The students’ first introduction to the project was to learn that the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (or SNSM) is a unique pyramid-shaped mountain, completely isolated from the Andes, located in the northeastern part of Colombia. The highest mountain peak is above 5,000 meters. At its base and at the foothills of the shores of the Caribbean is a dense rainforest. As you go up the mountain the forest is replaced by an open high savanna and cloud forests. On its slopes and higher up four different tribes live there, all related to each other: the Arawak (Arhuaco or Ika), the Wiwa, Kogi and Kankuamo. These indigenous communities are descendants of the Tayrona, a great civilization that lived in the northern part of Colombia before Columbus’s arrival.
For these indigenous tribes, the Sierra Nevada represents the heart of the world and is surrounded by an invisible “black line” covering the sacred places of their ancestors and marking its territory. They consider themselves as “elder brothers” and believe they have wisdom and understanding that is deeper than the mystical visions of any other culture in the world. They refer to people in the other cultures as the “younger brothers” because of their need for a better understanding of the natural world and the interdependence of all life.