Last of the Isolated: Houses and a History for Surviving Elders of the Amazon

Date: 
Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Komuyaroke, Káemaña and Rugáña are the last surviving members of a previously isolated division of the northwest Amazon’s Murui-Muina tribe. Their group sought isolation in the early 1900s, fleeing from Peruvian and Colombian rubber barons like those of the nefarious Casa Arana. They escaped into the rocky fortress-type rock formations of Colombia’s mysterious and isolated Chiribiquete. In over half a century, their group, hidden and protected by the dense forest, changed locales more than 30 times, ranging over an area of more than 150 square kilometers.

These elders, living today in their 70s in Colombia’s Puerto Sábalo – Los Monos indigenous reserve, were born in isolation and remember their early days with fondness:

“We were raised deep in the forest. We grew strong because we ate well. We had great crops; that is why and when we danced.”

Komuyaroke, one of the last surviving members of a previously isolated division of the Murui-Muina tribe.

Sadly, these elders were only teenagers when captured by rubber barons in 1959. Among these outsiders, they contracted polio, which left them in a disabled condition. Despite the government finally setting aside a portion of their land as an indigenous reserve in 1988, the survivors have not seen other fundamental rights guaranteed and in fact have been exploited by different indigenous and non-indigenous actors who claimed to act on their behalf throughout the years.

This neglect had left them homeless and in precarious living and health conditions. In 2016, ACT responded by building the elders simple homes according to their needs and requirements. The inauguration of the homes was tainted by a new tragedy, one that exemplifies the surviving peoples’ current-day hardships: in December 2016, the only son of one the elders drowned while working on an illegal gold-mining barge.

One of the homes built with support from ACT.

Soon, ACT will publish a history of the 60 years of isolation of their clan and the effects of contact with the outside world, not only to describe the valor and significance of their decision to live in isolation, but also to document the horrors of the exploitation booms that still haunt, threaten, and destroy the Amazon rainforest and her aboriginal inhabitants.