The Uaupés or Vaupés region, first mentioned by Perez de Quesada (1538) and Pérez von Hutten (1541), was at the time virtually inhabited by the "Boape" Indians. Systematic expeditions to the Rio Negro in Brazil were only begun toward the middle of the seventeenth century, a time when the first mission villages and fortresses were established (S. José do Rio Negro, Taruma). In the eighteenth century the eagerness of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns to establish economic control over the area encouraged expeditions and settlements to defend the border zones. At the end of that century and the beginning of the ninteenth, Luso-Brazilian expeditions reached as far as the Uaupés, fostering the establishment of haciendas, animal farms, agricultural production, manufacturing, and handicrafts. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, centers of trade have grown. Because of abuses by missionaries and civilians, the Indians began to manifest discontent, and several messianic movements succeeded one another. From the end of the ninteenth to the middle of the twentieth centuries, the extractors of balata, chicle, and rubber treated the indigenous population ruthlessly. Toward the middle of the twentieth century, the Amazon area began to be settled by Andean colonists. The cultivation of coca and the extraction of gold have also had considerable impact on the Indians in the area. Only recently have efforts been made to legally recognize ethnic territories, and health and education programs have been gradually implemented by the Colombian government in the Vaupés region.
There is daily exchange of goods, women, and rituals between the Ka'wairi and their neighbors: the Barasana to the southwest, the Taiwano to the west, and the Tatuyo to the northwest. Horticultural groups of the Colombian Vaupés area share common structural elements (e.g., horticulture, fishing, hunting, gathering, segmentary social organization, partilineality, virilocality, Dravidian kinship terminology, and prescriptive symmetrical marriage alliances). Social distance between ethnic groups is based on descent from a particular Anaconda, traversing a specific ancestral river, and having a particular territory, language, mythology, type of shamanic exorcism, and repertoire of songs and dances.