APRIL 2020 NEWSLETTER
10 April 2020
We hope you are all keeping well and staying out of harm’s way in these difficult times. With much of our lives put on hold we thought we would just share with you the details of an important event for the Trust and the Kogi which took place between Sunday 23 February and Tuesday 03 March 2020 just before we all went into lockdown and the world stood still.
Three Trustees Alan Ereira, Felicity Nock and Falk Xue Parra Witte made the journey to Colombia to meet up with the Kogi Mamas, OGT and Fundación Estación Biológica Bachaqueros, and they were joined by representatives from BRIDGES, UNESCO and Peace with the Earth to flesh out the project we have all been formulating together. Provisionally entitled ‘Cultivating Water’, it looks at the possibility of combining indigenous and non-indigenous scientific expertise in the revitalising of a dried up spring in the dry forest of the Sierra.
On arriving at Bogota airport on 24 February the Trustees met up with Monika Michaelová, who was making the same journey from Munich for a similar purpose. She has set up a Foundation in Colombia and the Czech Republic, the Fundacion Escuela Sintana y Tierra Negra (https://www.mosty-puentes.cz/nadacni-fond/). which aims to preserve Kogi spiritual heritage, and cultural exchange. It operates in the Sierra by buying land for the indigenous people and supporting restoration, especially with regard to water. She was on her way to visit the community supported by her Foundation, and was very keen to engage with the Cultivating Water project.
In Santa Marta the trustees were joined by Bibiana Salamanca, who runs the Fundación Bachaqueros and Peter Rawitscher, the Trust’s contact with the OGT who is also one of the Directors of Bachaqueros. Patrick DeGeorges, who was representing BRIDGES, joined the Trustees the following day when they visited the University of Magdalena. The University Humanities Department is part of the broad Alliance that OGT launched to co-ordinate external support. Trustees made it clear at this meeting that it is no part of our purpose to interfere in indigenous politics or challenge any of their decisions. The project is simply an investigation of whether any practical use can be made of the traditional knowledge which they have offered. On that basis the Dean offered the full support of the Humanities Department.
The party then went to meet OGT Cabildo José de los Santos Sauna and Mauricio Blanco at the Casa Indigena, where the final details of the visit were finalised. They were informed that a large number of Mamas were coming from high in the Sierra. Thursday, 27th February would be the political part of the meeting and Friday 28th the spiritual part. Trustees then returned to their hotel in Santa Marta to meet representatives from Unesco, Bridges and Peace with the Earth.
On Wednesday the whole party travelled to the Carrizal reserve where Bachaqueros is already working and where it is planned to carry out the project. On route they visited the Bachaqueros’ nursery garden in Santa Marta known as ‘Nascua’, which is modest in scale but well organised, specialising in nurturing native seeds collected in dry forest regions to mature plants and trees for renovation planting.
The journey to Carrizal begins with a jeep ride for about 30 minutes by road from Santa Marta but the jeeps were soon abandoned for a scramble up rocky tracks as the valley got steeper. As they were walking through dry forest the visitors were told that it is able to survive well for many months of drought as long as rain falls in the brief rainy seasons of May and November. If this pattern changes and there are two or more years of continuous drought the forest cannot be revived. The location of the lost spring was really a delight – a green, cool oasis but the water in the spring was some 5 metres down.
Bibiana and Peter had purchased the reserve some years ago from a city dweller who happened to enjoy herding animals. He had allowed clear grazing over the valley and planted a particularly aggressive grass for his cattle to feed on. He also built a cabin, a cattle corral and a well-house next to his newly sunk well. He antagonised all the farmers from further down the valley when he cut down a massive tree that was believed to anchor the spring and keep water flowing through the valley. The spring started to dry up almost immediately. Bibiana believed that this may have prompted the land sale. The Kogi Mamas have described the site by saying that the farmer punctured the mother’s skin and are convinced that simply filling the well will not restore the flow. The Mamas are therefore nurturing the spring’s resurgence where the dry water-course flows over a massive rock. This point is approximately level with the water table seen at the bottom of the well.
Bibiana and Peter explained the nature of this micro basin. The Sierra is divided into ecological regions depending on the height and level of rainfall: ‘paramo’, ‘sub-paramo’, mist or tropical forest, arid forest, and the coastal regions adjacent to the sea. The arid forest is especially interesting because it is home to plants that are adapted to surviving for long periods with minimal rainfall. Study of these plants may be important for a climate changed world. Another focus of research in the valley is providing a safe passage for jaguars and other larger mammals like tapir to move from the lower slopes to the upper mountain. At the time of the visit, the deciduous trees were leafless so they could endure the lack of water. Massive, mature weeping figs with huge aerial roots are among evergreen trees that provide welcome shade. The visiting party spent the night in Dibulla.
On the Thursday they crossed the river from the town to the long beach leading to the meeting site with the Kogi Mamas at Jaba Tañiwashkaka. In June 2019 this had only been possible by boat, but in 2020 the water was so low that it was easier to paddle. There were some 20 Kogi gathered. The meeting was out in the open under a tree visibly suffering from drought, in strong sun, and the morning was spent with everyone introducing themselves. The Alliance was represented by THT, Bachaqueros, two members of the University of Magdalena, Andrew Tucker and Angelica Nuñez, Kiké (the Spaniard who was present last year and who buys land in the Sierra) and Juan Mayr.
The afternoon was largely spent by the BRIDGES / UNESCO / Bachaqueros / THT / University group discussing in Spanish and English ways of structuring the administration of the project. Members of OGT listened at the centre of the group. It proved difficult to reach a conclusion. The Foundation model raised issues of where the Foundation should be established and hold its funds. An alternative proposal, involving the Universities of Wales and Magdalena overseeing things was not received with enthusiasm by the Kogi.
On Friday morning Santos and the Mamas made speeches in the Kogi language. Each of the visitors set out their purpose and perspective. Patrick also put forward the proposal for the Peace with the Earth conference. The Cultivating Water proposal was presented in Spanish for consideration by the Mamas. In order to draw things to some sort of a conclusion Alan described the situation as he understood it, in a brief speech in Spanish.
“I am Alan Ereira. I have spent many years in the Sierra in contact with you and many years ago I was taught by Mama Valencio, Mama Bernardo and the Jefe Major, Mama Jacinto that humanity exists in two forms. You know this perfectly well. Elder Brothers from here, Younger Brothers from elsewhere. And that the process of history is the conquest of Colombia which continues in the Sierra. And in the final days, the conquest ends. Finished. Over. There are no secret places for the indigenous people left in the Sierra. At that time everything dies. But there is another possibility - an alliance between the two brothers, who work together. Because there are two systems of understanding. The system here, of the Elder Brothers, and the different system of the Younger Brothers. The Younger Brothers’ system is very dangerous, because they know a great deal but use this knowledge to destroy the world. But together, there is a possibility of a different future. That is the history told forty years ago by the Mamas. I think that the moment has come right now. We are here precisely to begin work in this system of joint alliance….. The days of talking, talking, talking are over. It is not possible to continue with speech alone. Now is the time to act. And here are the people from BRIDGES and UNESCO, here to formalise this project with the Mamas. I believe the Mamas are here for the same reason. And I am here simply to see the completion of the Mamas’ prophecy. Thank you.” There was a very strong approving response from the Kogi, with Mama Manuel saying “Happy! Happy!”
Back in Santa Marta on Saturday the day began with a meeting with Lina Barbosa Rodríguez, who is the Santa Marta and Cienaga Water Fund Manager who created and leads the 5-year Strategic Plan to address water security problems. She confirmed that Santa Marta is desperately short of water, with the poorest section of the population visibly dehydrated, and the situation is deteriorating. The problem is not, however, directly caused by global warming. The glaciers which have melted only contributed about 10% of the water in the rivers that supply the city. The main reason for the shortage is bad land management, deforestation for agriculture and industrial development which diminishes the water stored in vegetation and reduces its contribution to the water-cycle. This is a problem which can be solved by improving land management but requires a river valley to be managed as a complete system, just as our project proposes, rather than managing particular sites in isolation.
So it seems that ‘Cultivating Water‘ is well conceived and appears feasible. The problem to be overcome is one of engagement with the community which fears being let down as they have been in the past. Later on at a meeting at Santa Marta University the Dean of the Science Faculty, Professor Juan Carlos Narváez Barandica, and a team of researchers said they were ready to support the project and an alliance document was signed to that end.
The visit to the Sierra officially ended on Sunday 01 March but Trustees gathered in Bogota and the following day Sylvestre, a Kogi who worked on Aluna and had attended the BRIDGES meeting in Sweden arrived to take part in the discussion about the Peace with the Earth conference. This took place in a meeting room at UNITEC, where it was chaired by Dr. Diego Alberto Parra Ferro, its President (and Falk’s father). It emerged that there would be problems organising a full-blown conference for November 2020, and that it would be more practical to think of workshops co-ordinated with one of the other related conferences taking place. There was particular interest in a workshop exploring what is meant by “The Earth” – how is the expression understood in different cultures and how you would make peace with it?
On Tuesday before returning home Alan met with Alejandro Ramirez-Rojas, the ALUNA composer. He explored the idea of creating a symphonic piece about the meaning of “the Earth”. He also ran into Juan Mayr and his wife. Juan was the founder of the Fondación Pro Sierra Nevada, who subsequently became Minister for the Environment and then Colombian Ambassador to Germany. He is also involved with a peace conference in November in Colombia, and Alan suggested collaboration with Patrick and with Alejandro.
Obviously further progress on our project has now been held up in the fight against COVID 19 and the Kogi have retreated up the mountain to safety but we will keep you posted with developments when things start to move forward again.
Wishing you all good health and please stay safe.
Tairona Heritage Trustees