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A journey through ancient cultures during the pandemic that shook the world
Esperanza Project launches groundbreaking transmedia series, 'Cosmology & Pandemic,' with Pulitzer Center and Mongabay
By Tracy L. Barnett Posted in Covid-19, Esperanza Project, Indigenous Peoples on October 26, 2021
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Cosmology & Pandemic: What We Can Learn From Indigenous Responses to the Current Health Crisis is many things at once. It’s a transmedia series — meaning a series of articles and films and other forms of media that work together in concert. In this case, it’s a collaboration between my longtime friend and colleague, Argentine filmmaker Hernán Vilchez, and myself. For those who don’t know me, I’m a veteran print journalist, happiest in the milieu of words; together with Hernán’s powerful imagery, and the varied talents of the team we’ve assembled, we’ve been able to make magic.

Left to right, a Kamentsá elder in traditional poncho and face mask; Misak journalist Diana Jembuel Morales and traditional doctor Mama Adriana Velasco; Arhuaco Mamo rides through the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Photo montage by Eugenio Costa

Para leer este artículo en Español, haz click AQUÍ

It’s a remote visioning project — because neither Hernán nor I could travel to indigenous communities in the Andes, the Amazon and other faraway destinations in six different countries to do this work. No, we had to envision it from afar, and convoke the right people in those communities to be our eyes and ears and voices and hands. Some of them were professionals with years of experience; others were beginners we needed to coach, crossing two continents and arriving in the jungle by the miracle of Zoom. On one unforgettable occasion, we were blessed with an online ceremony by the woman who is now the Director of Traditional Medicine for the national Department of Health in Bolivia, Vivian Camacho.

Trailer for the film, Cosmology & Pandemic – watch the whole film on Thursday!

Sometimes the remote conferencing with our faraway producers worked; sometimes it failed miserably. Sometimes our hearts were broken by accidents of fate and we had to start all over again. Sometimes the tropical torrents came and left our producers swamped in the mud, unable to do anything. But persistence pays off, as they say, and we and our 14 film crews in 30 different communities managed to pull it off.

Cosmology & Pandemic is also a manifestation of our shared belief — no, more than a belief, a conviction — that the Indigenous peoples of this world have much to teach us, if we would only listen. And that by listening deeply, and learning without superimposing our own cultural conditioning, and working together, we might, just maybe, find our way out of the multiple cascading crises brought on by the colonial mindset that has caused them.

For the Misaks and the Arhuacos and the Kamentsás in Colombia, for the Q’eros and the Shipibos in Peru, for the Mapuches in Chile and the Salasacas and the Seikopais in Ecuador, the Kallawayas and the Qara Qaras in Bolivia and the Bororos and Xavantes of Brazil…. and many more…. this pandemic is about much more than a virus. It’s about a way of seeing the world and living life that works. Not just for a handful of privileged people who are driving the Earth into ruin. But for everyone, and for all species, for all times.

Hernán Vilchez, left, and Tracy Barnett in an interview with Arhuaco filmmaker Amado Villafaña

The first part of vision is now available to the public, in the form of a film and three stories, shot and reported with Indigenous filmmakers in their own communities. We are collaborating with the conservation magazine Mongabay and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. We are posting daily on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Episode I: The Body as Territory, set in the jungles and mountains of Colombia, is now available in English and Spanish at

We believe this series has the potential to awaken people to the deeper meaning of this pandemic, and the powerful potential of this moment. Please show us your love by giving us likes and comments and sharing in your networks. We are here because of you, and we are so much stronger together.

P.S. — A big shout out to our sponsors, Marz Attar with The One Foundation, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and Rana Chaudhuri with Spread Girls’ Education (SGE). Truly, without your support, none of this could have happened.

An Arhuaco child sips an infusion of plants chosen and prepared by Mamos, the spiritual guides of Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. (Photo courtesy The Esperanza Project/Cosmology & Pandemic)
The Mamos, spiritual guides of Colombia’s Sierra Nevada, warn that COVID-19 is just the first of four pandemics, unleashed as a “warning bell” to wake humanity up from the mirage of modern civilization. (Photo courtesy Esperanza Project/Cosmology & Pandemic)
FULL Episode 1 of Cosmology & Pandemic

Ancestral wisdom Arhuacos Cosmology & Pandemic Indigenous wisdom Mamos plant medicine traditional medicine

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  1. This is such important work and you have accomplished the impossible! 30 communities with 14 film crews in remote locations in 6 different countries… to pull all of that together and deliver this important message is a feat of epic proportions. I am stirred deeply by the messages coming from these communities and individuals as they help us see the pandemic through a wiser and larger lens, helping us consider how to move forward and live into the teachings the Earth is giving us now.

  2. How might I volunteer with the Esperanza Project, besides sending money? I am a retired sociology professor interested in social justice.

    1. Agnes, thank you so much for reaching out. We would love to brainstorm with you to see what we can accomplish together. Drop us a line at any of our social media channels or at [email protected]. Looking forward to working with you!

  3. At long last! Your dedication, flexibility and amazing network have created an amazing series. Proud of your accomplishment; hope many partake of the wisdom herein.

  4. Excelente iniciativa y maravilloso trailer
    ¡Quiero ver la película el jueves! El mensaje es pertinente, amorosamente imperativo
    gracias a Tracy y Esperanza Project

  5. This is beautiful material. It brings me great joy to see the way these people are living with the Earth in beauty, respect and health! They are setting a beautiful example of how to live in harmony with Nature and with each other. May we, the younger brothers and sisters, learn from them and emulate them in order to restore balance to our world. May the Great Mother bless you and keep you safe always!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words about our Cosmology and Pandemic project, Susan. Please stay tuned as we prepare to launch our Part 2 of the Cosmology and Pandemic series: Legacy of the Andes. And if you have ideas about how to share this powerful series with a bigger audience, please let us know!