Colombia's last nomadic tribe in despair at loss of culture

Wed Sep 30, 2015 3:37pm EDT
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By Anastasia Moloney

SAN JOSE DEL GUAVIARE, Colombia (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Born into the last known nomadic tribe in Colombia, Joaquin Niijbe spent his boyhood roaming the jungle and hunting monkeys.

His life changed dramatically 10 years ago when his tribe was forced off its rainforest reserve by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group.

Now 27 and a leader of the Nukak Maku tribe, he has seen the clash with the modern world and the loss of ancestral homelands that were his forefathers' for thousands of years, drive many to alcoholism, drug abuse and even suicide.

Since emerging from the jungle in 2005, half naked and carrying blowpipes, the Nukak have lived in settlements near the frontier town of San Jose del Guaviare, a humid outpost in the Amazon 400 km (250 miles) southeast of the capital Bogota.

"We're losing our culture. In our lands we have everything we need, fruit trees, fish, animals. Our territory is like our mother. The spirits who protect and defend us are there," said Niijbe, standing near one of the seven settlements, Agua Bonita.

"In my heart there's been a lot of sadness because our children don't learn about our culture."

The Nukak first made contact with the outside world in 1988 - one of the last of Colombia's 102 tribes to do so. Disease has killed more than half of them since then, and they now number only about 500.

They are just one of 34 indigenous groups at risk of extinction in Colombia, forced to flee their lands by warring factions in the country's 51-year conflict.   Continued...

A Colombian Nukak Maku Indian child rests in a refugee camp at Agua Bonita near San Jose del Guaviare of Guaviare province September 3, 2015. REUTERS/John Vizcaino