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According to myth, the mountains came into existence when the Earth was spun on an enormous spindle, and the nine layers of the universe conceived. Two lengths of thread were crossed to establish the four points that represent each indigenous group and to support the base of the massif, henceforth declared to be the homeland of the Elder Brothers.

This act of creation is never forgotten. The loom, the act of spinning, the notion of a community woven into the fabric of a landscape are for the people of the Sierra Nevada vital and living metaphors that consciously guide and direct their lives. They survive as farmers, and in order to exploit diverse ecological zones, they are constantly on the move, harvesting manioc, corn, sugarcane, and pineapples in the hot lowlands, climbing higher to plant potatoes and onions and to graze cattle and gather thatch. They refer to these periodic wanderings as weavings, with the notion that over time a community lays down a protective cloak upon the Earth.

Over centuries the peoples of the Sierra Nevada have developed a unique science of the mind, one so diametrically in contrast to our own Aristotelian worldview, so divorced from our way of thinking, that it is as difficult for us to grasp as it is for them to comprehend the decisions and values that drive our culture. Thus they have watched in horror as outsiders have violated the Heart of the World, tearing down the forests to establish banana and oil palm plantations and now also plots on which to grow coca for the illicit production of cocaine. Leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries have entered the Sierra Nevada and drawn the Indians into the political turmoil that is modern Colombia.

For the Kogi, Arhuaco, and Wiwa, this danger from below is echoed by a threat from on high. The snows and glaciers of the Sierra Nevada are receding at an alarming rate, transforming the mountain ecology. For us these may seem like quite unrelated developments. But for the Elder Brothers they are inextricably linked as the folly of the Younger Brothers and harbingers of the end of the world.

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