A Colombian tribe is facing possible extinction after being driven from their land by the FARC and paramilitaries, an international NGO has warned.
The Nukak Maku, a nomadic hunter gatherer community, has been forced from their jungle reserve in the south Colombian Amazon to the outskirts of a town where they live in near destitute conditions.
Major health problems, a lack of food and perhaps most importantly, the inability to practise their culture and traditions, means they could soon be wiped out as a people.
A large reserve was created by the Colombian government in 1993 for the Nukak Maku on their ancestral land, following a long campaign by NGOs including Survival International.
But the government has been unable to protect the land from the strong guerrilla and paramilitary presence in this part of the country, and the tribe has gradually been driven out.
They have been living in rudimentary shelters on the outskirts of San Jose de Guaviare, surviving on government food rations and what they can beg. They enter the forest in groups from time to time to hunt, but it’s not safe, says Survival campaigner Rebecca Stenham, for various reasons.
“They cannot enter the reserve safely because of the presence of guerrillas and paramilitary,” she told Colombia Reports, “But it’s also precarious because they are now suffering from all sorts of illnesses.”
Survival is calling on the government to provide proper food rations, shelter and medical care to the tribe. In the longterm, says the NGO, the reserve must be reestablished as a safe space for the Nukak Maku to live.
Stenham said, “The government must put more resources into protecting these areas. Obviously guerrillas and paramilitaries are a huge problem across Colombia, and it’s hard to imagine this issue being addressed any time soon. But stopping corruption would be a good start.”
If it doesn’t act soon, it could be too late, she warned. Around half the tribe died when they were first contacted by outsiders in 1988, from common diseases. A new host of health problems threatens them now.
Even if they receive medical care, their way of life, which is crucial to their existence, is dangerously threatened, according to Stenham, who warned, “The younger Nukak are becoming very disconnected from the elders. They only know life living on the outskirts of the town, and want what other kids their age have. If the tribe loses touch with their traditions and culture they will be lost as a people.”