When Arregocés Coronado and his clan of Kogi began reclaiming their ancestral land at the base of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta about a decade ago, they discovered that it had been turned into a vast coca farm. The plantation — which fed the appetite for cocaine in the United States — wasn’t just illegal, it was sacrilegious.
For the Kogi and other indigenous groups that live on the snow-peaked mountain in northwestern Colombia, the coca leaf has spiritual properties. Adult males chew the leaf, a mild stimulant, only after a coming of age ceremony. To mass produce and sell it is an affront to the “ancestral mother,” Coronado says.