Fondation Franz Weber

The Ecological Wisdom of Indigenous Peoples

The elders of the Kogi, an indigenous people from the Amazon, have travelled to us to share their extensive knowledge of the world. They want to help us approach current societal challenges differently and together, preserve the diversity of life on our planet.

I had the unique and valuable opportunity to spend a day in the forest with the Kogi leaders and learn about their wisdom and connection with nature. The Kogi are a people who call the forests of northern Colombia their home. They have lived in harmony with their surroundings for 4,000 years and have preserved their original knowledge of maintaining the ecological, social and spiritual balance of the Earth, despite colonialism and industrialization. They are a socially and ecologically advanced culture and unique experts in the conservation and regeneration of ecosystems. Indigenous peoples protect and honour their territories like few others.

The Earth is Sick
Until the 1990s, the Kogi lived secluded in the mountains and rejected contact with the Western world. Considering the urgency of the situation on Earth, they decided to engage with the outside world and help us end the destruction of the Earth. Their warning is that it cannot go on like this for much longer, perhaps only a few years, because the Earth is sick and dying, and life is in danger. Industrialization has turned the Earth into a warehouse where we can endlessly take without giving back.

The three Kogi elders, two men and a woman, all over 80 years old, and a younger man who translates into Spanish, have undertaken the long journey to exchange knowledge with us. The Kogi elders are considered guardians of wisdom, ensuring the preservation of spiritual and material power. I hold great respect for these older, gentle people who come from the other end of the world to contribute to restoring balance on Earth with their knowledge. They are not equipped for our cold regions and prickly, hard ground, dressed in their woven white garments, bare legs and sandals.

Lucas Buchholz, who wrote a book about the Kogi, and his team, local forest authorities, municipal councillors and forest experts, meet the Kogi in a forest in the Zurich Oberland. It is an encounter between indigenous knowledge and modern forestry science.

Everything is Interconnected
We take a walk in a managed forest, one of the many forests in the Swiss Central Plateau: many forest roads, clearings, spruce plantations, newly planted Douglas firs, cleared areas with lots of blackberry bushes, hardly any old trees. For the Kogi, who live in the rainforest, it is not a beautiful sight. Rather, it represents the current state of the Earth – our mistreatment of the Earth.

The forester leads the group. He worries about the trees suffering from drought or diseases. We discuss with the Kogi how to deal with the foreseeable and crucial changes in our forests and how to preserve them as habitats for humans, plants and animals.

For the Kogi, everything is invisibly connected, everything is one. The trees, the water, the mountains, the rivers and lakes, everything is interconnected, and we must ensure that the balance is not at risk. For example, they mention the important role of wolves in our ecosystem, and we should recognize them as part of the whole and grant them a place. They point out that the most important thing is to respect nature, not to harm it, to honour and support its vitality. Once we stop interfering, the process of regeneration begins.

This happens without human intervention through the self-regulation of nature.

Rediscovering Knowledge
The Kogi see forests as living beings, and plants and animals as our sisters and brothers. Nature is a teacher, and it speaks to us. We just need to be able to listen. The knowledge is in the earth, in the trees, in the water, in the stones. The water, the stones, the trees speak to us daily, according to the Kogi’s message. They tell us about the laws of the Earth, which they call Mother, and about the principles of origin and life. When we regain the original knowledge, Mother will listen to us again and help us. The inhabited territory is the key to life. People rooted in a place for generations are the guardians of those places. They possess traditional knowledge and important insights. These people are emotionally connected to a place and care for it. They teach us how we can reconnect with nature, find our roots and preserve our origins. It is of utmost importance to rediscover our relationship with our roots, with nature, with the Earth, with water and with trees.

Preserving Old Trees
Old trees, known as “mother trees”, are of great importance to a region. They are the keepers of the knowledge of the ecosystem, say the Kogi. It is crucial to preserve them. Mother trees nourish and sustain the other trees in a collective network. The ambassadors from the Amazon urge us to find and protect our mother trees and sacred places because our forests are suffering. We search for mother trees in the forest but find none; they have all been felled, only grandchild trees can be found. The few trees that are over 100 years old are mostly oaks.

The forester leads us to young planted trees growing behind fences to protect them from deer damage. The Kogi point out that we should not plant foreign trees as they carry no native knowledge and disrupt the balance. It is our responsibility to apply technologies in a way that works with nature, not against it. Additionally, there are places that are crucial for certain plants and animals, and they should not be disturbed but left in peace.

At the end of the meeting, some foresters are no longer there; they apparently could not follow the indigenous way of thinking. Those who remain are visibly touched. I hear that many of those present are committed to protecting old trees and special places. I truly hope that this will be implemented nationwide. The knowledge of the Kogi is so important for us, I wish we had more contacts like that. They will soon fly back home to their forest. It is now up to us to follow their advice, their ecological wisdom, their example.

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