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Coca: the sacred ancestral plant

We crossed the area of the Macizo where the four most important rivers, Magdalena, Cauca, Patía and Caquetá are born, the Natural Park of the Puracé volcano. We arrived in Huila, and stayed with an indigenous Yanacona family at their home just a short walk away from the San Agustín archeological park. Fredy Chikangana, our host, is an internationally renowned Yanacona poet who writes about the natural beauty of his land in the Kichwa language. Together with his wife Almayari Ninawilka they guard and protect the territories surrounding San Agustín and the paramos, through committed ceremonial work with the natural elements, through singing, drumming and prayer, and with earth, fire and water offerings that include seeds, fruits, sea shells, flowers, and always the sacred coca leaf. Almayari tried to educate people in Bogotá about the health and spiritual benefits of the coca plant by selling remedies and foods derived from the unprocessed leaves. She told us that the Colombian government has been involved in a lengthy campaign to demonize this bush, because of the violence brought by cocaine trafficking. This has hurt many indigenous communities, who depend culturally and spiritually on the ancestral use of this plant. Sayari, their daughter, is training to become a midwife and a medicine woman, and is committed to reviving the spirituality and traditions of her people, while also fighting for women’s rights that are often neglected in marginalized indigenous communities. The family accompanied us to majestic, mesmerizing waterfalls where we made offerings towards the integrity and protection of the Macizo and its people. The most dramatic one is the Salto de Bordones, the tallest uninterrupted water drop in Colombia, located in the Puracé Natural Park at the extremity of the Isnos municipality. It falls with incredible power for 400 meters, in a valley that is impossible to access on foot. Fredy gave us some mambé de coca, very fine coca leaf powder, so that we could blow it in prayer towards the cascading water from a narrow outlook at the end of a very steep forest path. We could not have asked for a better, more replenishing end to our journey. When we really take the time to remember and feel that everything in the Universe is made of the same fundamental substance, we are reminded of why we do what we do. Coffee, like the clean, unprocessed leaf of the coca plant, makes us feel more awake and more present. But towards what? Hopefully, towards taking more nature in, letting more kindness out, and working for the healing and integration of the disparate worlds that we have created for ourselves as humans. We are only just beginning our journey of participation in this vision, here at The Colombian Coffee Company. Our contribution is but a grain of sand in a vast desert of longer, deeper and much more impactful efforts. But it feels like a blessing and an honor to be part of this, and to have made such connections along the way. As Francia Marquez put it, it is time to shift towards economics that protect, rather than endanger, life. We promise to do just that, one cup of coffee at a time.

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