Wednesday, April 2, 2014

short version: you know plato's allegory of the cave? yeah its really cool. did you know there are really people like that? no, seriously.

i apologize in advance i did not realize this was going to end up being 1130 words...
so cliff notes version in the title and read on for it all if ya have time.

there are some things we read that stay with us.
theses things are usually the earmark of a talented writer or brilliant mind.
the ability to express in words the feelings or thoughts we alone could not accurately piece together
or the imagination that it takes to transport us to another time or world
to show us something we've never seen before
to make us question the world around us
and want to know more.

one such thing for me has been plato's "allegory of the cave"
which brings us to my belated letter "A"
i must've been about 14 when i read it for the first time
it was all such a vivid horror/fantasy tale in my mind
entertainment nothing more.

a few years later i read it again as part of a class
we talked more about its meaning in our classroom discussions
i took away more than entertainment the second time around
i also felt mildly sheepish for liking a story about people
who spent their lives watching shadows in a cave...

in college i read it yet another time as part of a class
it seemed my chagrin was doomed to follow me about
or so it seemed as by some twist of fate my philosophy instructor turned out to be
married to my high school chemistry teacher
a little tidbit that becomes vaugely important as my yarn progresses...
one of the things we discussed about plato's allegory this time around
was of course the effects of education and how the absence of it effects human nature
more specifically we talked about whether or not plato's allegory was still relevant or not
i remember clearly that the debate started of with:
"well not really..."
'okay, why not?'
"people don't really live in caves anymore"
followed by a roar of laughter like something from a cheesy movie
then the instructor shifted the focus away from the more obvious components
and compared the allegory to the educational history of african americans in the united states
they may not have been shackled to a cave wall  but they were shackled in more ways than one
and they were certainly kept in the dark.
(illiteracy is still highest among african americans in the united states.)
one could say that those were the ways of the past and they don't apply to the present now.
but they'd be wrong.
the instructor then told us a story about a young african american teenager whom his wife had as a student.
a real promising bright young lady very intelligent and hard working
who had to be issued two textbooks.
one to keep at home and one to leave at school.
because when she took her textbook home to study
she was attacked and beaten up for being "uppity."
this young lady went to school everyday into the light
and when she came home the darkness would overcome her.
the lack of education in her environment had a vast negative effect
on the nature of the humans that surrounded her.
this story shocked me because that girl was going to the same school that i had
i had never witnessed anything like that during my time there
it was flooring to think about something like that still existing.

that was years ago i don't know who she was or how her story wound up
i like to like to hope for the best...

she and plato's allegory were far from my mind a while back
when i read an article about the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Columbia

it's the highest coastal mountain formation on earth
and within its 16,000 sq. kilometers or so you can find almost every ecosystem on the planet
cloud forests, alpine meadows, dry scrubland, tropical rainforests,mangrove swamps, coral reefs, high tundra and even snow fields.
it is also the home to the most complete surviving
civilization of pre-Colombian America.
the Kogi, the Elder Brothers, to them, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the heart of the world.
i'm inclined to believe them.

isolation and retention of their land is of the utmost importance to the Kogi,
visitors are often greeted with "when are you leaving?"
my kind of people.
recently, they have purposefully broken their isolation in order to send a message
or rather a plea from the heart of the world.
as an ecological community, the Kogi, believe themselves to be the guardians of the earth
if the Sierra is seen as the heart of then the earth as a whole is the body to which they tend
they are the Elder Brothers and all non-Kogi are the Younger Brothers
the Elder Brothers believe that we the Younger Brothers in pursuit of knowledge
are learning how to destroy the world. perhaps we are.

this plea was voiced by the mamos, who are the social and spiritual leaders of the Kogi.
the mamos undergo intense training, taken at birth and sequestered in a cave for the first 18 years of life
never permitted to see the light of day, if they leave the cave at night they must wear a woven rug over their heads to prevent them from seeing the night sky.
they never see a tree, a bird, a flower, or anything else from the outside world.
their time spent in darkness is used to learn to listen.
they are not taught directly by another mamos, but learn in aluna.
aluna is the vital principle that animates the universe, the living intelligence of being, soul
and fertility, the true essence of reality, shaping and generating the material world.
all things are bound together in a single life, ever action has consequences
therefore all actions must be undertaken mindfully.
the young mamo first learns to listen because "the aluna is the music beneath the silence."
at the end of the 18th year of darkness the mamo is lead from the cave to witness their first dawn.
their first sight of the world they have come to know through sound.
they then learn the fine details in all the cycles and movements of nature.
the very color, taste, and smell of the wind.
it is this vast understanding and knowledge that trains them to care for the heart of the earth
unlike any other could.

they are the real people of plato's allegory
or rather they are the exception to it
they are those who have faced the darkness and embraced it.
i dare say they have grasped a much greater understanding of the world than plato ever did.
and vastly more than you or i ever will.
they shatter all my thoughts about fantasy stories and social shackles.
their beautiful sheltered and hidden way of life leaves me in awe
and envy.


  1. oh my much energy packed into this fascinating post. I will have to read a few more times...but wanted to comment now. Cheers!

  2. this is riveting. thank you for recording an example of this kind of learning and lifestyle. perhaps you'd term it asceticism, but no matter. this is a refreshing perspective well narrated and a breath of fresh air among my readings for the A to Z challenge. Julie Ann

  3. Wow... awe and envy is right---
    The training of the Kogi is beyond amazing... I can't even begin to imagine how spending the first 18 years of life in a cave would shape who you were after you left it.

  4. My father, a White Russian, who had a classical education, first told me the story of the Allegory of the Cave, I was young, 8 or 9, but your blog brought back a sweet memory for me.