The Elder Brothers' Warning

From the Heart of the World: The Elder Brothers' Warning

Copyright 1990 BBC Elstree
Copyright 1991 Thirteen . wnet

Transcribed 1992 (note: a later version of the production has different but similar text)

From the dense jungles of South America, an ancient civilization isolated from the rest of the world emerges to speak to us. They call themselves the Elder Brothers of the Human Race. We are the Younger Brothers. Until now they have ignored us, but they have seen changes in the land which they can not ignore.

They are the Kogi people of Columbia. And they're convinced that the ignorance and greed of modern civilization will destroy the natural balance of life on Earth. They believe our planet's only hope is for us, the Younger Brothers, to change our ways.

To relay their message to the world, the Kogi invited an English film maker, Alan Ereira from the BBC to spend four months inside their forbidden city.

This is the story he brought back and it is the Elder Brother's final warning.


The NATURE logo sequence


Kogi Voice 1: We look after nature. We see that you are killing it. We can no longer repair the world. You must.

Kogi Voice 2: You are uprooting the Earth. We a divining to how to learn to teach you to stop.


Presented by ALAN EREIRA


Narrator: On the Columbian shore of the Caribbean, stands the highest coastal mountain on Earth. The more I heard about it, the stranger it sounded. The Sierra Nevada de Santa de Montita is a triangulated corrugated pyramid of rock almost four miles high. The people hidden in its folds call the Sierra "The Heart of the World".

It's an idea that makes sense. The Sierra is a copy of the whole planet in miniature. At the edge of the sea, it's in the tropics, it is very hot and very lush. Twenty-five miles from the beaches there are snow peaks. Here the climate is arctic, the temperature never rising to zero. Every range of temperature and every range of rainfall. Parts of the Sierra are desert. Other parts are tropical rain forest and mountain cloud points.

Almost every animal and every plant from anywhere in the world can find a home somewhere in the Sierra. Only the birds can leave, everything else is trapped in the pocket environment that suits them. Anyone who studies the Sierra must see it as a totality. It is a planet in miniature.

I knew that once where now there is now only dense jungle, there was a rich civilization. The Spanish called it Tairona. In 1973 a tomb robber found a monumental ceremonial Tairona city. But, what was it? How did it function? Today it's known simply as the "The Lost City".

The paved roads of the cities spread over the whole mountain. When Columbus entered the Caribbean, a third of a million people lived on this mountain. In cities built in close harmony with nature. A hundred and sixty inches of rain a year, for 400 years, have not eroded these walls. The priest who supervised Tairona architects understood the natural forces around them. There were many cities at different levels on the mountain. Each producing the goods and crops appropriate to its place and exchanging them by walking the roads. Our cities fight nature and if we abandoned them, they'd crumble.

The Lost City has survived as mute evidence that hundreds of thousands of people can live sophisticated lives in a small space in harmony with nature. The civilization that built this understood the relationship between the different parts of the mountain and treated it as a whole.

The secrets of Tairona civilization appear to have been lost, but that is not the case.

By the roadside at the entrance to The Lost City, there is a carved stone. It seems to be a map of the complete system, covering the whole mountain "mastique". But although there are many ancient roadways, they do not fit the map. The mapstone is clearly important, but what is being mapped?

There are people who know. The descendants of the Tairona, the Kogi, still live in cities higher in the Sierra. All of the civilizations that flourished in South America were demolished by conquest except this one. But they do not speak to us, and no Columbian speaks their language.

The Kogi's do not like strangers walking their roads. They call us the Younger Brothers - children who do not understand how to take care of the world.

Four hundred years ago they withdrew for safety into the Heart of the World. And from the hidden folds of the mountain, they have watched our civilization in silence. They have seen our cities grow. Some of them even visit Santa Margara at the mountain's foot to learn about us. And yet, most people in the city are quite unaware of their existence.

The Kogi have watched the Colombians farmers invade the base of the Sierra and create a spreading cancer of sterile dust.

But neither the original conquerors nor modern farmers have ever colonized the higher parts of the Sierra. Missionaries and officials who tried to take control up here had a long difficult journey. And when they arrived they met a passive human wall of resistance. It worked. Even today this jungle represents a barrier that separates the world of the Kogi from our world.

- - - - - - -

Here there are 12,000 people living in cities without the wheel. Farmers without the plow. Educators without the written word. Priests who have the power of government. To learn how the Tairona organized the life of the Heart of the World, I would have to go to the Kogi. Everyone said this was impossible.

A government official, who the Kogi's trust, climbed the mountain with my letter. A Spanish speaking Kogi went with her to interpret it. And eventually word came back. The Mamas wanted to speak. They said they have a message to give to the world.

I would not be allowed to see everything or learn every secret. I never learned anyone's real name. Everyone is known by a Spanish pseudonym.

I was told I should bring whoever I needed and whatever I needed. That's me. Alan Ereira, with the mule. The Kogi naturally enough call me "The BBC". Whatever I was, I was there as a messenger for the Young Brother.

---- the gate -----

Kogi Voice: In the beginning the Great Mother divided up the Earth. She sent you far away, far away, far away. And in this place, this place she put us. Then Younger Brother came back again to this side of the world. He came back again and he started to destroy. And he started to kill us. So now you have reached here. The Younger Brother is at the gate of the Elder brother. We want you blocked from crossing over. We do. Younger Brother climbs and we retreat before him. He has taken our lands below, but the lands above are closed to you. It was said long ago to the Younger Brother that he could stay in his place over there, but he never listens. Still he keeps on coming and trying to get in here, so now he must stop, right here. Isn't that what the Mother said now?

Just once, you will come through the gate.

---- the gate is opened -----

Narrator: This is my third successive January in the Sierra, but is the first time I ever have been allowed up this far. Up to know I've been kept in frontier region, and all of our filming so far, has been in a frontier region. But up here, now that we have cross that bridge; we are in Kogi territory and about to enter a city, uh, large town at any rate, which has been occupied continuously since before the conquest, which is built on Tairona foundations, which is a functioning Tairona city, we are now entering the last functioning civilization of pre-Columbian America.

Kogi untranslated voice. Talking authoritatively.

Narrator: The ordinary citizens were described to me as vassals. Their lives are ordered and directed by "Cubboze", the city guards.

More untranslated voice.

Narrator: They control what comes in from the outside. Iron tools are useful. But shoes would break the contact between people and the Earth.

More untranslated voice.

Narrator: The Cubboze are drawn from the vassals, they are appointed by the priests and Mamas. They take their orders from a Commissioner, also appointed by the Mamas. All Mamas, Commissioners and Cubboze are confirmed by consulting an oracle.

Mama means the Sun. The Mamas are the enlighten ones. They watch over the community and maintain its purity.

All Kogi men carry a gourd, the poporo. This gourd may look like a penis, but it represents a womb. It contains powered sea shell. Their word for this substance, "dua", means star dust, the germ of life. Without it, unbalanced masculinity is dangerous, eating from it keeps a man in harmony with the Great Mother. As the wet stick is wiped on the top, it builds up a deposit of hardened lime on the rim. Here they say, they write their thoughts. The gourd becomes a book of meditation.

In each town there is a large house where only men may enter. This is the "Newway", the World House. For more than a 1000 years the Mamas have summoned men to the Newway to listen to their teaching. This is how they keep the community in harmony with nature. And now, after centuries of concealment, they have summoned us to listen.

Kogi with hat: I am here, we are all here to give a warning. I am speaking on behalf of us all to send out a message to all the Younger Brothers and I am going to have to say it in a way they can understand. Not just a message for the men who come and whatever place or wherever it is they come from. Not just for the men who come, I want the whole world to listen to the warning that we speak to you.

Kogi voice 2: She taught. The Great Mother taught. She taught us right and wrong and still we have not given up living in the way and knowing right from wrong as she taught us. We remember a teaching and live by it. The Great Mother taught and taught. The Great Mother gave us what we needed to live and her teaching has not been forgotten right up to this day. We all still live by it. But now they are taking out the Mother's heart. They are digging up the ground and cutting out her liver and her guts. The Mother is being cut to pieces and stripped of everything. From their first landing, they have been doing this.

Kogi voice 3: Younger Brother: We know that water below has started drying up. Don't think that we are responsible. It's you. We are doing our work properly, and neither you nor us know when the world will end. Isn't that so?

Mixture of voices:

We work to take care of the world, but there ends???.

?? And from today stop digging into the earth and stealing the gold, if you go on, the world will end, you are bringing the world to an end!

Kogi with hat: I wanted some advice, to tell the real truth to the Younger Brother. If they go on like this and don't change their ways at once, they will see what will happen. They will see what will happen. I don't know when the world will end. But their looting will destroy it. They have taken so much. They have taken the guardians of the sun and stars. The world will go black. Yes, what would they think if all we Mama's died, would they think <squeaky sound> So what, what would they think? If that happened and all we Mamas died and there was no one doing our work, well the rain wouldn't fall from the sky, it will get hotter and hotter from the sky and the trees wouldn't grow and the crops wouldn't grow or am I wrong and they would grow anyway?

Narrator: Are we really meant to believe that the Kogi have been secretly taking care of the world for centuries? They believe. They are the Elder Brothers. That's why they live the way they do.

Their cities are usually deserted, they only visit them for public meetings. The Kogi live on the land, they are farmers like their ancestors. Husband, wife and children maintain a number of farms in different zones on the mountain, growing a variety of crops on each farm. Their agriculture is based on generations of detailed observations of climate, soil and the flora and fauna of each region. They believe that humans beings have to control nature, but that control is base on understanding what each plant gives to and takes from the world.

Humans beings, plants and animals - they say - must be well seeded.

Beans are being planted close to the farm house. Only woman may do this. It's part of the relationship between the mother of a family and the Mother Earth. For the Kogi, practical knowledge is simply an aspect of spiritual understanding.

Kogi voice: Everything we plant must be blessed, they must be helped to grow. Beans, corn, they all have guardians, fruit trees too. They all have guardians. They all have guardians. We must ask, ask the guardians permission. If we didn't do that, then, if crops aren't blessed, how will can they grow properly? They dry up and rot without it. That's how it is.

Kogi voice (only female voice in show): So we take the children to the Mama so that he blesses them. And then he looks after them and takes care of their health and spirit. And when the children get sick, you have to take them to be healed. You bring them to the Mamas so that they concentrate and cure the children. Make them better. That way all the children get to know the Mamas. You take them to the Mamas to get cured, and sometimes they're not and they die and we cry and cry.

Kogi Voice: Humans need water, they have to have water to live. The Earth is the same. It was made perfect by Saranqua, but now it is weak and diseased. The animals die, trees dry up, and we become ill, many new illnesses will appear, there will be no cure or medicine for them. And the reason is that Younger Brother is violating fundamental principles continually, totally, drilling, mining, extracting petro, minerals, stripping away the world. This is destroying all order and damaging the world. BBC, tell the Young Brother, "Open your eyes", hear the Mamas law and story. Learn how things really are.

---- the flute sequence ----
---- shimmering water ----

Kogi voice (1): In the beginning there was blackness, only the sea. In the beginning there was no Sun, no Moon, no people. In the beginning there were no animals, no plants, only the sea. The sea was the Mother. The Mother was not people, she not anything, nothing at all. She was when she was. Spirit. She was memory and possibility. She was Aluna.

- - - - - - -

Narrator: The Mamas say that we do not remember the Great Mother. She is not a distant god. She is the mind inside nature. The Mother is fertility and intelligence.

- - - - - - -

Kogi voice (2): Where does the idea of Earth come from? Where do we get the idea of water? Why do we have a word for it? These things were conceived in the beginning, before the dawning. These were ideas. Water and Earth. We can only have ideas of things that have already conceived in Aluna, before the dawning, before there was anything, we were conceived in the water of Aluna. So were the trees, the mountains, everything.

- - - - - - -

Kogi voice (1): And then the Mother began to spin out her thoughts. She heaped up a spindle before the dawning and the Mother spun nine new worlds. She gave birth to nine daughters. Each world had its own color. And then she gave birth to sons, the lords of creation. One was Saranqua. And then she wondered, "How would we create a living thing?" It is hard to understand how to make a human. A mother and her children had to think very hard. How does an eye work? How does a foot work? And when it was done, the ninth world was peopled. But, this was before the dawning, there were still no people. No plants, no animals, no sun. Only the Mother. Only Aluna.

---- The scene of Colombian Grave Robbers ----

Narrator: At the foot of the mountain, Columbian tomb robbers are plundering the graves of the Kogi's ancestors. This jar is over a thousand years old. It was made as a womb of clay for the dead. The potter fasted and meditated as he worked. <Spanish voices, they lift the jar, it shatters, laughter>. The shattered jar is of no interest at all. These man are not academic researchers. A tomb like this, exceptionally deep, with stone walls like a well, will be torn to pieces, the smell of gold has become so strong. The hunting is coming to its climax.

- - - A gold image - - -
- - - shimmering water - - -

Kogi voice (1): The Mother bled. She had her period. She was fertile. And the world was fertile. Her blood is gold. It remains in the Earth. It is fertility. Gold and water, blood and water are necessary for the life of all things. And then human beings were made, to care for living things. The plants, the animals, this is why people were made.

Narrator: This boy of eighteen is being initiated as a man. He's fed dried leaves of the cocoa bush. Tended and picked only by woman, eaten only by adult men. They believe that natural cocoa civilizes men. The toasted leaf they chew is as far from refined cocaine as rye bread is from rye whiskey. It has been a food for thousands of years to native Americans, given them important vitamins and enabling them to endure long periods without food and sleep. Adult Kogi's reckon their normal life expectancy as ninety.

Kogi voice to the boy: At night, before you sleep, chew the leaf. Chew four times at least to help you think clearly. And think what you are going to do the next day. What things need to be done and how you are going to do them. Think it through.

Narrator: Mama Van Naddo comes from a long line of ancient priests. His father died in 1987, a hundred and two years old. Now he teaches young men how to use the poporo, to eat from it, and to meditate.

Kogi voice to the boy: You mustn't give up using the poporo and eating cocoa, now or in the future. Otherwise you are not a man and cannot be married.

- - - - - - -

Narrator: Now the youth will be admitted for the first time to the Newway, the World House, where only men may gather. He will sit for four days and nights, with his face to the wall. He will neither eat nor sleep. He must listen to the teachings of the town officials and elders.

Kogi Voice: Now you are going to have pay attention and think carefully about everything the Mamas say. You must listen to their words, you must remember what they tell you, and you must think about it, very carefully and that way you will behave well.

You just can't cut banana trees, you can't cut them, because banana trees are like your father, like your mother and you must respect them as much like any person, you must respect them. You must be respectful. You shouldn't cut down mango trees, or avocado trees, or guava trees. Any tree is like a human being and they hurt too, just like cutting off your own leg. Nor should you disturb stone.

[fade to narration music]
- - - - - - -

The Mamas tune themselves to Aluna, the inner reality of the world. They must be prepared for this from infancy. They are selected by divination and taken away. It is just not enough to teach the child. Mama Van Naddo started his education late.

Mama Van Naddo: I'll tell you what it's like. When I started my education, I was only a boy. This big, up to here. I was just a child. They brought me up and trained me to be a Mama. Nine years. That's how long it took. My training. Nine years, and at the end of that, it was done. I was ready. But really, to tell you the truth, to pass on the teaching really properly, and do it really well, to do it in the right way, you take a baby. Best, a baby from the moment it is born. And then you take it away and you keep it in a Newway. To make a Mama like they used to, then you have take the child as soon as it's born and from then on you keep it shut away.

Narrator: The child is kept in complete darkness. Sometimes in a specially built house, sometimes in a cave. It learns to meditate on the Great Mother and on other spirits who come from the Mother, the guardians of all living things. These must be helped and cared for because they nurture the world. They must be given nourishment, represented by offerings of fragments of bread and leaf and stone.

Voice of Kogi (captioned): Think hard. Guardians of trees, birds and waters. Guardians of all things. Consider them and offer them your gifts.

Another voice (captioned): We make - really you make - this offering because - the guardians are sick. They have fevers, cramps and pains. Will Younger Brother understand this? Will he say "Yes", and realize that he has mutilated them? We'll see. Imagine them all lying there, give them water. The Guardians need help, they need help. Now think very hard...

Narrator: In a sense the student Mama has been kept in a second womb. To nine months have been added nine years. Old wise men came into the dark speaking of an outside world which can only be imagined. What must is it be like to emerge into the light?

- - - Scenes of Nature - - -

For all his life the child has known the world only as an idea. His physical senses have been kept alive, but only just. Just enough light to avoid blindness. Just enough food to avoid starvation. But no meat, no salt, only lukewarm water to drink. And now in place of the world he has imagined, he sees the world created by the Great Mother. He could not have imaged the grandeur or the detail.

- - - Scenes of Nature - - -

What a power there is in the mind of the Great Mother to conceive all this. And this power has been shaped in so many ways, so many forces, a vibrant powerful dance has been shaped - the dance of life. He had been told of it, but he must be dazed by it, for the rest of his life.

- - - - - - -

The Mama has to work in a world visible only to the mind's eye, the world of Aluna. The offerings he learned to make in the dark are now made in the light of day, creating harmony in the spirit world and in this one. The stone paths of the ancestors are traces of the spirit paths which the Mamas walk in a space we do not understand. These are the paths on the mapstone. They do not match the material pathways, they are lines of thought, not lines on the ground. But there were points where the two worlds used to meet. At these sacred places, gold was hung from the trees. Immortal gold carried the mystery of life from Aluna into matter. Human beings could make this journey by meditating on the gold and dancing with it.

- - - Dancing sequence - - -

And body ornaments of gold helped humans play their part in the dance of life. Today these objects sit in museum displays without meaning and without function. We know nothing about them.

- - - - - - -

Voice of Kogi. The Mama says in our history, the Mama says here in this land, there was only and everywhere throughout the land, the Elder Brother all following the words of the Mama. Knowing all, that a payment must be made for whatever we take from the land. This applies to everything. Not even the air we breath, nor the water we drink, but all of it, of nature, machines, when you take, you make a payment.

- - - Modern city sequence - - -

But then Saranqua, the agent of the Younger Brother, he didn't listen, he did not understand. He would dig in the Earth, tear at the Earth, wound the Mother. And Saranqua said "we will send him away. We will make a division. The sea. The Elder Brother here in the Heart of the Word and the Younger Brother there across the sea where he will not harm the Heart of the World." And he was given knowledge of machines and sent away.

- - - - - - -

Narrator: The sugar press, like the sugarcane they grow, and the horses and cattle they keep had no place in the world of their ancestors. All these things came when the Younger Brother crossed the ocean to return, as the Kogi believe, to this original Eden. The sea which the Indians believed gave birth to all life had kept them apart from the Europe's iron kingdoms. But the sea carried ships. They landed in 1514, and their commander Bastidas had a document read out on the beach:

"I assure you that with the help of God, I will make war on you in every place, and in every way that I can and I will subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and their highnesses and I will take your persons, and your women and your children and I will make them slaves. I will take your goods and I will do you all the evils and harms which I can."

- - - - - - -

Kogi with hat: We used to live in peace, all over this land. We, the Elder Brother, had no problems with the Younger Brother at all. All was in peace, in peace, in peace. That's how it was. And then he arrived, Younger Brother arrived and he started to kill us and to destroy. They set dogs on us and we were terrified and the people panicked and didn't know what to do and just ran wherever they could. That's how it was. Things fell from our bags as we ran and scattered, everywhere. Falling. Scattered. Our finest things. And when we stopped and when we looked, hey! Everything was gone. Nothing left.

- - - The scene of Colombian Grave Robbers (continued) - - -
- - - Mixed scenes - - -

Kogi voice: Down below, by the sea there were the gold guardians. The guardians of Yucca and of the trees. All the trees. All the birds where there. In the ground. They cut the Earth. Cut the Earth and dug them out, dug them out. They must stop doing it, must stop doing it.

We once had golden bowls for divination. Gold images. Gold oracles. All these things. We prophecized with gold. We had many things. Younger Brother took it all. And now we have sorrow. We are weak. We see the Earth is decaying, is losing its strength, because of your greed. You take gold, out of all the minerals, out of the Earth.

---- Grave Robber finds golden animal ----

Narrator: In London or New York a collector may pay at least $10,000. It's an "investment". The fingers that dig are Columbian, but they are powered by the market forces that drive us all.

---- The Kogi's at the ocean beach, near a large power plant ----

This was the site of a sacred fresh water lake. It was drained to build a power station. And here the Kogi have come to try to restore harmony to a shattered world, to struggle to give back its balance. They have to restore harmony over the whole Sierra, the Heart of the World. While offerings are made down at the sea, others are making them, high, on the cold peaks above.

---- Offering at the Sea ----

As they approach the ocean, they turn, recalling the spindle from which the original thread was spun and to which they still cling.

- - - - - - -

Why are the Kogi's so sure that the Earth is in danger? The answer is high on the mountain peaks. Here, is the source of their terror. This is our last day in the Sierra and is the highest point that we are going to reach. This is the tundra, what they call the Paramow. To the Kogi, this is the most sacred place of all, because this is what fertility depends on. The most important payments that they make to the soil are the ones which are carried down from here to the sea and from the sea, back up here. They mirror a natural exchange, a water cycle on which the whole fertility of the Sierra depends. This is where the rivers are born, as meltwater from the snow and the glaciers, flow down to the sea through the forests and jungle, and that water comes back in the form of clouds, whose water is deposited here again. The whole life of the Sierra depends on this region. Around here it's yellow, it should be green. These little bushes once covered the whole area, now - they're perishing. The water has gone, the Paramow is drying out. There used to be snow visible all around here. Now the snow is retreating very rapidly. When the Kogi talk about the Heart of the World dying, what's frightened them is the death of this area, the Paramow, because when this dies, everything below it that depends on it will have to die. That's what they mean when they say that they know that unless we do something, the world is coming to an end.

Voice of Kogi: It is the mountains which make the waters, the rivers and the clouds. If their trees have failed they will not produce any more water.

Narrator: The Sierra is a model of the world. Global warming does not stop here. We are changing the air and the sky and the balance of life.

Voice of Kogi: They have taken the clouds from the Paramow. They've sold the clouds. We know what is happening, we are all in agreement. The world does not have to end. If we act well, the world can go on.

---- the gate -----

Kogi Voice: We are going to close the bridge now, but we want Younger Brother to know that he can't come here again. He can't come back. We make - we are putting a barrier here so that he respects us, understands. We don't want him coming up here and interfering with us. He has destroyed so much. Does he see? No. Does he understand? No. Start to understand or what will happen? Right, that's it.

- - - - - - -

Copyright 1990 BBC Elstree
Copyright 1991 Thirteen . wnet

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