The lost tribe that is trying to save the world

More than 20 years ago, Alan Ereira made a film about an elusive Colombian people who changed how he saw the universe. A follow-up has an urgent warning for mankind

Tue, Dec 10, 2013, 01:00

More than 20 years later, The Heart of the World continues to be shown worldwide and its proceeds, along with those of Ereira’s book, fund the Tairona Heritage Trust, founded by Ereira and others to raise money for the purchase of the mamas’ ancient territories. The trust also co-operates with Gonavindua Tairona, a political organisation founded by mamas of the Sierra’s three tribes to represent their interests in the face of increasing western pressures.

Message unheeded
The film’s message went unheeded, however, and a few years ago, the Kogi summoned Eirera back and announced that they now understood that we’re incapable of being changed by being spoken to: we learn through our eyes, not our ears. They said a new film had to be made, this time by themselves, with Eirera’s production and distribution know-how, to draw its audience into their worldview and change our understanding of reality.

That film, Aluna, has been controlled by the Kogi themselves, from its conception, content and production to its final edit. (Weeks after the shoot finished, they insisted on reassembling the filming unit at the top of a mountain to shoot a differently nuanced closing sequence.) It is chilling, visually stunning, powerful in its use of metaphor, and surprisingly heartening.

Aluna trailer

Part of the film’s story follows a journey made by elders of the tribe who left the mountains of Sierra Nevada in Colombia for the first time and travelled to the UK to meet oceanographers and other scientists, who have subsequently sponsored Kogi involvement in international ecological conferences.

University of Oxford professor Alex Rogers, who appears in Aluna, attended its London premiere at Raindance Film Festival in September. Like the Kogi, he’s afraid. The combination of his work on human impacts on the ecology and the evolution of deep-sea ecosystems and his meetings with the mamas has convinced him that our continued interference with Earth’s water systems is crucially damaging.

Prof Jonathan Baillie, a global authority on the status and trends of threatened species, agrees; his work at the Zoological Society of London validates the mamas’ insistence on the interconnectedness of all life on Earth.

On Friday, the Blasket Centre in Dún Chaoin, at the end of the Dingle peninsula, will host the Irish premiere of Aluna. In one of the film’s most most powerful sequences, Richard Ellis, professor of astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, shows a Kogi mama a photo of deep space. It’s a huge image of thousands of white dots on a black background, seen through the Hubble Space Telescope and, so Ellis tells Ereira, invisible to the human eye. The mama considers the photo and then puts his finger on a single dot. “That one’s a star,” he says. That particular dot among the thousands of others is the only star in the photo: the rest are galaxies.

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