The book ‘The Heart of the World’

The book ‘The Heart of the World’ was written by Alan Ereira in the aftermath of making the film. It has now been re-issued by the Trust as ‘The Elder Brothers’ Warning’. To order a copy click on Book at the top of this page.

Like the film, it had much popular impact and received its fair share of serious comment, both for and against. In Parabola (Vol. 17. 01-01-1992, pp 92.), David Applebaum calls it an ‘an important, though frustrating’ book, choosing two themes as particularly interesting. The first is that which deals with the training of a Mama, and the second is the Kogi’s relationship to the planet as expressed in their ideas of personal responsibility and gratitude towards it.

‘That which the Kogi remember, and that we the Younger Brothers have forgotten, are the laws of exchange. Nothing may be responsibly taken from the created universe—the Mother—without giving something in return. To plunder like the thief or grave robber weakens the life of the Earth in ways Ereira only alludes to. These apparently have to do with a vital circulation of energy between this and higher worlds. When the circulation is cut off, as it is with our thoughtless appropriation of the planet’s resources, the Earth will go down, all life will languish…. The Mamas are aware of the importance of the transformation of energies in the maintenance of cosmic order. Their lives are centered around the act of offering.’

However, he criticises Ereira’s personal writing style.

‘His sympathy and interest clearly lie with the Kogi. Ereira himself, however, repeatedly gets in the way of his observations. He feels it important to take the reader into closed meetings with local politicos, into grimy hotel rooms of the Colombian provinces, into negotiations with academics who have studied the Kogi, and into the desperate lives of certain intermediaries who helped him. One loses track of the real story… The video documentary is more helpful and to be recommended. Ereira’ s great virtue is in seeing himself as messenger and making an effort to fulfil his duty. The message he bears is of overwhelming value despite the fact that he has not quite found words to deliver it.’

Jerry Bodecker (Whose History? Much Work Ahead for Indigenous Historians. Abya Yala News, 06-30-1994, pp PG. Ethnic NewsWatch © SoftLine Information, Inc., Stamford, CT) writes from the point of view of the subjects of ethnographies, the indigenous peoples themselves. He feels that ‘generally, our voices have been recorded in colonial languages, which in effect, are translations’ and that ‘The Heart of the World’ falls into the same trap, but ‘this book does, however, illustrate the constant threats experienced by the Kogi, and their efforts to live harmoniously with nature.’

Both book and film, then, attract criticism from academics because of a style of presentation that ignores prevailing rules of ethnography. Ereira himself quite happily admits that it was never his intent, in either the book or the film, to produce ethnography, but to do justice to the story in a way that would accord with the Mamas intentions in allowing it.