- Viviendo en el bosque. Un Siglo de investigaciones sobre los makú del Noroeste amazónico by Gabriel Cabrera Becerra
Gabriel Cabrera Becerra’s edited collection Viviendo en el Bosque (Living in the Forest) is a collection of essays devoted to understanding the multiple, small-scale “hunter-gatherer” societies known collectively in the ethnographic literature by the ethnonym Maku. The issue of Maku identity is a complex topic complicated by the fact that many native “mobile” peoples in northwestern Amazonia have at one time or another been called Maku: including the Nükâk and the Kákwâ (Bara Cacua or Makú) of Colombia; the Hupdë and the Yuhupdë of Brazil and Colombia; and the Nadëb (Kabori) and the Düw (Dâw o Kamâ) of Brazil.
In the northern border frontier between the Colombian and Brazilian Amazon, two culturally distinctive, yet inter-dependent indigenous social groupings reside: the sedentary Eastern Tukano and Arawak speaking societies and the nomadic Maku peoples. But when it comes to describing the contemporary social topography of the region it would certainly be misleading only to emphasize the dynamics of intra-ethnic indigenous relations and say nothing about the broader supra-local context, namely the presence of outsiders who are increasingly trying to gain a foothold in Maku territories. In the Colombian Amazon, the fight for indigenous people’s cultural survival remains fierce, while the politics of land claims and indigeneity are volatile. Recent governmental restrictions on indigenous societies like the Nükâk Maku threaten the very basis of their cultural autonomy, not to mention their customary livelihoods, which were predicated on foraging and hunting and gathering the forests and waterways they once called their home. Indeed, a mere generation ago, nomadic groups such as the [End Page 309] Nükâk Maku enjoyed a more or less serene life, largely removed from the so-called modern world of global markets, digital-interconnections, intrusive Spanish-based formal education, and the impersonal dictates of capitalist production. Instead, these proud nomadic peoples spent their time with one another leisurely trekking through a swath of the northwest Amazon rain forest roughly three times the size of Los Angeles. But this was all to change abruptly and irrevocably following sustained contact with national Colombian society beginning in the 1980s.
Today, the Nükâk Maku have been forced from their territorial home-lands by a confluence of factors, like the growth of an illicit coca economy, and the presence of external social actors—leftist rebels, (including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC), paramilitary death-squads, and State security forces. For their part, the Nükâk Maku peoples seem now to be a shadow of their former selves. They currently inhabit an unkempt clearing only half the size of a soccer field near the Colombian settlement of San José del Guaviare. Nevertheless, local indigenous Maku leaders continue to clamor for the expulsion of the military and leftist rebels from their homelands; recently Colombia’s Constitutional Court declared that the armed forces must vacate the Nükâk’s territory, which is currently employed as a major training base by Colombian special forces and navy infantry.
Spanning more than a century of keen ethnographic description, Gabriel Cabrera Becerra’s welcome edited collection brings together texts devoted to assessing various aspects of Maku society and history. Comprised of contributions from a number of complementary disciplinary approaches, including anthropology, linguistics, and history, it grapples with a series of key issues, like territoriality, ethnographic film, childhood, inter-cultural education, and spatial location. A series of poorly understood themes in lowland ethnology are developed, such as the nature of the Maku’s division of labor, the dynamic forces shaping their settlement patterns, and their controversial formalized relations of subservience vis-à-vis other indigenous and mestizo or caboclo societies.
A condensed Spanish translation of Theodor Koch-Grünberg’s (1906) classic essay on the Maku peoples is reprinted in the collection.1 Written during...