The Government Cargo Cult

When I was preparing for my research among the Yebámasa Indians of the Piraparaná in Colombia in 1977, I was given a research permit by the Colombian Government for the Curripaco Indians of the Comisaría del Vichada. My first step was to fly to the jungle town Mitú to speak with the Apostolic Missionaries and to find out from them who else was doing research in Vichada.

When I mentioned the “Curripaco Indians” the missionaries fell silent as if I had touched on a taboo. “Not a place you want to go,” one of them warned. It took a bit of poking and goosing but I finally found out why they were so apprehensive.

There was a civil war going on among the Curripaco Indians of the Vichada. They were killing each other, the missionaries, anthropologists, and white Colombians; and the situation was one of violence, chaos, and mayhem. I asked what had caused the Curripaco Indians, who were known to be quite peaceful, to suddenly become so aggressive and violent and was told the following story:

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