Object: Maguey Bag

E/1941/1/30
Kogi (Kagaba) Indians
South America: Colombia
Early 20th Century
Materials: Maguey plant fiber

This fine mesh maguey fiber bag from Colombia is decorated with 6 brown bands, each approximately 1/2″ wide. The undecorated carrying strap allows for the bag to be worn over a shoulder.

The Kogi (also known as the Kagaba) Indians who created this bag live in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region at the northern tip of Colombia, in the mountains bordering the Caribbean Sea. The Sierra Nevada boasts a wide variety of ecosystems, allowing for the Kogi to be largely self-sufficient. The Kogi primarily practice slash-and-burn agriculture and raise domesticated animals such as oxen, pigs, and sheep. Bags such as this one are used to carry everything from food to children, and they are usually woven from the maguey (also known as agave) plant. The strong, durable Maquey  fibers are used across Central and South America by many indigenous cultures, including the Maya, for nets, bags, clothes, hammocks, and many other useful items.

The Kogi, descendents of the Tairona civilization, see themselves as the “Elder Brothers” of humanity. Anyone not living in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, which they consider to be the heart of the world, is considered a “Younger Brother.” The Kogi believe that it is their responsibility to protect nature against the ecological damage wrought by modern society and “Younger Brother.” Maintaining a balance in nature is vital to the survival of the world, according to the Kogi.

Up until 1990, Kogi priests, called Mammas, worked hard to maintain a policy of isolation from the rest of the world in order to protect their cultural ideals. In the past 20 years, however, this policy has been undermined by a variety of factors including encroachment by large-scale banana plantations, marijuana and cocaine manufacturers, and paramilitary revolutionary forces. Today, the Kogi struggle to maintain their traditional way of life while also engaging in a wide-scale South American indigenous resurgence movement.

Take a look at the following National Geographic video documenting the daily life and beliefs of the Kogi people. If you look closely, you can even see several instances of people using a carrying bag very similar to the one above:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

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