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My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - Journey in an Unknown Culture

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 28 March 2011 | Views [381] | Scholarship Entry


The Sierra Nevada night is angry with rain. Drenched to the bone we reach the entrance to a fortress of adobe huts, home to the indigenous Kogi people. We've stirred the sentries. In droves they rush to meet our presence, sceptically surveying each one of the five outsiders before them. A swarm of white gowned angels are in earnest deliberation in intonations foreign to our ears. The scene is made even more surreal with the dark surrounds being lit with nothing more than fireflies. Finally, the eldest, no older than eight and four feet tall, pipes up in Spanish: what's your business here?

At dawn I'm awoken by the sacred chants of the mama, the shamanistic head of the community. Before I can contemplate the workings of this act the very same questioning jury from the night before appear. We are surveyed with a less suspicious air, having received the blessing to stay from the village elders. These inquisitive beings now sense an opportunity to jovially pass their Saturday afternoon with new otherworldly faces. In Spanish we acquaint ourselves. Though geographically isolated in what they believe to be the spiritual centre of the world, the Kogi have taken to teaching Spanish to their young. This, to communicate with the outside world in a dire attempt to save their sacred land from the destructive exploits of the agricultural and narcotic industries.

Reluctantly peeling ourselves away from carefree play, we head in search of food. We find many willing donations of locally cultivated crops: yucca, plantains and malanga. Jose Miguel, one of the young tribesman, offers us the use of his hut as a kitchen. Preparing a broth from these staples is a slow process, in between which time the mama enters and perches himself on one of the hammocks strung across the inside. He briskly chews on coca leaves. With a genetically slight build, long unkempt hair, thinking eyes and customary lime-filled gourd in hand, he presents us with nothing more than a deep contemplative silence. I would learn that it is this very practice of still meditation which serves as the axis upon which the Kogi culture is based. It is through communing with the inner spiritual world that they believe balance on the planet is maintained- and they, the custodians of this undertaking. Breaking the quiet we, along with the community, voraciously launch into our gastronomic bounty using our hands as eating utensils.

Little by little dusk starts to reveal itself. Bare-footed village women return after a day of collecting crops of vegetables and coca leaves with toddlers held in mochilas slung around their heads. Others still, are weaving garments or busily going about tending to guadua fires used for warmth and cooking. Upon the return home of men the village descends into silence, with only a fresh breeze on the evening air to be heard.

Outside a traditional, white chagua abuchi gown hangs drying on the fence- still.

Tags: #2011Writing, Travel Writing Scholarship 2011

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