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Who were they? Their dramatic arrival sparked something of a sensation in Colombia's media, concern from Calamar locals, and headaches for the government's indigenous affairs department in Bogota about what, if anything, to do. It didn't help that no one understood what they were saying, or what they wanted or where they were going, and when a group of indigenous interpreters were flown in, speaking 21 languages between them, they couldn't understand either. The people who appeared that day, in , were the Nukak, members of an indigenous people living in small, highly-mobile groups e.
According to a book called, in my English translation, The Nukak: The Last Nomadic People Officially Contacted in Colombia — edited by two Colombian anthropologists, Dany Mahecha and Carlos Franky, who speak the Nukak language — that day in Calamar was the "definitive event" marking the Nukak's official, permanent contact with national society. There are various theories about why the Nukak turned up like that, but as Mahecha, Franky and other contributors imply, it wasn't so much them arriving on Calamar's doorstep as the other way around.
The Nukak found themselves:. As this suggests, and as Mahecha et al acknowledged, there had been some contact pre This included peaceful encounters and violence in , further encounters from onwards, and the secretive arrival in Nukak territory, all the way back in , of Christian missionaries from the US-based New Tribes Mission who subsequently spent enough time with the Nukak to make them, ironically, the only people who could communicate effectively with them in What has happened in the 25 years since official contact?
Conditions in these settlements, generally speaking, have been extremely poor. What, you might ask, does this have to do with Niall Ferguson , a British historian and Harvard University professor who was once named by Time magazine as one of the most influential people in the world?
In his book The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World — in what appears to be an attempt to illustrate the "considerable disadvantages" to the "cash-free life" of "hunter-gatherer societies" — Ferguson wrote:. The Nukak were a tribe time forgot, cut off from the rest of humanity until this sudden emergence.