Seventy-six members of the Nukak-Makú, the last nomadic indigenous group in Colombia, including 27 children, arrived March 6 at the town of San José de Guaviare, on the edge of the Amazon rainforest. They arrived naked, exhausted and frightened, fleeing their home region of Tomachipán, some nine hours away by fast launch on the Rio Inírida. It is estimated they marched two months through the forest.
It is difficult to determine why their fled their territory, because only a few of them can say some simple words in Spanish. According to one version which has been pieced together, the Nukak-Makú, who have no concept of private property, were collecting fruit in the forest, but entered the lands of peasant colonists who accused them of theft. The colonists complained to the FARC, the guerilla organization that that is the de facto government in the area. The guerillas presumably expelled the band from the territory at gunpoint.
According to another, even more sinister version, the natives came upon one of the camps where the FARC keep their kidnapped hostages. This it is inferred from the words of some of the Nukak-Makú: “hombres malos” (bad men), “armas” (arms), “hombres amarrados y tristes” (sad, bound men). Among the hostages they may have seen is Meta department Gov. Alan Jara
The refugees are being housed at Aguabonita rancho, on lands owned by the San José municipality. Their future is uncertain and the situation is already taking its toll on their prospects for cultural survival. Among them was a traumatized pregnant woman who had to have her baby in the hospital. According to Nukak-Makú tradition, women give birth alone with midwives in the forest. San José’s municipality has offered aid, but this could eventually be counterproductive as the Nukak-Makú lose their nomadism. The basis of their diet are monkeys they hunt with their blowguns. Although they customarily go naked, the inhabitants of San José have given them undershirts and pants.
A generation ago, the Nukak-Makú had the entire forest around Tomachipán to themselves, but have since been overwhelmed by colonists and armed groups. Between 400 and 500 are belived to remain. (Semana, April 4)
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