The Arhuaco people is one of the four indigenous nations that live in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in the North of Colombia. Along with the Kogui, Wiwa and Cancuamo, the Arhuaco resist as much as they can to the pressures of modernity and the destruction of their land and their ancient ways. The mamos are the spiritual guides and intermediaries between the people and the spiritual forces that sustain life on Earth. Since the origin – according to their stories – they were placed on those territories to look after the balance of life on the planet. Unfortunately, the Cancuamo have lost most of their culture and language, so, sharing a very similar culture and spiritual science, the mamos from the other 3 tribes share this titanic task. They work together through networks of exchange of knowledge, ritual, and the sometimes rare and very expensive materials needed for the different types of spiritual work that they perform constantly – and oftentimes heroically – in a country that has suffered very high levels of violence for more than 60 years. And of course, resisting a civilisation that has been at war with theirs for more than 500 years,.
The sacred priesthood of the mamos is recognized by scholars as one of the most extraordinary and sophisticated spiritual systems that are still practiced in the world today. Much more than a belief system or a religion, this spiritual science is transmitted through an extremely strict, long and difficult method of apprenticeship. Starting from a very young age (2-4 years old), and for more than 15 years, chosen boys are taken away from their families and placed under the care of elder mamos to be kept in the closed and sacred circle of men, with very long periods of isolation, food restrictions and light deprivation. Staying in the darkness of sacred caves and temples – sometimes for years without daylight – these “innocents” learn to see what is invisible to the physical eyes as they are trained and initiated in this ancient art of communicating with the spiritual world and interacting with it throughout their sacred territory: “The Heart of the World”.
In their social and political organization, with the understanding that it is in the territory itself that the true rule and government ultimately lies, the mamos hold the highest office, as intermediaries of Spirit and People. As such, they guide individuals and communities in their daily life challenges and they direct their authorities on governing and interacting with the outside world. One of their main tasks is to lead their communities in performing the pagamentos, or spiritual “payments”. All important moments of a persons life are marked by rituals that involve the duty of payment: birth, adulthood, marriage, disease, misfortune, death etc. Beyond that, in precise times of the year and in specific places in the territory that correspond to a particular problematic, whole communities spend long hours during several days and nights, sitting in silence, concentrating with all their forces following the instructions of the mamos in order to clear all kinds of negative forces and to pay for all the services that humans around the Earth receive from nature without giving back. Not only for their own communities (agricultural cycles, conflicts, threats…) but for all Humanity!
This is their supreme mission as a nation and as “elder brothers” of a single human family. According to what they call the “Law of Origin” – the immutable order of nature, the set of rules based upon the principle of the interconnectedness of all things within the whole – the mamos are trained to be the keepers of the balance of Life on Earth. In their understanding, territory and humans are intimately related. “The territory IS a body and human body IS the territory”, they claim. In that sense, harming the territory brings harm to humans and harming humans also harms nature. Healing the territory is also healing the body and healing the individual is also a way to heal the Earth. Famine, drought, earthquakes, floods, fires, disease, pandemics… are all consequences of the unbalance that humans inflict to Life through the violence of war, crime, abuse, exploitation, destruction, pollution, sexual excess, etc.
The loss of important parts of their ancestral territory and the destruction of many sacred places of pagamento are some of the main reasons why they cannot fulfill their mission. The levels of ignorance of these very subtle but simple rules of the Law of Origin and the subsequent extreme levels of human abuse of nature, turn the mamos’ mission into something very ungrateful, to say the least. We, the “little brothers” (as they call us), never listen and we think we know better, even if it is obvious that we are the ones generating all the chaos. Regardless of all this, the mamos and their people, our “elder brothers”, are still strongly committed and actively dedicated to their service to life.