Leaving the Wild


The 6 of March 2006, a group of 76 Nukak Maku a nomadic tribe from the Colombian Amazon of which it is estimated that only 450 to 500 members are alive, emerged from the jungle afraid and malnourished. They stopped in front of the church at the main square in San Jose del Guaviare the capital of the Guaviare department in southeastern Colombia. The Nukak came with their basic belongings the hammock, the blowguns that they use to hunt and the baskets they carry to collect fruits. On their shoulders some carried monkeys that are part of their diet and culture. After hunting and gathering for centuries and surviving only by avoiding most contact with outsiders, the Nukak have been caught in the crossfire of Colombias violent drug war. Their fate is representative of the Amazons once flourishing tribal population decimated by the irreversible ethnocide started 500 years ago by the Spanish conquest of the Americas.

The United Nations estimated in 2003 that 300 indigenous tribes live in the Amazon basin, but only about 60 remain in isolation. The Nukak are a branch of the Maku family of nomadic Indians who have journeyed the northwestern Amazon River basin of current day Colombia, Peru and Brazil for thousands of years. A common ancestral language ties the Maku branches. Their traditional territory that extends between the river Guaviare and the river Inirida comprises about 1 million hectares a fifth of the Guaviare department. When settlers began to encroach on the area in the 1960s, influenza killed many of the Nukak and most of the elderly, thus cutting the young from the knowledge passed trough oral tradition. Deforestation has cut their food supply and led to malnutrition. Theres no precise testimony or evidence about why the 76 Nukak fled, but without a doubt it was precipitated by the colonization of the jungle by armed groups and coca growers. This particular clan of 76 Nukak today has been located in a piece of land belonging to the authorities of San Jose del Guaviare in Altos de Agua Bonitas about 15 Km from the town. Their spirits seem high but their health condition is poor, people suffer from respirator, intestinal diseases and malaria, the common influenza keeps many with fever and an aggressive cuff. Malaria according to a local doctor only began to affect them with the arrival of deforestation when the mosquito finds breeding space in pools of water that form after the clearings.

There seems to be no easy or fast solution in sight either for the Nukak or for the local authorities. Sure seems to be that the Nukak dont want to go back to their traditional land and way of life. In a meeting with the local authorities they have expressed the wish to mount an expedition with a car and a doctor in the search for a good piece of farm land near the jungle, they also expressed the wish to have a school to learn Spanish and educate their children and a medical unit. Whether any of these wishes will come true is in doubt. For the moment the Nukak while they still hunt for monkeys and collect fruits they very much appreciate the modern world with its comforts and attractions that include the regular food supplies they receive from the government under the program for Internally displaced people an attention that has a time limit after which by law a return plan has to be put in place and executed, an impossibility in a land controlled by illegal armed groups.

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