The Nukak people live between the Guaviare and Inirida rivers in the depths of the tropical humid forest in southeast Colombia. An “unconcerned” tribe until 1981, they have since lost half of their population, primarily to disease (malaria and flu) due to the contact with outsiders. The Nukak’s remote rainforest has been overrun by colonists growing coca for the lucrative cocaine trade. Now many Nukak have fled their ancestral land after becoming caught up in the violence of Colombia’s civil war. 

Approximately 250 members live nomadically in the Nukak reserve while a further 210 - 250 people have fled their home and seek refuge in provisional settlements on the outside of a town called San Jose del Guavaiare. The Nukak are one of at least 32 tribes in Colombia believed to be at “imminent risk of extinction", according to the country’s national indigenous peoples’ organisation, ONIC. 



Village Life

They are one of six groups known as the “Maku” peoples, all nomadic hunter-gathers living in the headwaters of the northwest Amazon basin. Traditionally, the Nukak live in small groups, between nine and thirty people, in the very deep forest away from the rivers. They are constantly on the move, spending just a few days in any one place. Because they are so mobile, they have very few possessions and what they have is easily portable. Nukak houses tend to be very light structures made of wood and palm-leaves, just enough to provide a roof to sling a hammock under. Each family has its own hearth, used to keep warm, cook and to burn certain plants to keep mosquitos away.

In 1993, thanks to Survival, ONIC, and other organizations’ international campaigns for the Nukak, the Colombian government finally recognized the tribe’s right to their ancestral land. The ‘Nukak Reserve’ was expanded in 1997 to encompass almost 1 million hectares of forest. What the Nukak want now is for the boundaries of their reserve to be respected and for them to be able to live there in peace.

Agriculture & Subsistance

The Nukak are expert hunters. The men hunt several types of monkeys and birds using blowguns with darts tipped with curare, a poison made from 5 different plants. They also use javelins made from palm wood to hunt peccaries and spectacled caimans, whose eggs they consume too. Nukak neither hunt or eat deer or tapir, these animals are considered by them as part of the same group of origin as human beings. They also capture rodents, armadillos, tortoises, frogs, crabs, snails and insect larvae.

Additionally, the Nukak eat several species of fish including catfish, piranhas and river rays. Lately, part of this activity is done using cord and metal fishooks, although the Nukak, to this day, still catch their fish in the traditional way, with bow and arrow or harpoons, traps or baskets. The Nukak use a sophisticated fishing technique that has been reported in several cultures. This technique uses the root nuún that contains a number of substances that when dissolved in the water streams stun the fish, making them an easy catch. They also collect many fruit and over 20 types of honey a long with palm fibre to make their hammocks. 

The Spirit World

Marriage is settled after the man has formally courted the woman with accepted gifts and she has acceded to live with him. The marriage means man must have gone through an initiation ritual in which he endures several penalties and difficulties, to demonstrate the fundamental abilities for the subsistence and consumes a hallucinogen (Virola sp.). A man can marry several wives, although a single wife is most common, and examples of three or more are rare. Each domestic group is part of a territorial group and others groups that are established to perform specific duties like security measures, according to the different stations and situations.

Ten territorial Nukak groups have been identified, at least each one with 50 or 60 people, who most of the year do not remain together but form different groups for harvesting and/or hunting that are distributed in accordance with the climatic seasonal changes and the security situation. In certain special occasions different groups join, after they practice a special ritual, "entiwat", in which the groups dance face to face, striking and verbally injuring each other until the ritual reaches a climatic moment in which they all embrace, weeping while they remember their ancestors and express affection. The groups practice a form of exchange, "ihinihat", especially when all the resources are not in the same territory. 


Information Referenced from Wikipedia and Survival International

Date accessed 01.04.15

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