The Nukak Want to Live in Peace
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The Nukak Want to Live in Peace

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John Ahni Schertow
March 29, 2008
 

The Nukak, one of the Amazon’s last nomadic Peoples, have once again been caught between the Colombian army and the left-wing FARC guerrillas.

According to a March 12 statement by Survival International, they were bombed “by the Colombian army in its attempt to fight the guerrillas who have violently taken control of much of the Nukak land. Many Nukak have fled their territory to a local town in recent days, and many more are expected to follow suit.”

This violence comes just months after many Nukak began returning to their territory, between the Guaviare and Inírida rivers, “hoping that the fighting which has wracked their remote rainforest had died down.”

Survival continues, “the bombings come after the recent assassination of a Nukak man called Monikaro by Battalion 44 of the FARC. Monikaro had fled Nukak land in 2004 after conflict between the army, guerrillas and paramilitaries fighting for control of the lucrative coca crop, the raw material for cocaine. The Nukak’s land is also being eyed up as a potential site for palm oil plantations for biofuel, and for its known petroleum reserves.”

The Nukak’s struggle, however, goes back to 1988 — when they were first “discovered.” Doctor Javier Maldonado, a general practitioner who gives basic medical care to the Nukak explains in a photo essay by Niels Van Iperen,

“Less than fifty years ago the first colonists arrived to this area, driven here by violence in other parts of the country. In those times, people hunted Indians for sport, or caught them to use as slaves. So it is not surprising that the nomads of the Nukak Maku preferred to stay in the jungle where nobody bothered them. And then one day, about seventeen years ago, a group of around fifty sick and starving women and children came running into the village of Calamar, after a journey of two hundred kilometers on foot. What had happened to the men of this group never became clear. Naked and hungry they entered the gardens and houses of the locals, looking for food. Being nomads, they had no concept of private property, and communication with them was impossible because nobody could speak their language. The locals were dead scared of the naked ‘savages’ and sent them back into the woods as quickly as they could. But “the evil” had happened – this brief contact with Westerners had brought them in contact with influenza and tuberculosis. Within a few years the majority of the Nukak Maku were dead.”

A population estimated to have been around 1500 — today there are less than 400, “of whom the eldest are around 40 years old. Over the last 15 years all the elders have died, mainly from flu and killing. Of these 380 persons, over 40% are now living in refugee camps… on land with a very different vegetation to what they are used to, making it almost impossible for them to feed themselves. Also, it is impossible for them to move around in this area. Usually the Nukak Maku ‘move’ every 3 to 10 days, but the first refugees arrived here over 3 years ago and have not been able to change location once.”

The Nukak remain hopeful that they will one day be able to return home and live in peace, but as long as they are exploited by those with weak dreams for power and wealth, that hope can only dim until one day the Nukak cease to exist.To support the Nukak, please see here.

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