siblings holding the babies like this too!! Also, every Tairona descendant wears a protection bracelet. It’s made from the inside of an aloe looking plant and the women decorate them with beads. This is also the same plant used to make the bags. They receive the bracelet the day they are born and get many more as they phase through their life.
Shoes aren’t really a thing. Kids don’t have them, I only saw a few women wearing crocs and the men will wear rain boots when working or walking the trails when headed for trade. Many times we passed by women and kids on the rocky jungle trails, all walking barefoot, 3 year olds climbing rocks better then me, the mother carrying her baby from her head all the while crocheting the mochila bag. Talk about multi tasking!!!!