Participatory Mapping in the Mobile Age

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Deep in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, with peaks that soar over 18,000 feet over the Colombian coast, the Kogi people live on roughly six million isolated from the rest of the world by cocaine traffickers, tomb raiders, and militias that rove the rainforest. The Kogi and associated tribes are one of the last surviving civilizations from the pre-Colombian period, having fled the Spanish conquest five centuries ago. The Kogi, Arhuaco, and Wiwa remain true to their ancient laws—moral, ecological, and spiritual—and are still led and inspired by priests, or mamas, who have an exceptional spiritual connection with the ecosystems in which they live.

Around the margins of the Sierra Nevada is the Línea Negra – the “Black Line” – a chain of 54 pilgrimage sites sacred to the Kogi and once part of their ancestral territories. Most of the sites are no longer under Kogi ownership or control and have come under threat by poorly-planned development schemes and illicit crop cultivation. Many of these sites are vital water sources and encompass lagoons, springs, and wetlands. Other sacred sites include ancient paths, terraces, and cities from the Tayrona culture, the ancestors of the indigenous peoples of the Sierra.

With these sites under threat, the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) has announced a new pilot to help the Kogi map their lands using an open-source mobile software called Open Data Kit. In an email interview with WildTech, Brian Hettler, the GIS and New Technologies Manager, explained the Kogi’s relationship with nature, and the new pilot underway in Colombia.

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