Institutions and Parasites
It would be unfair, however, to describe the time I spent in San José as a violent one. The only panic event that took place during the year of field work, and to my knowledge in a longer while, was a drill planned by the police, exploding an artifact in control settings to practice the reaction of crowds. It was so real, that people were not informed.
During my stay I interacted with a number of institutions and government officials. Of particular interest for the nature of this dissertation, is the conversation held with an individual working for the government in the office of indigenous affairs. After explaining the purpose and methods of my dissertation, he tried to persuade us not to work with the Nukak, because in his opinion they did not suffer the burden of malaria, and my research was going to prove useless. Months later, after aggregating the numbers, I can say with not doubt that there could be nothing further from the truth: the Nukak suffer Anual Parasitary Indices (APIs) higher than 600 per thousand, while neighboring ethnicities, also considered endemic populations, have APIs of 30-60.
The lack of awareness of the official was, in my opinion, symptomatic of the state of abandonment to which the Nukak had succumbed after their first contact with the colonizing frontier, in 1988. Since 2003, a group of 108 individuals (during my field work) relocated to a government owned land due to an increase in violence in their traditional territory. Once, one of their leaders was murdered for leading a return to the reserve.
The interaction between the Nukak and institutions of all sorts is better described by a meeting that took place in March 12th, 2012 in Aguabonita, the temporary settlement that became permanent. There was an interest to hold the meeting at the location where the Nukak live, so that all institutions would take note of their living conditions. All the relevant institutions attended, sharp on time. Child Welfare Office (ICBF, acronym in Spanish), a delegate of the governor, UNHCR, Indigenous Institutions (CRIGUA2, acronym in Spanish), the Secretary of Health, independent attorneys, a delegate from the Secretary of the Interior, and all our research team. You name it, we were all there. If you wear a vest with a logo, and you drive a Toyota in San Jose, you had to be in this meeting. We were all there, sharp on time. But the Nukak were not there. The meeting was schedulled for 3:00 p.m. But the Nukak rather go hunting. Even though they normally do not hunt on a daily basis.
Almost 2 hours after the agreed appointment time, the Nukak emerge from the forest. They take their time to shower. All the guests have been cooking under intense sun and humidity. And there is nowhere to catch some shade in Aguabonita.
The Nukak finally groomed up and were ready for the meeting. They began speaking. They seemed divided in their will: some wanted to go back to the reserve, some wanted to stay and have a nice house in San Jose, and cars and clothes.
Then each representative intervened. Some in the name of the Nukak, some in the name of the state, and some in the name of both. The Nukak, entitled to transfers, are required by law to elect a leader and live in their reserves to receive their transfers, that amount large sums after 11 years of accumulation because the Nukak are unable to fulfill both conditions. And there are many non-Nukak ideas of what to do with that money. I find myself agreeing with the government officials, to my surprise.
The meeting concludes with some minor conclusions: a drain was to be dugg to prevent flooding.
In retrospect, the most tragic aspect of the abandonment suffered by the Nukak is that in the interaction with other parties, the government demands that they have meetings and agree as a community. Graduating from the Ph.D. involves taking a committee to agree, and we have seen how something as a presidential race can turn a whole country into madness. Now, imagine what it must be deciding every aspect of your community in agreement with every member. It is Paralyzing.