Macuna - History and Cultural Relations

The Macuna speak of continuous violent conflicts in past centuries with their southern neighbors, particularly the Yaúna and Tanimuka (both Eastern Tucanoan groups). Little is known about the early history of Indian-White contacts. The Macuna are mentioned in Portuguese chronicles from the eighteenth century. More regular contact dates from the late nineteenth century, when the commercial exploitation of wild rubber began in the Colombian Amazon. Although the most affected areas lie south of the Vaupés region, the Macuna also experienced the devastating impact of the rubber boom. Men were rounded up and taken away by force to work for White rubber patrons. The pattern was repeated in a less crude form during World War II. Intermittent contact with Catholic missionaries has existed at least since the eighteenth century, but the first mission station in the Pirá-Paraná area was established in the 1960s.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Pirá-Paraná experienced a new economic boom based on growing coca leaves for illegal cocaine production. The Macuna, like most of the Pirá-Paraná and Apaporis groups, were heavily involved in the cultivation and trade of coca leaves with White patrons who established themselves in the area. The coca trade brought great quantities of money and trade goods to the region, but the boom ended as abruptly as it commenced. By the mid-1980s no Macuna produced coca leaves for sale, and the White traders had left the area. Other powerful economic forces have since affected Macuna society. Gold has been found along the Río Taraira only a few days' distance from Macuna territory, and thousands of White gold miners have entered the area, many through Macuna lands. The Macuna utilize the gold rush as a new source of income and White trade goods. Many young men occasionally go to the gold fields for shorter periods—between a couple of weeks to a few months—to dig for gold on their own or to look for temporary employment with a White patron. Work in the gold fields has not yet led to debt bondage or dependence on White patrons, but it is producing important changes in Macuna society: differential access to White trade goods and the occasional neglect of subsistence production because of the periodic absence of young men. The creation by the government of two resguardos (Indian reserves), which include most of the Macuna territory, has been an important development for the Macuna in their struggle for control over their land.

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