Ross School - Senior Projects 2011


Student: Yariany Perez

Mentor: Claudia Travers

Domain(s): History, English






Title: In Search of A Hidden World: The Kogi



In Search of A Hidden World: The Kogi, is a book written for young adults between the ages of 12 through 15 that gives an insight into the culture and philosophy of the native Colombian tribe, the Kogi. Subject matter within the book covers topics such as women and children, Kogi philosophy, education, and their daily lives. The reason for which I decided to author this book was because of my personal experience with the Kogi. Over the summer, I had trekked up the Sierra Nevada Mountains with my father and lived in the same environment that they live in to this date. This book is aimed to show awareness of Kogi culture and the way I view their society in relation to urbanized civilizations.







For my senior project I authored a book that gives a snapshot view of a native Colombian tribe, the Kogi. I used hands on fieldwork, photography, and research to write several articles concerning who they are, their philosophy, and each gender’s role in their society. Over the summer I traveled to Colombia with my dad in search of an answer I posed to myself at the end of freshmen year, “Who are the Kogi…Really?”

I had taken a cultural anthropology class with Kenneth Sacks where we had observed several different cultures and wrote our own ethnographies. Coming from a Colombian background, I was intrigued when we watched Alan Ereira’s documentary “From the Heart of the World: Elder Brothers Warning.” In it, Kogis were perceived as a secluded Colombian tribe living in the Sierra Nevada Mountains avoiding contact with the “younger brother” or urbanized citizen. After that class I hadn’t really thought about the kogi because there weren’t many opportunities in which they came up in conversation. My parents didn’t even know about them and they both grew up in Colombia.

 Fast-forwarding into spring trimester of junior year, it was time to choose my senior project. I was literally going mad because there are so many things that I’m interested in. I narrowed it down to two topics: politics and culture. I wanted senior project to fulfill a part of me and not just be a regular project like all the others I had done in the past. Therefore, I chose Culture.

 Understanding the way a group of people live and accepting them for who they are is so important in the cross-cultural world that we live in. I knew that I needed to set my focus on a cultural group far from the norm. I wanted to study a culture that wasn’t like mine that had society that I wasn’t accustomed to. I emptied out all possible ideas to Dr. Sacks and together the thought of visiting the Kogi came about. I took a chance and wrote my preliminary proposal that was incredibly vague. To summarize I said, “I am going to travel to Colombia for 3 weeks and conduct an anthropological study on a Colombian indigenous group. I have no real idea on what I am going to do for my product or how I am going to get any information.” At this point, I took a chance on a vision.

When Claudia Travers was assigned as my mentor, I was so excited to finally start brainstorming my product and finalize my project idea. I conducted an intense hunt for a suitable program that coincided with what I needed and what was safe enough for my parents to accept. This was one of my biggest challenges because I had no idea who to contact or where to even start. I had emailed various universities, volunteer programs, and indigenous advocacy programs but no one seemed to get my desperate emails. I sat down with my mentor and we were both so worried that I wasn’t going to find a good enough program that allowed me to explore the environment in which Kogi natives live in.                      I talked to my parents because I was concerned that I was going to have to change my senior project. They, however, convinced me that I could do it and that anything is possible if I put my best foot forward. They told me to email my cousin Adriana Cardona in Colombia so that she could do some further investigation on the Kogi and on how I would go about contacting them. After much research on both my cousin and on my part, we discovered that there are tours that go to Teyuna, the Colombian lost city. Teyuna is a place high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains where the Kogi see as holy. It is where Mamos go to pray to the Earth and where specific ceremonies are held. Mamos are priest-chiefs in Kogi villages.  For the first time throughout senior project I really believed that I could do it. I could in fact visit the infamous Kogis and be able to experience first hand what they were like. With the little information I had about the program and the immense excitement I had built up inside of me, I wrote up my formal proposal.

By that time it was summer before senior year and I was anxious to go to Colombia in August to get started on my senior project. For my summer reading I chose to read Alan Ereiras book “The Elder Brother.” His book was also a great inspiration for the shape and layout of my book. He used articles to separate information as opposed to having essays. In the book, he covered everything from right of passage with both women and men to the way that the society works in Kogi culture. I covered most of that reading in July. Early August I had to prepare myself for what was ahead of me. I tried finding information about what the trip to Teyuna was like and the living accommodations that accompanied it. I had to pack very limited amounts of clothing and only necessary items because I was going to be carrying all of it for 6 days. I sent a couple of emails to my cousin confirming flight reservations, and the money transactions to the tourism company that was guiding us on this adventure.

            After going on this journey, I have definitely made such an important self-discovery.  Nothing in this world can compare to what I felt while I was walking through the jungles of the Sierra. Not only was I in intense pain from all of the physical work that it involved but I was also in awe of the beautiful greenery that surrounded me. After the trip, it’s interesting to see how much I didn’t appreciate being there until after I came back and saw my own reality. I miss the quiet and the calmness of being there with no specific worries, taking my journey day by day. The morning began at 7 and ended at 8 when the night started to fall. There was no electricity so it was our only options were to sit and talk while getting attacked by mosquitoes or go to sleep in a hammock. Living in a simple yet rich atmosphere like that opened my eyes to true beauty.

After having an amazing experience in Colombia and obtaining a new view on life and the way that I viewed the Kogi based on personal experience as opposed to things I had only read, it was finally time to choose a medium through which I was going to relay all of my new found information. At first I had thought I was going to write an ethnography. However, I didn’t have enough fieldwork to write a concise and accurate ethnography. I didn’t get to spend a lot time with the Kogi. Fortunately I was able to interview 3 Kogi members and the Mamo.

My second idea was to make it into an art project. And I was a bit iffy on this one because art is a hobby of mine but not something I intend to pursue in college. And finally, with my mentor we decided a book composed of chapters and articles would be the best way to relay the information I gathered through research and my hands on fieldwork

            I came up with various topics such as “Where do the Kogi live?” “Women and Children,” “Men’s Role in Society” and  “Who is Mamo? And his role”. I also included two essays. One of them was called “The Nature of Beauty in Respect to the viewer.” In it I discussed authenticity of true beauty and how the riches in a culture are not always measured in the material object possessed but in the way the society functions. In Kogi culture, government is paralleled to religion through the Kogi Priest, Mamo.

The second essay is called “The Reliance on Authenticity for The Survival of The Kogi.” This essay was mostly focused on whether the culture itself was remaining true to its original beliefs even though more and more outsiders are being welcomed into their lands. I wanted this book to target young adults around 14 and older so it was a bit complicated not to make the philosophical essays too complex. I tried to keep them as simple as I could. And lastly, I wanted a great layout. I wanted my book to look well made with have a clean layout.

            As mentioned before, one of my biggest obstacles was getting into contact with an organization. It took me weeks to hear back from just one tourism company. It was definitely one of the most stressful processes I have ever had to go though. Trekking up the Sierra Nevada Mountains is also a great feat. And making it up to Teyuna was an even greater accomplishment. It is made up of 169 terraces and in order to reach the top, which our tour group did, you have to climb 1200 stone steps through dense jungle. Researching was also an obstacle I overcame. Thankfully with the help of Mrs. Parkes I found great information through the library resources we have here at the Ross School like Questia and Jstor. I am now more capable of doing my own research and distinguishing one good source from a bad one. Working with Blurb and Booksmart. I feel like I have acquired a new skill by using these programs. I am more comfortable with it and definitely less intimidated by all the layout options. And finally, being out of my comfort zone. There was no electricity, which meant no AC no IPOD and no laptop. I was sleeping in hammocks in the open air, which was incredible but terribly cold. Also, having to converse with the Kogi to find out who they really were difficult. During the interviewing phase of my project it was crucial that I get as much information as possible. I was in awe of them and a bit star struck when I first sat down to talk to them. Luckily, I became more comfortable and was able to obtain all of the information that I wanted.

            Over the course of this project I have grown as a person. I have mentally matured and have become aware that I am able to achieve anything that I set my mind to. The experience in Colombia humbled me and allowed me to reflect on my own love of culture and of the Kogi. It has also shaped my future goals and what I intend to study in college.


Works Consulted


Davis, Wade, and Stephen Ferry. "Sierra Nevada Indians @ National Geographic Magazine." National Geographic Magazine. Web. 16 Nov. 2010. <>.


 Dodd, Elizabeth. "The Mamas and the Papas: Goddess Worship, the Kogi Indians, and Ecofeminism." NWSA Journal 9.3 (1997): 77-88. Questia Library. Web. 5 Oct. 2010. <>.


 "Education of a Mama." YouTube. Web. 12 Oct. 2010. <>.


 Fermin. Personal interview. 29 Aug. 2010.


 From the Heart of The World: The Elder Brother. Dir. Alan Ereira. BBC Documentary, 1991. Videocassette.


 Jose. "Mamo Knows All." Personal interview. 27 Aug. 2010.


 Mamo Jose. "Interview with Mamo Himself." Personal interview. 3 Sept. 2010.


 Webb, Sarena. "The Kogi." Elder Brothers. PSInet Australia, 2011. Web. 16 Dec. 2010. <>.


Wilbert, Johannes, and Geradro Reichel-Dolmatoff. "Training for the Priesthood among the Kogi of Colombia." Enculturation in Latin America: an Anthology. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, 1976. 267-88. Print.


Outside Consultant


Kenneth Sacks

High School Teacher

Introduced to me the Kogi in a Cultural Anthropology class freshmen year.