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But the mamos held council the evening of my arrival and granted me permission to enter. The next day, I clambered up a narrow ladder beside the gate to photograph the hallowed hamlet, nestled in a small pine-scented plateau cusped by a mountain meniscus. Huddled together against a rough mud-and-stone wall, three teenage girls giggled nervously, unsure whether to pose or flee.

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Younger children scattered. Women withdrew at my approach.

Guardians of the Earth

The men — aloof, expressionless and haughtily proud — avoided eye contact, impervious to my presence as I walked a cobblestone thread between worlds. They eased past, mysterious as ghosts. Several wore cowboy hats and other sartorial accoutrements that set off their white Arhuaco attire. Indefatigable and inspired, the self-assured mamo is at the forefront of a third wave of Arhuaco initiatives that represent a huge leap beyond the unheeded warnings from their mountain refuge.

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Izquierdo champions opening up the resguardo for ethno-tourism and autonomous economic empowerment, such as the sale of Arhuaco crafts to the Younger Brothers. Since , various Arhuaco communities have organised themselves into cooperatives to produce and sell export-quality organic coffee. And as spiritual leader for Puerto Bello the gateway village at the base of the mountains , Izquierdo has promoted the cultivation of sugarcane locally to produce panela unrefined, organic raw brown sugar for export.

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By integrating into the cash economy, the Arhuaco are gaining cultural recognition while deriving income to buy back, parcel by parcel, ancestral territory owned by Younger Brothers, Izquierdo explained. The ultimate goal is for the Arhuaco to control more than , hectares almost half a million acres , reconstituting ancestral territories like a rombacabeza jigsaw puzzle , piece by piece.

I watched, fascinated, as Izquierdo moistened a wooden stick with saliva and dipped it into a poporo a gourd filled with lime from powdered seashells , a carry-over from pre-Columbian civilisation. The thick limescale, the hard residue that builds by incremental degree with each wipe around the rim of the gourd, is a living library of every thought underlying every stroke of the stick.

View image of Several members of the Arhuaco community champion opening the resguardo for ethno-tourism Credit: Credit: Christopher P Baker. Equally, every knot in their intricately crafted zijews and clothing represents a thought or memory. I watched men perched on low wooden stools weaving cloth on ancient looms, deep in concentration as their deft fingers wove together the material world with that of spirit. Every aspect of Arhuaco life is permeated with the symbolism of weaving.

The power of embedded thought is the very weft to the warp of their cosmovision. Suddenly the meaning of the maguey thread that Izquierdo had handed me became clear. My experience with the Arhuaco was indelibly printed in that metaphorical umbilical cord. It was the Kogi. We regret the error. Travel Menu. Share on Facebook.

Guardians of the Earth

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