The Kogi are one of 4 groups of indigenous people in the Sierra. The others are the Arhuaco, the Wiwa and the Kangwama. The Kogi were first researched by Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff from the 1940s to the 1970s but the harshness of the terrain made it difficult to reach them.
Kogi Society is strictly hierarchical. At the top are Mamas (derived from Mamos or sun), the spiritual leaders or priests whose education is one of the most remarkable aspects of their society. Future priests are chosen by divination and undergo their training from birth. Full education takes place over 18 years in special caves, during which time the ‘moros’ or trainee priests are deprived of daylight as far possible. Mamas return to society aged about 20. They have acquired leadership skills but have no practical knowledge. This austere education prepares them for the delicate task of preserving the universe. They do not undertake physical work. This is left to the Comisarios or village headmen and Cabos who are assistants to both Mamas and Comisarios. Mayores are reputable older men with some authority over their kinsmen.
Below these levels are the ordinary people who engage in activities according to their sex. Both sexes share in agricultural production. Whilst weaving, woodworking, clothing manufacture and toolmaking are male activities, women are responsible for cooking, planting, collecting wild foods and manufacturing nets and bags. The nuclear family is the basic social and economic unit. Husbands and wives live separately most of the time. The wife and children share a dwelling while the husband lives nearby but spends most of his time in the ‘nuhue', the men’s house which is the largest and most sophisticated building.. Each family plants crops in several different environmental zones. Major food crops include potatoes, beans, maize, plantains, sugar cane, onions. sweet potatoes, avocadoes and pineapples. Domestic animals are also kept including oxen, pigs, sheep, chickens and turkeys and some fishing is practised. The Kogi have no written language but speak Kaggaba and communicate with the outside world through Spanish translation. Some of the younger generation are now Spanish speakers.
Films were made about the Arhuaco by Robert Gardner, David Attenborough and Brian Moser but the Kogi, who lived on the highest part of the mountain, were so isolated that they were virtually unknown to the outside world until Alan Ereira was unexpectedly invited in to film with them after he visited the area researching another documentary. The Kogi were frightened and offered him a deal whereby they would allow the viewers a glimpse into their day to day lives in return for the opportunity to explain their fears for the future of their mountain environment.