The Nukak Maku have always lived a nomadic life in the Amazon jungle, foraging for berries and hunting monkeys with blow guns. One group of Nukak recently decided it had enough of this life (and the increased competition with guerillas for territory). They've left the rain forest and set up camp in southern Colombia, the NYT reports.
While it is not known for sure why they left the jungle, what is abundantly clear is that the Nukak's experience as nomads and hunter-gatherers has left them wholly unprepared for the world they have just entered. The Nukak have no concept of money, of property, of the role of government, or even of the existence of a country called Colombia.
The transition from jungle to civilization is clearly difficult, but it is one this groups seems determined to make.
Are they sad? "No!" cried a Nukak named Pia-pe, to howls of laughter. In fact, the Nukak said they could not be happier. Used to long marches in search of food, they are amazed that strangers would bring them sustenance — free.
What do they like most? "Pots, pants, shoes, caps," said Mau-ro, a young man who went to a shelter to speak to two visitors.
Ma-be added, "Rice, sugar, oil, flour." Others said they loved skillets. Also high on the list were eggs and onions, matches and soap and certain other of life's necessities.
"I like the women very much," Pia-pe said, to raucous laughs.
One young Nukak mother, Bachanede, breast-feeding her infant as she talked, said she was happy just to stay still. "When you walk in the jungle," she said, "your feet hurt a lot."
Now they are learning how to plant crops, and want to send their children to local schools. "We do want to join the white family," one said, "but we do not want to forget words of the Nukak." However tough their transition, it seems clear that modern civilization offers this group of Nukak the prospects for a better life -- even if they insist on still eating monkeys.