LYING BACK IN his hammock, inside the great ceremonial temple of Seiyua, Mama Valencio gently taps his poporo with the stick he uses for extracting the lime from burnt sea shells to add to the coca leaves he quietly chews. Mama Valencio is the eldest Mama, the main spiritual leader of the Kogi, one of the tribes that are descendants of the Tayrona of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the sacred mountain of Colombia.

With a deep sadness, he asks over and again about the reasons for this latest cultural aggression by the “younger brother” – those of us from the ‘developed’ world. This time one of the sacred sites, Jukulwa, is being destroyed; a site that from time immemorial has served as a reference and memory for keeping the Law of Origin, and a place for carrying out traditional practices. He knows that the permit issued by the Ministry for Environment, Housing and Territorial Development, for the construction of a coal port on the sacred site, was given without any

prior consultation with the Indigenous community – violating one of their fundamental rights within the Colombian Constitution.

He also knows that his forefathers handed him the responsibility for keeping the balance and order of the Universe as enacted by the Law of Origin, also known as the Law of the Mother. This law is transmitted orally from generation to generation, and its points of reference and places of application are the sacred sites within and around the ancestral territory.

According to the Indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, at the beginning of time the world was just spirit. It was from here that order and everything that exists in the material world today was established: the plants, animals, water, mountains, stones, and the people. All these things were first created spiritually, and they share the same essence from the great spiritual Mother.

Then the material universe was created, and darkness turned to light, and the laws were enacted that regulate the function of each element of Nature. Each one of the spiritual beings was given a mandate and was handed a territory, a sacred site. Hence every element of Nature has a spiritual guardian, a Father and a Mother, an order, a site, and a purpose that must be fulfilled from that mandate that was given by the spiritual Mother. This is the history of the Law of Origin, which determines behaviour and governance, as well as the social, political and economic order of the Kogi.

To the Kogi, the Sierra Nevada, aside from being the Heart of the World, is also the centre of their Universe. They regard it as their duty to guarantee that any human intervention is carried out in harmony with Nature.

The Kogi’s ancestral territory is formed and bounded by many sacred sites. These are places that serve as a source of knowledge. These are places from where assurance is given for everything that is going to happen, from where life is taken care of, be it animal, plant, water, rain, air, earth; where offerings are made and permission is asked to ensure that human activity or intervention is in accordance with the Law of Origin. These are places where sickness is cured, where the natural life cycles of the crops, animals and humans are celebrated, and where conflicts are resolved. Each sacred site has a jurisdiction, and the norms that are prescribed from there cannot be changed; they are permanent.

The sacred sites are all interconnected and form an energetic network. The snow-capped peaks connect with the sacred lakes, which lead to the streams and rivers, which in turn connect with the sea, the place of origin. This system of interconnections is also present in the social organisation, and so humans and Nature go always hand in hand. It is an indivisible system that gives sense to life, to Nature, to the territory and the culture. It is “the force that gives life to all the elements of the Sierra Nevada”.

THE CONSTRUCTION OF a port for exporting coal now threatens Jukulwa. This is the spiritual centre where the four tribes of the Sierra Nevada unite with one thought and body to care for the health of the Indigenous world, the animals and plants.

More than just an insult against the Indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada and their traditional cultures, it is an aggression against humanity.

According to the dreams and the stars in the firmament, everything indicates that the time has come for us to assume, collectively and in solidarity, our responsibilities; to guarantee the ancestral territory of the Sierra Nevada and its sacred spaces, the Heart of the World. The time has come to respect our differences; to respect the realities lived by different cultures in other regions of the planet, and to respect life, over and above the development processes that are threatening the very future of Creation.

Juan Mayr Maldonado has spent his life working to protect the biocultural diversity of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. He has taken on many government and non-government roles, including Minister for the Environment for Colombia, President of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), President of the Biosafety Protocol negotiations and Vice-President of the World Conservation Union (IUCN).