Change is inevitable and in most cases, change is a good, and much needed thing, especially when it comes from a place of adaptation and progression in a culture. However, there is a vast difference between culture change, and culture loss. While the gradual changing of a culture can be a revitalization thing, the complete loss and total disappearance of a culture is never a thing to be celebrated. Less than ten years ago, a visit to the tropical rainforest’s between the Savvier and Inroad rivers on the Amazonian basin of Colombia, you would have come across the indigenous people of he Nuke Make tribe.
Take a trip there today however, and the Nuke people will not be there. The Nuke people are Just one of nearly 35 other Columbian tribes facing the risk of extinction, but are currently the most endangered and most at risk of all. The Nuke have been violently uprooted and aggressively forced out of their home environment and relocated with a completely new and unfamiliar lifestyle, leaving them so close to extinction that nothing but complete government reinforcement will keep their culture alive, if that.
The Nuke people were a completely unconnected immunity until 1988 when the push of modernization, and the wrath of war took control of their fate. The lifestyle they lived was nothing short of the opposite of today’s modern world. The Nuke people are nomadic hunter-gatherers, that used to move around their own piece of land along the Amazon that was “three times the size of London, spending days trekking to one corner Just to fish, then weeks to another to hunt” (George).
The men of the tribe are skilled hunters, who created a poison called “curare” made of local plants that they use on the ends of darts and blades, made of Iranian teeth, inside their blowguns. The Nuke people lived entirely off the land and surrounding forests without ever getting any supplies or necessities from the outside, modernized world. “They collect plantation and palm leaves to build their shelters; palm fibers to make their hammocks; and palm fronds for their hunting and fishing gear” (Cessna).
Their main source of food were monkeys and birds that they specialized in hunting, as well as armadillos, tortoises, frogs, crabs, and shrimp, they hunted nearly anything on the land besides deer and tapirs because they believed hem to be closely related to themselves. The Nuke people have very little belongings besides their hammocks and pots for storing things because of the lifestyle they live of picking up and leaving to a new location at a moments notice for better hunt and supplies, they also don’t believe in clothing, leaving them less and less possessions to travel with.
The Nuke Make tribe had a population of around one thousand people that was broken up into about ten different groups based on territory and seasons, to better support hunting and necessities for the whole tribe. The whole Nuke Make tribe in its entirety only get together a couple times yearly for certain ceremony and rituals. One of the rituals referred to as “initiate”, is a when the whole tribe comes together and dances with one another and then physically assaults and injure each other until they all come together and emotionally embrace each other while reflecting on stories of their shared ancestors.
Another time the whole tribe will get together is for a form of exchange called “ninth”, where the different groups trade resources that they can’t find in their own territories. All the efferent groups of the tribe speak the same language, Nuke, named after the tribe, which comes from the Andante language family, Nuke is recognized by Colombia as the official language within the Nuke territory.
The Nuke language is a very simple language, with only six oral sounds, and six nasal sounds, however the Nuke Make tribe is the only known culture to speak or understand this language. Along with their own specific language and lifestyle, as with any unique culture, they have their own set of beliefs and sense of family as well. Marriage is only allowed between embers of the Nuke tribe and marriage pairs usually come from crossed cousins, however strictly avoiding marrying cousins from the mother’s side.
When it comes time for a man to marry another Nuke woman, the men will formerly court the woman by sending her and her father gifts, also known as the practice of bride- wealth. After the woman and her family accepts the gifts, she must go live with him on his land, and then the man must go through an initiation ritual where he must drink a hallucinogen. The Nuke people are most commonly a monogamous culture but practice temporal polyandry during the pregnancy of a woman because they eve the belief that multiple partners will improve the qualities of the baby.
All the means of lifestyle for the Nuke from their diet to their social interactions are so completely different from the lifestyle that the modern world lives in that the placing of the Nuke people into modern day society is extremely distressing and put the entire culture of the Nuke Make tribe in immanent danger of complete disappearance. The very first interaction that the Nuke Make tribe had with the outside world was in 1988 when almost fifty members of the tribe unintentionally wandered into a small village in Colombia called Calamari.
Members of nearby indigenous tribes, government officials, language specialists, and anthropologists were called upon to try to communicate with the mysterious new arrivals out of the jungle” (Cessna) the Nuke people who were completely naked, with their traditional red face paint, and speaking a language that nobody in the village had ever heard before had entered a world in which they were not equipped for, nor was the surrounding modern world ready for them.
When finally able to get a few words exchanged between the Nuke and the villagers, they were identified as the Nuke Make tribe, “one of the last nomadic tribes left anywhere on the planet” (Cessna). All anthropological research as well as the Colombian government had completely missed the Nuke people until this day less than thirty years ago when they were discovered.
The members of the Nuke tribe that made their way into the village that day had done so after walking for five months in an escape from crop growers, and violence between the guerrilla an the Colombian government that made its way into their territory, many of the Nuke men were killed trying to fight off the guerrilla leaving almost only woman and children to flee to the village. The devastation and extinction of the Nuke people all began with the civil war in Colombia that forcefully made its way onto their land without any notice.
Their land is now completely occupied by industrial cocoa growers and the terrors and inescapable violence of the Colombian civil war, leaving them with the only choice, to abandon their lives and retreat to the modernized society outside of their rainforest’s. The war in Colombia that started the Nuke destruction is over the use of raw materials in cocoa. The guerrillas versus, the paramilitaries, and the Columbian army in an ongoing savage get over parts of the cocoa plant that are used in the mass production of cocaine.
The Nuke people have tried to seek safety in their new location, the outskirts of San Jose del Savvier, where many of them were directed to flee to at gunpoint, if the guerrillas didn’t immediately kill them in the rainforest’s. The initial population of the tribe in 1988 when they came in contact with the outside world was estimated to be nearly one thousand people, since the violent displacement of the Nuke from their territory, they make up only about four hundred people (Amazon Alliance).
More than sixty percent of the entire Nuke Make tribe has died since 1988, and their death counts continue to rise. Contrary to most belief about the rapid decline in population of the Nuke Make people, the death of their people is not caused from the violence of the war, and the actually fighting of the war itself but rather due to the complete change in environment and lifestyle because of how the war forced them out of their homes.
The conditions that they now live in, in their refuge of San Jose del Savvier, are horrible for any human being, let alone a group of people who are totally unfamiliar with the whole sense of lifestyle and humanity around them. The Nuke people now live completely at the will of the government, their survival depends solely on the government handouts they receive form a group called “Action Social”, that delivers food rations.
A culture that once hunted down all its own supply of food and lived for generations off the land that has now become a culture less than half the size now living off government handouts completely unfamiliar and inadequate to their needs is exactly what the definition of cultural loss defines when it says the complete disappearance of a culture. The Nuke Make culture will never cease to exist the way that it once did, despite any best efforts the Colombian government may be putting forward for the people.
Through the government aid program in 2006, the government attempted to moved the Nuke people back into the rainforest’s but the only location available to them not run by farming and violence was far too small for them to maintain their nomadic lifestyles in. The Nuke people are not used to the foods that the rations deliver because of their long time ways of hunting and fishing their own meals, “They often forget to bring us the rations, and moieties it is not enough,” says Sandra, a young Nuke mother. We do not like some of the things they give us, our bodies are not used to it” (George). The drastic change in what the Nuke people are eating today is what has the biggest impact on the health of their people, malnutrition and digestion infections have effected every member of the tribe since leaving the Jungle. The Nuke also suffer from serious skin and respiratory diseases and other common sicknesses like the flu almost constantly, all of which they never suffered from before being forced into contact with the outside.