Aluna: a message from the agents of the thinking, feeling Earth

by Aaron Millar

25 years ago, an isolated Colombian tribe emerged to share a warning about humanity's future, portrayed in a film about them that had a far-reaching global impact. Now the tribe has surfaced again to give us a powerful new message:

Shibulata is a Kogi Mama: an enlightened leader of one of the world's last, lost tribes. In 2008, he and other members of the 18,000 Kogi people living in the remote Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains of Colombia, came out of centuries of fiercely defended isolation — for only the second time in their existence.

They refer to themselves as the 'elder brothers' of humanity, the guardians of the Earth, and wanted to send us, their 'younger brothers' a message. That message is captured in Aluna – a groundbreaking documentary premiering at Raindance Film Festival in London this September. But the story begins much earlier.

The first encounter

In 1988, Alan Ereira, a filmmaker for the BBC, was in Columbia tracking down a lost city, deep in the jungle, when he learned of a nearby tribe who had existed in almost complete isolation for at least the last 500 years. In fact, the Kogi are thought to be the only civilization to have survived culturally intact since the time of the Incas and Aztecs. They have no wheel, no written word, no language any outsider can speak, but possess a wealth of indigenous knowledge lost from the modern world entirely.

Alan sent a message: Did they have anything to say to the outside world? Six months later a response came back: "Come to our village, we are waiting."

Entering Kogi lands is no easy feat. Surrounded on all sides by almost impassable jungle and the terrors of armed guerillas, tomb robbers, and cocaine traffickers, the Kogi have remained isolated precisely because it is almost impossible to reach them.

When Alan finally arrived at the prescribed place – a small mountain village of circular thatch homes and terraced farmlands – he was placed before a council of Kogi Mamas. "I felt completely transparent to them," he says, "as if they knew my thoughts just by looking at me." He told them how a camera works, the Mamas deliberated, and by the morning he had a commission.

That film, From the Heart of the World: the Elder Brother's Warning, was released in 1990. In it, the Kogi warn humanity that we are damaging the Earth, and dramatically predict the end of the world if we do not change our ways. The film became one of the most profound documentaries ever made about an indigenous people. And the Kogi, satisfied that their message was delivered, returned to their mountain and asked never to be contacted again. But we did not listen.