‘The future? What’s that?’
The New York Times
FRIDAY, MAY 12, 2006
Perhaps you read Friday’s article about members of the Nukak tribe – nearly 80 of them – who walked out of the Colombian jungle and renounced their ancestral ways. What they expect from the future, which seems to be a problematic concept for them, is almost as unclear as what led them to leave Nukak National Park for the outpost of San José del Guaviare. That village is hardly an apotheosis of modernity, but it is nonetheless a threshold from which there is no going back. According to witnesses, the Nukak say they are happy about this transition.
None of which explain the bittersweet feel this story has. We have no clearer idea what it would mean to live a subsistence life in the jungle than the Nukak have of living even on the fringes of the modern world. In one sense, there has never been a better time for a people like the Nukak to leave the wild. They’ll find medical care, sustenance and a genuine attempt at cultural respect that would have been impossible years ago. Yet the fact that they’re leaving suggests how much their world – and ours – has been impaired.
The Nukak have every right to make this decision for themselves. But it’s hard to escape the feeling that their self-sustaining existence – which went almost entirely unnoticed by the rest of the world – was holding something open for us, something that has now been lost. S