Front Cover
 Table of Contents
 List of Tables
 List of Figures
 Chapter I
 Chapter II
 Chapter III
 Chapter IV
 Chapter V
 Chapter VI
 Chapter VII
 Biographical sketch
 Back Cover

Title: Mitu, Colombia
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00097615/00001
 Material Information
Title: Mitu, Colombia a geographical analysis of an isolated border town by Harlan G. Hawkins
Physical Description: xi, 233 leaves. : illus. ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Hawkins, Harlan Glenn, 1931-
Publication Date: 1972
Copyright Date: 1972
Subject: Amazon River Valley   ( lcsh )
Mitu (Colombia)   ( lcsh )
Vaupes (Colombia)   ( lcsh )
Geography thesis Ph. D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- Geography -- UF   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Thesis: Thesis -- University of Florida.
Bibliography: Bibliography: leaves 218-232.
Additional Physical Form: Also available on World Wide Web
General Note: Typescript.
General Note: Vita.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00097615
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 000577212
oclc - 13940692
notis - ADA4907


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Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Page i
        Page ii
        Page iii
        Page iv
    Table of Contents
        Page v
        Page vi
    List of Tables
        Page vii
    List of Figures
        Page viii
        Page ix
        Page x
        Page xi
    Chapter I
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
    Chapter II
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
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        Page 11
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        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
    Chapter III
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
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    Chapter IV
        Page 47
        Page 48
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        Page 128
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    Chapter V
        Page 174
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    Chapter VI
        Page 191
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    Chapter VII
        Page 209
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    Biographical sketch
        Page 233
        Page 234
    Back Cover
        Page 235
Full Text

P. ~' .' v. 0! 0X I 2.

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1 **, T7; : L a t I
mlt I.l.V.

;; '.-;.:!J ]T 0. !-'LORIDA

, ~. L. "f^' I cr t .' ":
^ -C^ L -.** i- J ', **

1J ~12.

Copyright by
Harlan G. Hawkins

To the family

Thelma, Mike, Pat and Tom

In the completion of a ,graduate dclgree rnany debts

are incurred. The author- wJishes to express his gratitude

to all who have helped ;im achieve this goal. The list

is long and includes both follow students and faculty.

All of the geography department faculty have coritributea,

but special thanks are due the supervisory committee

and 'r. Crist, who read the initial draft and offered

many suggestions to improve it.

The staff of the Latin A.:erican CenteLr was also help-

ful in many ways, particularly in the ad;iiiistrat ion of

the Fulbright-Hays ,an!t.

To all of these people who wcre intcrestea and kind

enough to offer help, many thanks are due. You are


ACIl :': 0'. LE D7;, ::. :'. `S

JII.~ n~ ..I'II

L I S T .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

L TST I' :.; :,S . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .



Cl mate.....
Soils .......

Vegeta ion ...................................
role of the Rio VaupTs. ...................




PRESENT DAY MITU....................................

Pop"'lation.......... ... .....................
Government Employees anid Subsidies........
Pet .il Stores.............................
Hubber .......... ...........................
Agriculture............................. ...
Housing .......................................
F o o . . .. . .. . . . . ... . . . .. . .. . ... .
Transportation and Communications.............




. . . . . .
. . . . . .

Civ c Imiprovements ........................... 150
Recre ion .................................. 156


CULTcJAL A'I D RELIGIOUS CO'IFL,.ICTS .................. 171


TWO }1EPRESES:TATIVE FAIIILIES........................ 19


CONCLUSIO iS ...................................... 20?

GLOSS'Ji A OP SPAIISH TE S ......................... 216

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY.............................. 218

BIOG3RAFHICAL SKETCH ............................... 233


Table Page

1. Populaticn Data For The Vaupeas .......... 48

2. Budget For The Vaupe's Comisaria ......... 55

3. Sales In The Mitu Comisariato ........... 58

4. Retail Price Increases Between 1964 and
February, 1970.......................... -69

5. Hoi2cical Personnel and Facilities In The
Vaupes, November, 19069........ .......... 123

6. Changing Air Transportation Costs to Mitu'. 146


_ I



SouLheast Colombia.


Hitu ...............

Forest Clearing ...

Cerro de Mitu ......

Tito's Boat ........

Passing Through Raop

Large Eoat in the Rh

9. Santa arta Iapidcs.

10. The itu Ara o t


The Town of iitu.......

Generator House........

The Ca.-. ......... ......

Nitu Pl] ea .............

Colegio Jose Sustacio

Garcia's Storc .........

Tito's Oven............

Raw Rubber.............

Selling Gasoline.......

Cubco Hous.............

Raised Garden..........


ni c,.c















22. Burned Field ..............

23. Yuca .Grd.en ................

24. An" Open 1House". .............

25. Thatched House.............

26. An Indian Town House.......

27. Indian Iialoca..............

28. A House Call...............

29. Dro.g Store.................

30. Incoming Food..............

31. Townspeople at the Airport.

32. The Water Pump.............

33. Laundry Float .............

34. Basketball Game.............

35. A Canoe Race...............

36. Emergence Rock.............

37. A Protestant Service.......

38. Mitu Church ................

39. The Internadlo..............

40. The Vargas Family...........

41. The Comisario ..............

42. Samuel and His Family......

43. New House..................




















Abs-tract or Di.r:-;er ct.ion Pr.esente to the
G:-, ';-:te C'u,.ciU f the iUnivepit.y of 'lorid3
ii :- .ir' 1ial F:'...l'jllienit of tric Ieqalir,;e.,] t for tie
D -gr ee or Doctor of Ih.il.osophy



llarlan G. Ha'wkirc~

I:arch, 1972

Chairmnian: Iaymond 3. Crist
Iajo~ D-..-.rtment: Geography

The goal of this study is to describe and &-ralyze,

from a geographical point, of view., the c-clop.ent aid

potent ia.! resources of Mittu, Colombia.

The initial section is a description of the pI :.c'Al

settling of the town including climate, lan;ifor.rs, slc ,

and vegetation. This is followed by a brief historical

tr:eatnmet of the development of the area and :; ri'eic of

some of the pertinent literature dealing v with it.

The major portion of the study is a dcsco iption of

the various aspects of the tov.n. The most ir..pori.ai eco -

omic elements in the town are government salaries, the

collection of wild rubber, and agriculture. The price of

rubber has not kept pace with the inflationary increases

in the cost of trade goods and interest in rubber is

declining rapidly. Agricultural development is limiited


by the size of the local market and the high cost of

transportation to other markets. 'For these reasons the

role of government spending is becomjn:g more and more


The amount spent there by the federal government is

far in express of the amount collected locally. This

sub.si.d:ation of the local economy is justified by the

importance of Mitu" as an outpost of the Colombian govern-

ment. The capital of the comisaria was moved to iMitu

from further inland to help secure the land against any

incursions by Brazilians. The goal has been achieved, but

the flow of federal money must continue to maintain the


The lack of any land. communicatiUjon, to other parts

of Colombia has stifled much growth of the town. Even

river transportation is hazardous due to many rapids and

waterfalls. Air transportation is not difficult as several

small airlines fly in from Villavicencio almost daily,

but the higher costs of air transportation restrict the

movement of all but the very expensive products.

dhil.e there is an ample supply of land in more

accessible areas of Colombia there can be no great ex-

pansion of agriculture in the Mitu'area. Unless some

new natural resource is discovered it will remain dependent

on federal spending as its major source of income.





Even the naime of i.it.u is intriguing. (It is the

Indian L.ame of a bird). .Inon s:cni the town becomes ?.vfn

more interesting. It stretches for lmi.ost a ile along

the r.-it bank of the Vaunmis iiver in southeast Col. bi',

about 70 iiics north of the equator. After flying over

virtually unbroken reinflorcst vc station for an hour,

the to:.n mpruvidcs a w.ielcoi.e chane,; in the uceory. The

most ous-Lnding foeiture from the air is the large (3,400

foot) l'andin strip which parallels the river just cast

of to'a.

On the iprounu one is struck by the peirinnence atnd

si.ze of trn aLy Liuilicgs constructed of concrete bloc s.

Other noteworthy features were the raised watertower and

the system of street lights that .w:cre more obvious than

the streets they were intended to light. .hlt justification

could thnre be for such a town, so isolated fro:r. the rest

of Colombia that all transportation in or out :es by air?

Thus began the field work which resulted in this paper.

Previous library research had indicated that iitu

began as a trading town with forest products being col-

lected larg-ely by the Indians and exchanged in town for


rmanufacturejd ,oco:s. These products then mov ,e through i:,aaus

or, their way to worIl market.

This somiewlat circuitous trade route w.as necessitated

by the many rapids on the upper branc.he. of tne river. Be-

fore the advent of the airplane, transportation from Bogoca

to liitu was considered extremely difficult. The alternate

route do.;!n the Vaupes and the Rio .egro to Ianaus was not

easy bi.t offered less hazards than going up river.

As the trade in rubber grew, more Colombian products

were passing through Brazil and the Brazilian influence

increased. The fear of Brazilian encroachment on Colom-

bian territory led to the transfer of the capital of the

ccmisa i.a of Vaupes from Calamar to Litu. The plan

being that the government employees located there would

stren,_ti-o:n the Colombian hold on the land.

The i'orth American demand for rubber during World

War ji resulted in further growth in the town. Since the

war the rice of rubber has dropped but the Colombian

government has continued to invest far nore money in the

town than is justified on the basis of taxes collected


These government expenditures may be justified by

the role of town as "guardian of the border," or in the

expectation that in the future, additional settlers from

the more populated parts of the country will immigrate to

the lowlands in search of land. Presently, immigration

to l. t- jo ,j5 .ing on at a .mAuch .'].o;; r rate thia in the

more LC'uuSs c o'Lo.as alcng the north h'.rn border of the

cc!i ~vria. It sc li;L ely th1r.t the Iack of easy li.d

com!li) L~;:io'7s will coitinu to stifle the ccono:,ic

devel c'nn- it ,,f iitit indef'ini tely.

i i tu" cr..ntLy soers larger than it should bo, on

the b;sis of loca population. This is clue to its long

standi-! role as a trading center for a large portion of

thep rA l.hi.ost. Am'nn Basin.

The v.-:ry isolation of the town has also attracted

many scientists from throughout the world. It serves

as the jumpingg off" point for many .,ithropologisbs frol,

various counlrie,~ who are atteimting to study Indi~n

cultures ,before they have been altered too much by con-

tact wit'i h modern civilization. Numerous biologists also

use i.itu' a. a bare station for their studies of plant

C OII,,I E.I I j t i e s.

.issicnary efforts, both Protestant anl Catholic,

have long been carried on in the 1iiitu area and they

have played an innortant role in the religious and

economic development of the town and surrounding area.

The present study is an attempt to evaluate the

various aspects and elei.,ents of society in the vnhysical

setting of the Amazon easin. Litu' is not a unique town

because many towns in the tropics face similar problems.

However, its isolation coupled with its role as trading

center and government outpost do give it rather unr4ique

characterist i cs.

For many of Fiti' s problems there is no apparent,

solution. Perhaps they cannot be solved, but Lhe res--

idents are not discouraged. They anticipate better

things in the future.

It is hoped that learning of the problems of these

people ..io live, almost literally, on the edge of civili-

zaticon :.'ill be as meaningful for the reader as they were

when observed by the author. The isolation, econuriic, and

physical problems have simply become part of the enviror-

menrt i.hich must be overcome.

Ch.Ar' 'L'i II


I,:'V impact cn the Colombian Amazon has not been

greaL. His presence is indicated by the few scattered

clearinG[; that may be seen usually along water cour.~crc.

While it is possible to move about on the rivers, and

in some cases even overland, the most logical means of

traveling any distance is by air an indication that man

has not conquered the landscape. To provide a frame-

work in which the town of Nitiu may be viewed, the follow-

ing sections have been included.

All of these topics have been instrumental in directing

or influencing the growth and development of IMitu". The

ch;otei' begins with a consideration of clii.atic factor-.,

describes the physical landscape, and concludes with a

section on the Vaupes hiver itself. Throughout this study

the role o2 man, and his efforts is emphasized, but they

must be considered within the local environment.


Dr. Hegen has stated that very little detailed informa-

tion on the climate of the Amazon Basin is now: available.

lie was referring specifically to the area south of the Vaupes,


but i'( for- t ri V:~ i "L1 j o .ihe L Colo' bi a ar

certain t,y 1no battce til. l, ::inc; the: A'.,.loI proper. r Al-

thiou'"h ih c., UtaJ of Lhe co i rr ijas i.o'.'cd. to it.

in 193i, tihe'e wris little cnncert- :lt'wI th w.ther recorcts;

"officiio" rccorJs date only fro: 1946.2 (The fact tiha

the sa.c t.ble records data for Bot-oti only from ].941 nay

be an i- ication of the past. lack of concern for weather

data t!hrouj].out the ccuntry. )

leather rcco-'dinJs a're usually assumed to include

temnperaLtur'e, precii.itation., humidity, cloud cover, .,inJ

direction aid velocity, ana barometric pressure; uost data

for Amazonia, however, include only temperature and

prccipitabion rcadinGr. Por ilitu, hu.iiuity is also included,

but there is no anierioineto or barometer anrd cloud cov(.r

is not recorded.

In 1.969 the radio operator at the f':iti airport began

taking more or less systematic readings of temperature,

preccipJ.tL-tio. and humidity. his readii,; of tle ,,o:i-

recording instruments are generally made betw.:c *n the hours

of 7 A.,I. and. 2 P.ii., with a few being made as late as

9 P.M.

As would be expected from. its location, so near the

equator, there is little variation in the temperature

throughout the year. The difference between the average

temncrature of the coldest months July and August, and the

hottest month September, is only 1.1C (24.80 vs 25.90C).

The di.urnal r.nge i of course rluc great r and often

exceeds 10 C. l.ii) mu,.i temperatures of 15. 50 aind even

100C hove been reported, an d certainly may have occurred,

but they are obviou-rly nob '"average" ininimurm tcmpe'rdtuies.

Part of '.he discrepancy can be attributed to the .lack of

recording instru.nents and to reliance on visual observa-

tion dLri? n.1 a limited part of each day. Low night terper-

aturcs have been cited as one problem in introducing agri-

cu.ltur-al crops to the area. Some extremely sensitive crops

have been da&agoed.5

While the average temperature for the year is 25.30C,

the Miaximiu.J reported is much higher. Again there is quite

a variation in reported temperatures, according to the

va::.'io.u~ sourcess. ri'.ile the official data showed a maxi-

um of 360C, other sources6 reported 40 C, and one, who

traveled through the area in 1920,/ recorded a high read-

in-g of i-.3.. 3C. ,'l-hough temperatures may reach these

extreme under exceptional conditions or for short periods

of time, they do not represent the "normal" highs for the

area. The usual range of maxirumis varies generally be-

twecn 300 and 33 C uith highs of 370C not uncommon.

For a visitor to the Vaupes, probably the most striking

aspect of the temperature is the change, from day to night,

in the sensible temperature and how cool one can be when

the thermometer is still recording 23.30. To sleep comfort-

ably at least one light blanket, and sometimes two, were


rPuui r'ec.

Th'c vrv rapid changes in temperaC-ture a.o r nave r, pro-

nounced effect on physical comfort. A drop of over 20 C.

occuirred i.n oni fifteen minute period when a rat,rr strong

wind from to.e south developed. On this day even many of

the residents had donned jackets by 7 P.H.I. even though the

temperature :os still above 230. On another af ernoon

there was a I4C drop in temperature during a one hour

period of heavy rains.

Wnile the maximums were reached in the late afternoon

(2-5:30 P.i,.) the temperature at 6:30 or 7 A.Ii. was often

within a few degrees of the high for the day. The sun

rises at apl)roximately 6 A.I. each day and, with the excep-

tion of cloudy days, the "chill" of the night soon is


There is much more variation in levels of precipita-

tion than ini temperature. The average annual, rainfall 5 s

over 3,200 mm and is so well distributed over the year that

no month is truly dry, but the driest month (February)

receives less th:m one-third that of the wettest month


This rainfall regime is very important in the

economic life of the Vaupes, as the seasonal tapping of

the rubber trees is regulated by it. The rubber workers

begin their work in the fall and stop in the spring be-

fore the rainfall becomes too heavy, in iiay and June.

New fields are cut and "clcaried" d.urin. January and Februa.ry

and. after bing allowed to dry are burned in late Februay,

preferably just before the rains begin again. If there is

sufficient time for rather thorough drying, the fJields

will burn cleaner and more completely and cultivation will

be much easier.

In general terms, the wetter season extends from i'i:rh

through November while the drier season is from December

through February. During the dry season river travel often

becomes both difficult and dangerous as rapids appear in

parts of the rivers which were previously calm and smooth.

As Dr. Hegen found in his study, it is apparent that

the afternoon convectional rain which has often been con-

sidered representative of tropic regions is not as conmmoni

or as prevalent as it was thought to be. Based on obser-

vations made during November, February and Earch, (with-

out the aid of instrumentation) rain occurs during all

times of the day or night and some of the heavier rains

and thunderstorms developed late at night.

The heavy rains have a very important effect on the

soils in areas where the natural vegetation has been dis-

turbed. Run-off is very rapid and erosion and compac-

tion occur. Within five minutes of the start of heavy

rains the river was turned to a muddy-brown along the

bank and after a few more minutes this band of muddy water

*often extended fifty or one hundred yards out into the

river. Never during the time of the field work was the

entivure river filled with sal ,t c. but it U ; c'I iLou.,

that heavy rains dr r,-.iove much of the. Lo'~ ol aind. .: t

care must be taken in clearing fo.'c-tcd l ild ad 1.pre-

paring it for planting to reduce e:osion. C pletc]y

cleared land without cover cannot be left ex~osud to the

heavy rain:;.

Rainfall is extremely heavy at ties. 'Thei lack of

recording instruments precludes precise a~ta b;it Dr.

Goldman reported seeing a dugout canoe i;.m.ejiately s iamp-

ed when a rain storm passed over it. The Indian- occupant,

who was attempting to reach the shore before the storm hit,

had to swim the rest of the way; only later did he re-

cover his boat.10 Even without rain gauges oi'e is i:i..ied-

iately aware of the intensity of such precipitation.

Humidity levels during each twenty-four hour day

gei.erally exceed 960, with the maximum being record(l

early in the morning. Often in the early morning a mist

hangs over the VaupJs which is very siim.ilar to river fog;;

of the mid latitudes. This is quickly burnce off by the

rising sun and the heat of the day arrives early. uI:ii,-

ity also drops quickly and is not generally op],reosive.

Conditions are certainly not severe enough to curtail

physical activity for the residents and both work and

recreation were carried on throughout the day without re-

gard for heat or humidity. Football (soccer) practices

were at 5:30 or 6:00 A.II. but this was more an accommodation

to work schedules than an attempt to av' oid l-::.-t; g.:Jfri::' ,cr:

played in the afternoon.

As stated previously, thce i" no amic o'.i;a in the

Vaupes and no records of winds are kept. During ti-,o period

of the field work for this paper, there were several storms

with rather h]gh winds; but they, like most weather phenom-

enon there, seem to have little direct influence on the

lives of the residents. On one occasion it was inlpossible

for a plane to land because of the wet landing strip and

another time a plane was delayed because of the lowv ccil-

ling, but in general the people have learned to cope with

the elements and accept the changes which they bring. Dur-

ing an extremely long or hard rainstorm, one might see boat

passengers using a banana leaf as an umbrella but even this

was rather rare.

The Indians who were native to the VaupeC know no

other conditions and the blanco moving in accept t r:

vagaries of the weather not with stoicism, but with che,.r-



1Mitu is located on the Vaupes River in the southeast

part of Colombia. Virtually all of the comisaria of Vaupos

lies within the Greater Amazon Basin. It is a region of

relatively low relief with most of the small variations

in elevation,which do occur,obscured by dense rainforest

vegetation. The only breaks in the somewhat monotonous

landscape are provided by isolated sandstone hills,

.L ,;

Fig. 2--Mitu. The town of Mitu along the right
bank of the Vaupes River.

Fig. 3--Mitu'.
buildings and
larger town.

Mitu from across the river. The
water tower give the appearance of a

which will b3 discussed later,

Geologically this region is not well knor:bul t reconn ais-
1 1
sance studies have been made by Van Dor lia-men (0192)?
and by Thcer and Tayler (1960). Their reports form the

basis for most of this section on landforTs.

Between the Guaviare River and bhe Caquoba is located

a slightly higher land mass, known as the Vauplis S,'ell,

which separacs the drainage of the Ileta River to the north

from that of the Putamayo to the south.

Because of the complete lack of evidence of folding,

it appears that the entire region was uplifted in the

east creating a dip to the west.1

The sedimentary deposits formed sandstones and con-

glomerates, with the sandstones frequently displaying

stratification. From these it was determined that the

prevalent direction of the rivers depositing them was to-

ward the northwest, indicating that during the period of

deposition, the Andean syncline was receiving materials

from the area of the Guianas. 1

Along the Apaporis (south of .1itu) are some small

hills 150- 200 feet high composed of eroded material from

the ancient sandstones. Because of their homogeneity, it

is difficult to determine the direction of their origin,

but in some places it is clearly from the east.15 iiuch

of this westward erosion took place during the Tertiary

period when there were apparently two separate instances

of uiplift il C, east.1

l.'ith the r'isc of tlhe Ald cs duringg thle y -n' .nalr the

rivers reversed Lhcr.msclves nd b ,an flo :ir; toward the

Atlantic. As they cut t1hci ; wuay Unrou.rh the canAitons,

many ra-nr'.d and falls ucre creaLetL. It is thuse geologically

"recent" remnants caused by differential crosinv which

cause the disruption of water transportation today.

hoscr describes the formation similarly:

It is probable that the Vaup:s Swell
formed a rising lard r.ass from iiid-
Cretaceous until early i rtia.'.j time,
but s.ink during the Olicocene ihen
marine influences were felt. 3y the
ILiocene, the sea had retreated and shall
freshwater basins, resulted from i.inror
undulations uhic'-: preceded a fiiiai up-
lift of the Swell at the end of tio
Tertiary. The 'iraparan 4 ar Apaporis
pass. over the fcutlern flanVk c' the
Swell, the b:sc of which consists of
procanbria- i gneous rocis.
Overlying the igneous basement is the
basal conglomerate of t! c Lindosa Forr.a-
tion and the unconformable contact is
cl. ,'ly :in : '. C-' ;1- v '- r 0: the
Apaporis. 'ni fornr.iutioi, wiose roba-
ble equivalent in Guiana, the Rorai.ia,
has a total thicviness of some 2400 ietres.
nou!here exceec"- 300-4'00 metres in the
area of the Vaune's, and this supports
the theory that the S.;cll formed a
rising shelf during the time of :ia.ir
d(nosition. No fossils have been found
in the Lindosa, and estimates of its age
have ranged from Paleozoic to Creta-
ceous. However, recent potassium-ar'Ron
and rubidium-strortium a, e measurements
on doleri tes which intrude the 1orri':ia
Formation in british Guiana show that
the Roraimia iust be at least 2,085 nil-
lion years old and therefore pre-Cambrian. 17

This interpretation is supported by writings of an

earlier seologic party in which it is theorized that

Idrainage from the Amazon Basin was to thi.:? o-':ific Ocean

prior bo the uplift of the Andes. As th, AFdi:s uc\:re forced

higher, the r.asin became an inland sea until the combinar.jon

of the rising mountains and basin filling forced rivers to

flow east thereby forming the present drainage pattern.18

Hamilton Rice also believed that the Amazon Basin was up-

lifted following previous volcanic action.19 i 'oser's map

of the ilitif area indicates a "Basement Complex" composed of

Pre-Ca_%brian igneous and metamorphic rocks.20

This is overlain with rather thin deposits of clays,

sands, and gravels laid down during the Quaternary period;

the cycle of erosion still continues. Deposits of clay

are being laid down on the inside of the rivers' meanders

while erosion of the older formations continues on the

outer margins.

As mentioned above, the only variations apparent in

the rather flat topography of the Vaupes are provided by

the isolated "islands" that have resisted the erosion

which lowered the land surrounding them. Because of the

general low relief, these mountains (the commonly used

name, in spite of their low elevation) have become impor-

tant landmarks and reference points for both Indians and

whites.21 They extend across this portion of the Amazon

Basin in a broad arc with a general northeast-southwest

trend. They are not high, usually rising some 600-900

feet above the rest of the land.22

Fig. 4--Forest Clearing. From the air both old and
new clearings are very obvious.

Fig. 5--Cerro de Mitu. The isolated hill south
of Mitu stands out on the horizon.

T ::.. ntain. th :: '. -. i' r! oj" t 10 cc:. :- ,'":

are l,'.r.', ffat, -l ik .tto.lon, or' t,'-ts i E. sad-

stoine rock, forinmid u ic,_r water and. i;hei urpift-ld. In the

eastern part of thl Va pisj, tno m.oun:.aLK.Js -.- ar tD ue of a

different orin in. They are srIa.cl er, conc--hiapcd rather

than flat, and are conmposed of a very hard ~an:iite of the

Cambrjn in periocd.23 The condstone mountains of the west

are usually covered with ratiihr dense, stunted, xerophytic

vegetation while on the igneous ones of t'no cast the only
vegetation is in the crevices wlhore nioisturc collect.

After their investigations on the Apaporis, i..oser

and Tayler speculated that these mountains "imay :.well be

horsts, the result of vertical block faulting at the ena. of
the Tertiary." Ho.iever, the consenvscs of scientific

opinion is that they arc the crosio1rl rerm:;:ncts of a vast

ran.g that has been peniepla5,ed, w.ho.,e dark;, mist-shrouded

fo r n Lre a n:.(ort of tL,- o..al fo9 1 :lo~- 3s L-cill as the

social and religious 1. ends of the Indian population.

The distinctijve plant communities they support are the

delijit of botanists.

The channing landforms ancd the varying drainage

patterns they produced have been instrumental in develop-

ing the soils and vegetative communities there. Their most

important work has been in the alteration of lines of drain-

age and the disruption of river transportation.

Sjo Is

'hi-c so.i.l. of Le Hiiiu area are very .;imnilar to those

of the entire Amazon Basin. They are formed from alluvium

Ltoan;sported primarily from the Andes. HIaving been subjected

to thi: heavy rains and the high temperatures of an clua-

torial location, they exhibit most of the characteristics

typical. of latosols. (Oxisols in the recent 7th Approxi-
mnatici Srcries. ) They are not inherently fertile soils

but in their "undisturbed state" do support a rather im-

pressive growth of native vegetation. As Bates has said,

the problems encountered with tropical soils are not due

either to the soils themselves or the climatic regime, but

to the systems of use which have been imposed on the;.27

In the immediate area of ]itu', the Vaum.,s River is

fl.oving bet-i.een natural levees high enough to contain it

excerpt in times of extremely high water. (There are no

reports of flooding or cuulse changes during this century.)

Consequently the soils are not being renewed and plants

arec dcendent on the nutrients in the vegetative cycle

plus what can be derived from the granitic rocks which in

some places are near the surface and are being subjected to

the soil building processes.28

For the comisaria as a whole, the soils of the western

portion are somewhat better drained, sandy laterites while

those in the east are more impermeable with a greater per-

centage of clays.29

The evaluation of the soil's pote:tia]. v'l.us o O;-

wha b :stb' innve.ti ators havc not b ;! c-ti .1'ias!tic4

about tncir future as the basis of coinmecrcial a .riculb'ure..30

Scientists who ,have exa'i.ind the :;oils of' this 'trin

colncluidd that thy were suiltable for grazin- operations

Lut not for intensive agriculture. An i'ncrican geologist

has ; ble.n quoted as saying that "clearing ti.e vegetation

and working the land with a tractor and p3ou would pro-Cuce

only a desert, a brick baked in the sun. 1 Under

cultivation the good structure of the Amazonian soils tei.d

to break down completely, possibly due to the small. per-

centage of alkalis and alTaline earths.32

The fc'. isolated scientific studies of the soil

properties indicate that it is extremely acidic and lre:k,

humus due to the very rapid decomposition of falling

vegetativc materials.

Go;l e Vi J.l1m zr, present Cominsrio of '.u,-is,

has cited one study of soils along the hio Guaviaro in tne

San Josd area which found the soils there entirely suit-

able for agriculture. Among the suggested crops were corn,

supar' cane, rice, cotton, coffee and cacao.

He also mentions that some settlers along the old

road from San Jose to Calamar are successful in their

agricultural efforts but lack markets to stimulate pro-

duction. 3

The only "scientific" survey of the soils and agri--

cultura resources of the entire Vaupes was carried out by

Jelisemirbiar Galincdo, an agronomical engineer, who traversed

the cojminar:ripa in 1935. The result of his work was an

extremely detailed (considering the scale of 1:1,000,000)

map with symbols used to indicate land. uses.35 At that

time, the only "commercial" activity was collecting from

native trees and thus the value of the map for the evaluation

of agriculture is virtually negated. The map does serve

however,as a means of locating where the Indian and w lite

settlements were at a time when little was known of

Amazeon ia.

Overall the soils are poor,derived from clays, sands,

conglomerates, and rocks of igneous origin. The minerals

having been leached out by the abundant tropical rains

have left soils, where there are any at all, of a highly

acidic nature. Only a few restricted areas of recent

alluvium, suitable for the cultivation of modern commercial

crops, have been found along the main streams.

Man has from the beginning of his incumbency in this

area practiced an economy based on gathering, hunting, and

fishing. The arrival of the Spanish and Portuguese merely

meant continued emphasis on gathering those forest pro-

ducts valuable enough to reach the world market. A dis-

cussion of man against this historical and physical back-

ground will be made in the chapters to follow.

Tn': vc[;tativ\ e patterns of the Vaupcs :ie very

simil,, to those of iiost of the Ai.azoiin a.in; the out-

st.andtin cnar.cteristic is the great variety of :p 'cies.

In 1.85'; .ob-rt Spruce cstiiated thut some 50,000 to 80,000

specie- of pl:-nts were yet to be discovcreo, and ci.cr'ifiec

in the Amazon forests. This estiimate wid based o:i t'e

fact that`. as he traveled one dcgrL.e of latitude or longi-

tudce approximately one-half of the speci s i:ere new. -

AltLou ;ii plant discovery and idlntific:.tionL has becr' a

o;owerfil lure in bringing men to the Amazon, their w-orn:

is far f-rom complete. Of the approximately 15,000 Colo: -

bian spncimen.; on file in the herbariuw of the Institute

do. Cicia ;: tur in ot, only 8,820 1,ad been ident-

ifiec. and classified.37 The most prolific contributor

to this collection has been Rich:ard E. Schultos (Harvard

Univer.:ity Lotanical .vuc.OuT) with 3,700, ou. reviral oth.rs

have collected more than a hundred.38

Lany of these plants are valuable for their wood or

for scientific processing to provide drugs, insecticides,

or chemicals but their value is lessened by the great mixing

of species which often prevents economic harvesting.

The Indians have the best knowledge of the resources

of the forests. When a missionary needed a ridgepole for

his house, an Indian took him by canoe to a place where

the desired type tree was growing. 'When it was decided

that this tree was too small, the Indian got back in the

canoe, paddled a mile, and then lead the missionary to a

larger tree of the same variety.

Because land transportation is so difficult, the

only trees that can be cut for processing into lumber

are those growing very near the rivers or caeios. In the

past enough of these trees were taken to warrant a small

sawmill in Mitu operated by the comisaria as well as an-

other at the internado run by the Catholic missionaries.

The sawmill in Miti had been out of operation for several

years due to mechanical problems with the engine powering

it but in the Spring of 1970 the entire mill was being

renovated with the aim of reopening it. Logs for both

mills are floated down river and the sawn lumber is then

transported by boat to building sites.

In the Lower Vaupes the natural vegetation is rather

dense with several stories. The larger trees are 90 feet

or more in height but often only three or four per acre,

with intervening space being filled by smaller trees with

very few vacant areas.39 In the immediate vicinity of

Mitu most of this original vegetative cover has been re-

placed by rastrojo_ after clearing and farming, but an

occasional "giant" is seen to illustrate what was once the

dominant plant cover.

Among the economically valuable plants are varieties

of Coumarouna, a source of perfume used in the soap and

tobacco industries, Phvtelehas macrocarrj a a source of

vegetable ivory, Anibt r~isrodara, from which rosewood oil

is extracted, and many palms which yield oils, w:ixel ;nd

fibers. From the roots of various species of' Louchca:'rnu.p,

rotenone is extracted and used as a poison for mn!y cold

blooded animals and insects.

The 3ndians make very good use of the available plant

resources. Besides their utilization as food, building

materials, transportation (as dugout canoes), and in making

baskets, many are valued for their chemical nroporties. Some

hallucinogens are used in religious ceremonies, while other

plants supply them with fish poisons, poisons for hunting

arrows, contraceptive drugs, and even aphrodisiacs.

MIany of these plants are now being analyzed and

tested by chemists in other countries to determine pos-

sible applications of their properties in modern societies.

Any consideration of plant resources .iust also take note

of the many species of Hevea which were responsible for

the initial development of the Vaupes. l.ore wi. 1 be

written on this in a later section dtiling wi i r1ober


-The one characteristic in which the Vaupe's varies

from most regions of tropic rainforest is the "highlands"

around the headwaters of rivers, notably the Cuduiari and

the Cubiyu. This area, known as Yapoboda, is a stony up-

land with sandstone outcrops. .While levels of rainfall

are high during most of the year, due to soil conditions

and rapid run-off, the vegetation is xerophytic .*:it.h palms
predominant. One native plant of this area which deserves

mention ic a very primitive, xerophytic form of a rubber

tree (Hevea nitida, variety toxicodendroides) which was

probably an early part of the evolutionary chain in the

development of modern, productive heveas which are now
found in the wet lowlands.

The vegetative cover is the most prominent feature of

the landscape, the object of much of the economic activity

and the greatest resource of the Vaupe's. It remains for

modern man to determine the best and most complete use

of this resource, and progress is being made.

Role of The Rio Vaupes

Although the means and problems of transportation

will be considered in some detail in a later section of

this paper, it seems appropriate to make some mention at

this time of the vital role played by Rio Vaupes in the

life of this area.

Due to the combination of landforms, vegetation,

and river drainage patterns, land travel is virtually

impossible through much of the area. There is an inter-

mittent road of sorts as far as the old capital of Calamar,

on the Rio Unilla, and it is or was possible to con-

tinue overland as far as Miraflores. From this point on

all travel is by water on down the Vaupes. The only other

Fig. 6--Tito's Eoat. Boats not in use scon sir.:,
often requiring hours of baling before -tey are

Fig. 7--Passing though Rapids. Even a small dugout
must be "walked through" the rapids at the in-T:r.ao
when the river is low.

road in the eastern Vaupes is a portion of the road which

was to have connected Mitu with the mission village of

Hlontfort o. t'le Rio Papuri. About sixteen Kii of this road

was built during the regime of Hojas Pinilla and it is

sometimes referred to as "Rojas Road".

By far the most common form of travel in the comisaria

is by water, primarily on the Vaupes or its tributaries.

The only significant land travel which does occur is over

the ancient Indian trails which connect the various river

drainage areas. As soon as the next river is reached.

travel continues by water.

It was the large numbers of Indians living along the

river which led to the establishment of the first mission

station on the Vaupes at Cararu in 1852. 2 During the 1880's
a mission was set up at Mitu. The Indian cultural and

"economic" life was closely tied to river transportation

then and remains so today.

The stimulus for the present development came with the

rubber and balata "boom" of the early twentieth century and

the movement of commerce downriver to Hanaus. At the same

time, of course, trade goods moved upriver from Manaus

in exchange for these forest products.

During World War II, the United States Rubber Develop-

ment Corporation came in and exported badly needed rubber

to the United States by way of Bogota. The river, plus

the concentration of potential Indian labor,was a major

factor in the selection of IIitu as a collection point.

Catalina flying coats wcre landed on a road, relati .'ely

straight section of the river and the rubber was then

flo.n out to Eogot'. Indeed until the early 1960's,

when the landing strip was enlarged, Avianca (tHe major

Colombian Airline) continued to send Catalinas on this

route and used the river as a strip.

The dominance of the river and its tributaries over

travel and housing is indicated by the fact that the

survey team completing the latest (1964) census of the

comisaria relied almost solely on water transportation with

only an occasional overland trip to a settlement not on
the river.

Perhaps even more indicative of the importance of the

river is that it is used in spite of all the difficulties

of water travel. The number of dangerous rapids and water

falls which must be portaged varies with the season, but

at no time is the river completely safe for travel. Dur-

ing all seasons it is necessary to unload boats to pass

them safely up or down the rapids. With the rapid run-off

which occurs, the conditions change almost daily.

At Santa Marta rapids on the Cuduiarl on one occasion

it was necessary to "walk the dug out through". Two days

later, after a rain, the boat passed easily over the area

without trouble, but only two days later the water again

dropped to the level that passage was impossible without

Fig. 8--Large Boat in the Rapids. Tito's large
boat is pulled through the rapids at Santa Marta
after removing the outboard motor.

Fig. 9--Santa Marta Rapids. The rapids disappeared a
few days later when the river rose and it was possible
to pass easily over the same area of the Cuduiari



unload,'i;g. If there ':.s any easy or lo;.ical alternative

to such problems neither Indian or blarco would put up

with such inconveniences. The rivers are the best, and

virtually thc only, i.icans of travel.


1 E. E. Hegen, "Some Notes on Tropical Rainfall:
Observations of Showers In The Upper Amazon Basin." (A
paper presented to the Southeast Association of American
Geographers at Greenville, N. C., Nov. 1968), p. 1.

2 Cuadro de Temperaturas y Precipitacion riensual
de Algunas AeroOuertos de Colombia. (Table available
from Raimundo Tirado at 'iitu Airport).

3 Gordon lacCreagh, W.hite Waters and Black (New
York: Grosset and Dunlap, 192)T, p. 377.

4 Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff, Desana (Bogota: Uni-
versidad de Los Andes, 1968), p. 3.

5 G. Ciro A. Camacho, "La Comisaria Del Vaupes,"
Boletin De La Sociedad Ceoprafico De Colombia, 15, Numero
54 and 55 2-3 trnestres (1957), P. 143.

6 Ibid.

7 IlacCreagh, op. cit.

8 Brian Noser and D. Tayler, "Tribes of The
Piraparana," Geogranhical Journal, 129 (1963), p. 440.

9 Hegen, op. cit.

10 Irving Goldman, Interview in iIitu', Nov. 1969.

11 Th. van der Hammen, Informe Preliminar Geologia
Del Rio Acaporis Entre Sorotama y Cachivera La Playa.
(Bogota: Hepublica De Colombia, iinisterio De .jinas y
Petroleos, Servicio Geologico Nacional, 1952).

12 Brian Hloser and D. Tayler, "Tribes of The Pira-
parana," Geographical Journal, 129 (1963), p. 40.

13 van der Hammen, op. cit., p. 2.

14 Ibid., p. 3.

15 Ibid., p. 4.

16 Ibid., p. 6.

17 MIoser and Tayler, T). cit., D. 440.

18 C. F. .iarbut and C. B. Manifold, "The Topogr'aphy
of The Amazon Valley," GeIoranhical Levicw., 15 (1925),
p. 618.

19 Eamilton hice, "The hiver Uaupes," Geographical
Journal, 35 (1910), p. 689.

20 IMoser and Tayler, on. cit., accompanying map.

21 Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff, "Rock Paintings of the
Vaupds: An iEssay of Interpretation," Folklore Anrericas.~
27 (1967), p. 108.

22 Paul H. Allen, "The Rubber Country of Colombia,"
Missouri Botanical Garden Bulletin, 32 (1944), p. 50.

23 Richard E. Schultes, "El Cauchero Abanderado
del Vaupes," Revista Nacional de Agricultura, 1o. 564 (1952),
p. 2.

24 Ibid.

25 iIoser and Tayler, op. cit., p. 441.

26 Glenn T. Trewartha, et. al., Fiundamenctals of
Physical Geograahy, 2nd edition (iew York: i.cGraw-Hiill,
1968), p. 33.

27 Earston Bates, WJhere Winter Never Comes (New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1952), p. 247.

28 Richard E. Schultes, op. cit.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid.; Marcos Fulop, "El Cauchero en el Vaupes,"
Revista Colo:.biana de Folklore (Bogota: Instituto Colombiano
de PAntropologia, 1953), p. 246; Richard E. Schultes, "Esper-
anza Agronomica Para La Amazonia Colombiana, Suplemento
A5ronoriico de Arricultura Tronical, (Bogota: 194b), p. 5;
"Recursos 1:aturales" Doc 01fO, ..emoria ael Primer Conrreso
de Torritorios '!acionales (Bogota, 9y66), p. 2; C. I,. barbut
and C. B. manifold, "The Soils of the Amazon Basin in Rela-
tion to Agricultural Possibilities," Geographical Review,
16 (1926), p. 441..

31 "Recursos Naturales", Doc ;/10, Heemoria del Primer
Congreso de Territorios Nacionales (Bogota, Y ,. .

32 Marbut and iManifold, or~. ci.

33 "Recursos Naturales," 0p_ cit., p. 2.

341- Hernando Gonzalez-Villamizar, "Colonizacion de
Vaupes," Doc ;23, Memoria del Prnimer Congreso (Bogot, 1966),
p. 3.

35 Jelisembiar Galindo, "Grafico Agricola de la
Comisaria del Vaup6s," (1935) Scale 1:1,000,000. A Thermo-
fax copy courtesy of Dr. Irving Goldman, Dept. of Anthro-
pology, Sarah Lawrence College, N. Y.

36 G. W. Prescott, "Amazonia Hinterland: Biologists'
Nirvana," Ward's Bulletin, 9 (1969), p. 1.

37 Alvaro Fernandez-Perez, Memoria del Primer Con-
greso (Bogota, 1966), p. 3.

38 Ibid.

39 Paul H. Allen, "Indians of Southeastern Colombia,"
Geographical Review, 37 (1947), p. 567.

40 Paul H. Allen, "The Rubber Country of Colombia,"
op. cit., p. 54.
41 Richard E. Schultes, "El Cauchero Abanderado,"
op. cit., p. 6.

42 Irving Goldman, The Cubeo Indians of the North-
west Amazon, Illinois Studies in Anthropology No. 2 (Urbana:
University of Illinois Press, 1963), p. 15.

43 Goldmnan, op. cit., p. 16.

44 Michael J. Lambert, Alonrf the Pira-Parana, Manuscript
written under Student Project for Amity Among Nations (SPAN)
University of Miinnesota, 1964



It is impossible to write a geographical study of

this type without including pertinent historical infor-

mation in each of the individual sections. It is

appropriate however to include in this brief segment some

of the more important events from the past and mention

some of tne literature which pertains either to the

Vaupes itself or to the whole of the Amazon Basin but

with application in the Vaupes.

Only a few years after the discovery of the New World,

the Spanish had completed cursory explorations of much of

the immense land area. Their primary interest in these

exolorationr was the discovery of sources of wealth, with

a secondary goal being the christianizing of the Indians.

Whether these journeys were inspired by earthly or heavenly

motivations, the result was that during the sixteenth

century, towns were founded and attempts were made to

assess the material and human resources of both North and

South America.

The first European visitors to Amazonia were those who

traveled with Orellana on his voyage down the Amazon from

the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean in 1541. Included in his

party was Friar Gaspar de Carvajal who later published his

account of the trip.

Following this group in 1559 was another Catholic

Priest, Raphael Ferrer, who traveled on the Caqueta and

Apaporis Rivers. His principal interest was in locating

possible converts to Christianity but he also observed

the vegetative cover and reported seeing wild cacao,

manioc, and several wax and oil palms.1

The first man known to have entered the Vaupes region

was also a priest. In 1570, Padre Figueroa traveled

from the Amazon up the Ri'o Negro and explored part of

the courses of both the Vaupes and the Papuri. Despite

these early excursions into Amazonia, no permanent settle-

ments were made in the area which was later to become a

part of Colombia.

The discovery of the Casiquiare Canal in 1750

stimulated. settlement interest. The increased trade made

possible by this water route connecting the Orinoco and

Amazon drainage basins led to Portuguese fears of Spanish

intrusion into Brazilian territory. The town of Sao

Gabriel (Uaupes) was founded near the junction of the Vaupes

and Rio Negro to reaffirm Brazilian authority.3 During

the same period the Jesuits of San Ignacio de Loyola began

establishing missions and drawing the Indians to them

to learn of Christianity and agriculture. The Jesuits

achieved considerable success in both areas of endeavor

before being expelled in 1765. C

It was not until the middle of tne nineteenth

century that further serious efforts were made to ex-

plore or colonize this section of Amazonia. In 1852

a Carmelite, Padre Gregorio, set up a mission at Carar'

which was rather successful in attracting Indians tc it,

but it was closed in 1881.5 Also in 1852 the botani:.,t

Richard Spruce came up the hBo Negro and attempted to

ascend the Rio Vaupes. He was able to get only as far as

the falls at Yavarate before the problem of negotiating

the rapids and falls during low water stalled him.6 Dur-

ing the same year (1852), Alfred R. Wallace was studying

the vegetation of the Amazon. He had better luck or

rather arrived at a more propitious time, and was able

to reach the mouth of the Cuduiari on the Vaupes. At this

point there was an Indian village (iLucura) where he

stayed for some time. This location is approxi..-ately

three miles downriver from the present site of Mitt'. The

isolation of this place was such that he was moved to

write that he was in an area "where no European had


Outside interest in Amazonia increased with the de-

mand for rubber which arose in the early twentieth century,

but there had been little contact with Europeans by
8 9
1909- 10 when both W hiiffen and Rice made trips through

on the Vaupes. The latter had traveled overland part way

SCALE 1:1,500,000


from 3Bcgot2 arid noted that San Martin, on the ILl.'nos, was

the onJ of 1cvc0rnment.

hice traveled rather extensively on the Unilla and

Itilla rivers which merge below Cala -ar to form the Vaap~os

proper. Wish numerous side trips up tributaries, he

then proceeded down the main river to its junction with

the hio iegro and exited by way of Manaus. In the course

of his report he mentioned the death of four Colombian

rubber gatherers at the hands of the Indians in 1904.11

He also alluded to earlier slaving raids by the Portu-

guese from the Rio Negro as having been instrumental

in fostering attitudes of distrust or belligerence to-

ward visiting Europeans.

During this same period (1904), Dr. Theodor Koch-

Grunberg began his ethnographic studies in this area. He

continued intermittent field work in rorthwest Amazonia

until his death there in 1924.

Increasing interest in this part of Amazonia lead to

the creation of the Vaupes corisaria in 1910 when it was

separated from the old national territory of Caqueta.

Eder reported that in 1913 there were 400 rubber

gatherers working in the Calainar area. They collected

primarily caucho ner-ro by cutting down the tree and

draining the entire trunk.13 Although the interest in

Amazonian rubber was lessening at this time, the influx

of outsiders was a stimulating factor in the establishment

of Catholic mission stations in the area.

The first permanent mission was on the Papuri river

by a Dutch order, the iontfortianos, They came up the

Amazon and Rio Negro to reach the site of present day

Montfort in 1914. In 1916 a temporary mission was set

up at Urania, where the Cuduiari joins the Vaupes. The

higher land was considered much healthier than the

surrounding area, but when attempts to purchase the house

and land there were unsuccessful the mission was moved upt

the Cuduiari river to Santa Maria.

According to some of the older Indians, when the

waite rubber collectors began to enter the Vaupes, there

were three major villages, one at Urania, one on the left

bank of the river opposite present day Mitu~, and the third

up river a short distance where the internrado is now

located. They say there were more people in these three

villages than are now left in the entire area. Census data

does not appear to bear out this statement but the rela-

tively dense population at Urania and along the lower

Cuduiari was certainly a factor in the location of this

first mission.

Explorations continued during the 1920's even though

there was less interest in rubber. iany of these expeditions

were better equipped and more scientifically oriented than

those who came before only "to look." Rice returned with

a mapping and medical survey team.15 Newcomers included

F. O. Martin, an employee of the Union Oil Co. w.,ho covered

the north:cst edge of the selva while aSscss.ing the potdn-

tial for petroleum deposits. C. F. Marbut and C. B. hanifola

also attempted to describe and explain the topography of

the Amazon Basin as well as to study the soils there and

evaluate their use for various types of agriculture.1'

In 1927, the Hontfortianos also established a small

mission station at iitu. Several more blancos were attracted

to the area at this time as a result of a small :i'at.h_

Boom." Balata is a substance resembling rubber which was

obtained by tapping trees. Its main use was as a belt

dressing i. e.: to keep heavy belts powering machinery

from slipping.

During the 1930's rapid changes occurred in the Vaupes.

The most important of these was the movement of the

capital from Calamnar to Miitu. The move was prompted by

a desire to maintain a stronger hold on the border area

to forestall any Brazilian expansion, and this goal was


The influx of administrative workers and the police

force extended federal authority, and the introduction of

better communications, with monthly flights, also promoted

the growth of the town. However the move was not a com-

plete success for as Dr. Crist has written, ". .. although

planes speedily cover distance, they do not achieve spatial

spread."18 The move was criticized by a local official

who wrote, ". they believed it was better to leave the

capitals near the borders of the country, a sin of ignor-

ance. The location of the capitals near the borders left

them unarmed and forsaken, without means of communication

other thon the airplane and began the backwardness that

they denounce today. It is impossible to bring in all the

necessary elements of a higher civilization using only

airplanes." 19

In 1939,Irving Goldman, an anthropologist, arrived

and spent several months living among the Cubeo indians

on the Cuduiari River. His work is the most complete

and detailed description of Indian life which has been

published.20 The bulk of it is anthropological but there

is also a great deal of information valuable to a geographer

or anyone else interested in living in the Vaupes or in

assessing the economic potential there. By this time

there was also an Indian school in Mitul and efforts to

incorporate the Indians into the cultural mainstream of

the nation were beginning in earnest.

The arrival of people, ideas, and money during

World War II brought about a second revolution in liiti~.

The Rubber Development Corporation (RDC) financed rapid

expansion in the rubber industry and also brought in the

first outboard motors which have so completely changed

transportation patterns. Indians, whose way of life had

scarcely been effcctcd by three hundred years of inter-

mittent contact with Lhe outside world, were in a fev:

iiorths enmeshed in efforts to earn money for all kinds of

manufactured products. The volume of trade goods brought

in was greater than had ever been seen before and improved

transportation brought in many more people to promote

rubber collecting and hire the Indians.

The BDC also brought in many American scientists to

determine what the potential supply of rubber was, and

also to suggest more efficient means of collecting and

processing it. As scientists, they were trained observers,

not only of vegetation but of the entire way of life. Two

of these men Richard E. Schultes and Paul H. Allen -

have continued to study and report on this area since

their initial contact with it during the war time search

for rubber. The published reports of their findings have

added immeasurably to the knowledge of the northi:ese-

During this period of development, the Catholic

church continued its missionary activity. Decreto No. 91V.

of 1946 was issued which gave broad powers to the Church.

The I onsefior was given authority to sentence persons to

labor on public works for offenses of drutnkencss, fighting,

or "acts against the public morality."22

Toward the end of this decade, the order of Iiont-

fortianos was replaced by a Colombian order the Javerianos -

who began more intensive efforts to nationalize the Indians

and make them "Colombians" as well as Indians. Intruc-

tion was given in Spanish and some aspects of the Indian

culture were discouraged.23

Protestant missionaries also began proseletyzing at

this time and their efforts have continued with increas-

ing success. A large number of the Indians are professing

and practicing Protestants and any evaluation of cultural

or economic changes must consider this element.

The greatest changes to occur since 1950 have been:

the building of a large Catholic church and enlarging the

boarding school (internado) for Indian students, the con-

struction of a new government building, and the imiprovcnent

of aerial communications.

The Vaupes was greatly reduced in size in 1963 when

the northeastern oart of the comisaria was removed to form

Guainia. The separation was authorized by Law #18, 1963

but the split did not really occur until December 1964..

In view of the transportation difficulties the division

is probably justified. Development of the Vaupcs will

not be hindered by the split and Guainia will receive much

more attention as a separate comisaria than it would as

an isolated part of the Vaupes.

Many anthropologists have come to study the Indian

cultures. Several of these studies were still incomplete

in 1970 but Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff has been working in

the Vaupes since the early 1950'1 anatd nas written i.:any

anthroological articles as well as a part of th3 O'Leary

bibliography dealing with the Vaup s.24

Irving Goldman also returned in 1970 to do a follow-

up study and revision of his earlier work on the Cubeo


Over the past centuries, and especially in tne years

following the work of Hamilton Rice, much has been written

on the Vaupes and Northwest Amazonia. i;ost of these works

have been rather narrow in their scope and this present

paper is an attempt to view the many facets of L'.an operating

in an Amazonian environment and to evaluate his successes

and failures. The optimum means of utilizing the large

land area of the Amazon Basin have not yet been determined.

Some of the problems that have evolved with various aspects

of human incumbency in that area will be discussed and

some suggestions as to possible future development will be



1 Jesus Martinez Delgado, Razas Perdidas (Bogota,
1969), p. 132.

2 Ibid., p. 133.

3 P. van Erst, "Indians and Missionaries On the Bio
Tiquie, Brazil-Colombia, International Archives of Ethno-
graphy, 50 (1966), p. 169.

4 G. Ciro A. Camacho, "La Comisaria del Vaupes,"
Boletin de La Sociedad Geografico do Colombia, 15, INumero
54-55 (1957), P. 144.

5 Irving Goldman, The Cubeo, Indians of Northwest
Amazon, Illinois Studies in Anthropology, No. 2 (Urbana,
1963), p. 16.

6 Richard Spruce, Notes of a Botanist On the Amazon
and Andes. (London: Macmillan and Co., 1908), p. 328.

7 Alfred B. Wallace, Travels on the AmNazon and Hio
Nerro. (London: 1889; reprinted, New York: Haskel rouse
Publishers, 1969), p. 248.

8 Thomas Whiffen, The Northwest Amazons (New York:
Duffield and Co., 1915).

9 Hamilton A. Rice, "The River Uaupes," The Geogra~h-
ical Journal, 35 (1910), 682-700.

10 Ibid., p. 683.

11 Ibid., p. 692.

12 Hemoria del Primer Congreso, Doc. #24 (Bogota, 1966),
p. 4.

13 Phanor James Eder, Colombia (London: T. Fisher
Unwin, 1913), p. 239.

14 Pedro Baron, Informes Sobre las Misiones del
Caqueta, Putumayo, Goajira_ Casanare mi-eta, Vichada, Vaupes,
y Arauca. Bogota,: Imprenta iacional, 1917), p. 180.

15 Richard P. Strong, et al., .eoAecil He)orr. rf tce
H. Picr Kxpcdition to, 'A',,... .2_'.-2i. (C'ribria.'-:
HarvarJ University _ress, l2o).

16 F. 0. Irtin, "Exoloration In Colombia, Grrau-
ical !Review. 19 (1929), 621-o37.

17 C. F. Marbut and C. B. iHanifold, "The Topora:phy
of the ,,Amazon Valley, Geooanhical heviw 15 (1)25),
61.7-642; "'iThe Soils of the Auazon .oasin in elation to
Agricultural Possibilities," Co _prahical '_ vic, 10 (1926),

18 haymond E. Crist, ;Politics and Geography, Some
Aspects of Centrifugal and Centripetal Forces Operative in
Andean Anerica, The American Journal of Economics ai:d
Sociol.or-, 25 (1966), p. 35-.

19 Enrique Uribe Cespedes, lemnoria del Primer Congzreso,
Doc. #21 (Bogota, 1966), p. 3.

20 Irving Goldman, op. cit.

21 In addition to the listings in the bibliographiy,
Schulteo; has numerous other publications, many of zhe:n in
the Harvard .-ntanical _iluseu:. Leaflets. Allen has published
several related a-'rticles in The .issouri Botanical -.rcn

22 Mi. A. Builes, Cuarenta Dias En El Vaoc's (Tl-
lores De La Imprcnta Departmental De Antioquia, 1951),
pp. 50-52.

23 Ibid., p. 116.

24 Timothy O'Leary, Ethnorraohic Bibliography of
South knerica (sew Haven: Hum.an relations Area Files, Be-
havior Science Biblio-raphies, 1963).




The population of Mitu, as listed in the 1964 census,

is 2,360, or about 17,b of the 13,403 living in the Vaupes.1

This figure is probably too high, but certainly is closer

to reality than the report of the 1969 World Almanac

(Spanish Edition) which showed a population of 6,500! His-

torical accounts of population in Arazonia over the years

show a great disparity, making it difficult to arrive at

anything but a reasonable guess.

A 1925 report on the Amazon in general lists the pop-

ulation of the Vaupes at 5,500 but then goes on to state

that this figure is too high.2 The government census of

1918 snows 6,355 and that of 1928, 9,332.3 Estimates of

Mitu"'s population by various visitors also show great

divergence. The oldest resident said that in 1929 there
were only twelve families in the Nlitu area. These

families formed the nucleus of the early town and several

operated the first stores there. Builes,in 1951,didin't

venture a guess as to the population but counted fifty

houses. The first padre in charge of the mission station

arrived in 1949 and in a book published in 1952 reported

forty-five houses and a population not exceeding four

hundred.5 Another writer in 1953 did not count the Indians


but foLund 150 men and thirty womenn living as "criollo
colombia los. Just four ,years later a ; writer countud'

sixty homes and estimated the population at 1,500. Using

these figures, the number of occupants per houLe aiould

figure out to twenty-five, a rather unlikely number. He

probably counted the houses correctly but then included

all Indians from the area as part of the town's population.

TABLE 1.--Population Data For The Vaupes

Year 1912 1918 1928 1938 1951 1964

Population 5545 6355 9332 7767 9169 13,403

aData extracted from official census of 1938, 1951, and

In 1964 Lambert estimated the population as between
sixty and 1,000 depending on the season. An interest-

ing aspect of this estimate is that he was uravelinr

with the census survey team and yet arrived at a very

different figure from what was officially reported. (As

listed above).

There is a great fluctuation in the population of the

town as empresarios go out into the forest to supervise

the crews of Indians tapping the rubber trees. ..-hen the

rains increase and the season is over both bosses and workers

return to town, thus temporarily increasing the popula-

tion far beyond the normal figure. During much of the year

some houses are completely vacant and some open "houses"

are only briefly occupied by transients passing through.

As a supply and service center for a large area, .it.u

attracts people from great distances and they often stay

several days for a taste of "city living" before return-

ing again to the isolation of their home.

Based on the number of houses approximately 125 -

and estimating the number of occupants, the population

in early 1970 was approximately 600. This is also fairly

close to the estimate of 500 made by Gerardo Reichel-

Dolmatoff, who has done a great deal of anthropological

research in the area.9 In addition, there are another

250 people living at the internado most of the year as

students, workers, or teachers.

Complaints about the inaccuracy of the 1964 official

census in the comisarias and intendencias were general

and a suggestion was made that the federal agency res-

ponsible for the census, station a representative in the

capital city of each of these political subdivisions.

Their task would be to supervise more closely the actual

work done by civil servants, teachers, and advanced

The director of the national census understandably

views the reported figures differently and attributes

the high rate of growth for the Vaupe's (47.97S between

1951 and 1964) not to an influx of settlers or a high


5TORL ....
CHURCH.... +

(Ai --L NOT tO 5CALE)

SCALE 1 4000


1 0


birth rate, but rather to a more efficient sySt.c.m of

enumerating the population.)

For those revisiting i'litu after an absence of a

few years, it is obvious that the town is continuing

to grow and to supply more services than it did in the

past. Business is not expanding rapidly bub new stores

are opening and new houses are being built. While in

the past new residents came largely from outside urban

centers, Indians who formerly lived in the forest are

now beginning to move to town. The attraction for cut-

siders is somewhat limited by the over concentration on

rubber production which is becoming less profitable each

year. As reported by the 1964 census, only about 151

(2,008 of 13,403) of the residents were born outside the

comisaria. This figure may be interpreted as a measure

of the lack of attraction of the Vaupes for residents of

the departanentos.

The major groups of "outsiders" have been the religious

missionaries, government employees and the police force.12

The police are rotated periodically and some missionary

personnel are still recruited from other areas but many of

the government employees have been there many years and the

younger workers are hired from the local population.

Many of the missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant,

have also been there several years.

Along the Guaviare River and even as far south as

Calamarn, whliera a,,:ri cu3 tu ru is miorc. cu .essf'l. Lhe influx

of settler'r, from outside the Vaupes h-.. b--n 'hevy. After

an article describing the possibiliLticO of se-ttling this

area was published in a national no~spapcr, more tha-

2,000 people wrote letters of inquiry. 3 To apureciatc

fully the significance of this response one must be aware

that Colombia, like much of Latin America, ,:.'as experiencc-

ing at the sane time a period of very rapid urbaniiZation,

with many people leaving the 3and for the city.

Due primarily to better transportation, as well as

to more agricultural potential, it seems likely that the

balance of population will soon shift to this area along

the Guaviare liiver, perhaps even at the expense of the

capital, Litu. The rate of growth along the Guaviare is so

rapid that the total population may triple in a period of

only ten years.1

It has been written that 'The Av-.zonian forest is a

great cemetery which absorbs what is left of the Indian

population of Colombia. l5 Gourou has made the cowient

that the population of Amazonia was destroyed by diseases

not cndemic to the area and that the encroaching Europeans

never replaced the natives.16 Both of these statements

appear valid as many areas of Amazonia are almost void

of people.

One of the richest rubber areas of the Vaupes is the

Apaporis Valley. When the Rubber Development Corporation

wanted to exploit this supply during ;a.rld War II it was

necessary to fly in Indians to do the work as there were

none living there.17

It now appears that these vanished populations may

be replaced by incoming settlers who will very likely not

settle first in the area of Hiiti. They may reach this

area eventually, but only after the more accessible and

fertile l nd along the northern border of the comisaria

has been occupied.


The principal capital producing elements of the economy

are government expenditures, in the form of the local

payroll or to finance improvements in local living condi-

tions, and the collection of wild rubber which is then

sold to the government agency.

The development of retail trade, prices, and agricul-

tural sales are in large part dependent on these initial

sources of capital. While the various elements of the

economy are considered separately, it must be remembered

that they are all inter-related and basically dependent

on the government or rubber for any real stimulation of

their growth.

Government Employees and Subsidies

The government employees are extremely important to

the economy of Mitu'. They are virtually the only workers

*(All prices quoted are in Colombian pesos, 18.50 @ dollar)

with a regular incono aid they form a najor nortjon of the

employed scment. of the population. The co.i.isaria it.a-ilf

employs thirty-five workers while the Po ica.n "'cicl has

another eleven employees. The Caja jiLraria also employs

about fifteen workers. Others receiving their salaries

from governments sources include the radio operator and

maintenance man, all the teachers and the hospital staff.

There are also numerous p-overnment employees at San

Jose and Miraflores as well as a few others in smaller

settlements. As is often the case in developing countries,

it does not seem that all these government -workers are

fully employed but they all perform, some service and they

receive a salary which is rather quickly spent and adds to

the local supply of money.

The revenue from the area is far fro,, adequate to

support such a payroll and the majority of the budget is

derivcu fro:i federal sources. Table 2 shoi:s ho'.;: depen-

dent the Vauces is on the central government and also how

much the level of support has varied over several years.

These direct. grants fro.n the national government to

territories ; and intendencias were authorized by law r10,

1930 (Oct. 8). Although the wisdom of such spending might

be questioned, the present role of many of these terri-

tories is to protect the border land from further encroach-

ment by neighboring countries and this is especially

important in the Amazon Basin where Colombia has already

Slot 180,000 Ki.2 to Brazil since 1907.18 If the present

boundaries are secured against further losses most Colom-

bians will consider the money well spent.

TABLE 2.--Budget For The Vaupes Comisaria

Year Amount Haised Percent of Federal Total
within the the Total Subsidies Budget
comisaria Budget

1959-C0 120,541 22.9 405,034 525,575
1960-61 250,423 32.3 525,000 775,423
1961-62 214,396 17.2 1,030,000 1,244,396
1962-63 47,024 3.0 1,516,318 3,563,343
1963-64 45,396 7.5 563,157 608,553
1964-65 51,379 2.8 1,763,132 1.814,511
1969-70 199,854 2.7 7,219,194 7,419,048

a1959-1965 Data from Ilemoria del Primer Congreso, Doc. -26
(Bogota, 1966), p. 8.
"1969-1970 Data from Comisaria records in Mitu.

Even though federal expenditures exceed income from

this area, the level of spending is far below that for the

rest of the nation. In the departamentos (more highly

developed areas with greater population) federal spending

averages ,;1,000 per square kilometer while in the 'erri-

torios Nacionales, spending averages only :;1 per square

kilometer.19 In 1962 the central governinent spent only

.32 per cent of the national budget (.,7.6 million of

$3,526 million) in the outlying lands. By 1966 this per-
centage had dropped to .17 per cent (,7.1 million of

$5,529 million)20 while the constitution called for 2 per
cent of national budget to be spent in these lands in order

to stimulate their growth and development.21 During this

same period the total budgets of all Territorios Nacionales

increased from .,32.3 r:illion to j,.5 n.i aion, aith iorv

than 83 Te)C cent of the increase btin-. dcrivcd fro.,
local sourcee. Thus the federal [gove:i- aent has fai led

to maintain its level of spending in the outlying areS.-;

and more and more of the burden he~ been shifted to tle

local governij,' bodies Becauie of the importance of the

Vaupes in rebuffing any Brazilian advances, it has received

somewhat better treatment and in 3.969-70 was required, to

raise only 2.7 per cent of its total budget. The remainder

was provided from the national treasury.

A law passed in 1943 (Art. 10, Law 2A) gave intendon-

cias and co!,isariss the right to establish duties anr.

taxes on goods conin- into their jurisdiction. This

practice had previously been adopted by the dera-tci.cntos

as a means of financing local government and it seemed the

logical answer for financinri other political subdivisions.

However, this program. which hai, worked rati'er r'cc .iully

in other areas has not raised sufficient reveruo to support

the national territories. The basic problem is that there

are simply not enough people to create the dmc.and neces-

sary to generate revenue. This condition prevails ii spite

of a 20 per cent tax on liquor, beer, and cigarettes and

a 10 per cent tax on all other incoming merchandise.

Of this income, 30 per cent is remitted to the area

government while 70 per cent is retained within the municipio

or corrc.ci!:icnto where the sale w.as made, to finance local


In 1964 the tax on alcoholic beverages anC cigarettes

yielded. 79 per cent of locally raised income while in 1970

this percentage was down to 49 per cent.

A major portion of each budget is pa-d as salaries,

most of which is spent in Mitu. If, as has been suggested

by some, the capital and its employees were moved from

Iliti to San Jose, the town of Nitu would die and all that

would remain would be an area of rastrojo, or second growth

forest.25 Further enhancing the value of the government

workers to the economy is the fact that their salaries

increased approximately 200 per cent between 1964 and 1970.

During the same period consumer prices of food and other

necessities generally increased 100 per cent or more. (See

Table 4).

The purchasing power of these workers is thus greater

now than in the past. Conversely the price of good quality

rubber has increased only 18 per cent. Therefore all those

workers engaged in collecting rubber have suffered a re-

duction in their purchasing power which made the government

employees an even more important element in the economic

health of the town.

The government enters trade directly through two

agencies: the comisariato, a retail store, and the Caja

Agraria, a multi purpose organization.

The comisariato was originally established to supply

the needs of governmental workers when there were very

few stores operating in ilitt. With the rise of the indepen-

dent store its stock has been reduced but its src. c- sti j

amount to hundreds of thousands of pesos each ycLr:. (0cc

Table 3). Total sales had increased markedly fo: t'.';

three complete years shown but were 1Ic.;er during the first

two months, of 1970 and also the firs' half of March (not

included in table).

TABLi 3.--Sales In Tne ilitu Ccmisariato

Month 1967 1968 1969 1970

January 10,243 18,741 33,642 25,996
February 14,477 26,124 34,527 28,985
arch 28,950 25,054 39,870
April 14,991 27,243 44,548
hay 26,064 31,756 45,388
June 32,534 33,647 38,667
July 39,763 46,811 48,819
August 29,772 38,525 54,683
September 26,496 31,513 33,635
October 34,295 29,305 2b,581
November 13,7 2 31,689 33,814
December 25,43 45 154 43,224

TOTALS 296,806 387,572 477,418

aData supplied by Senor Amisquita, manager of the
Comisariato, Miarch 20, 1970.

Sales tend to be higher during June, July, and August

after the rubber workers have been paid off. During the

first half of the year, when the workers are out in the

woods, sales are generally lower.

Anyone may buy in this store at prices somewhat lower

than the privately owned stores but the stock is limited.

There was a large stock of canned goods but these are too

expensive for many people. The only cc:..monly used foods

Fig. 12 --Generator House. This concrete block
building houses the new diesel generator. Both
the truck and bulldozer were flown in and re-


Fig. 13--The Caia. The Caja Agraria has been enlarged
in spite of the declining rubber business.


were rico, sugar, and potatoes.
The agricultural office or Caa aijrnria is another

governmental element of vital importance to the cconorny.

3y law, it is the only purchasing office for rubber collected

from the forest and serves to maintain the standard price

set by the government. It also offers many ite.ns for sale

at prices somewhat lower than those of privately owned

stores. In addition it functions as a bank: of sorts, the

only facility of this type in iiitu. Loans are made to fin-

ance rubber collection and local home improver:iefnts. It is

possible to deposit money there and withdraw it at a later

date. Also, money deposited in the Bogota office may be

collected from the Iiitu branch, thus reducing the amount

of cash which a businessman or traveler must carry. Con-

sidering its role as the primary money handling agercy in

town, it was a surprise to learn that it was impossible to

exchange. lare bills (500 oesos) for smaller cld~romi.nationes;

however, the supply of money in the town is limited and

they do not want it tied up in large bills. (In the past

a "flyin, ban::" has operated with a representative of a

Villavicencio bank flying in each week to handle the accumu-

lated business and then returning on the same flight).

A vital role of the Caja A.raria is the supplying of

gasoline to power the many outboard motors. (All gas arrives

by plane).

Because of the expense of buying in quantity, few

residents are able to buy gas "on the outside" :I;J O-lii' it

in. Therefore, almost without eoxception, l -as ..cd in

the area is sold through the Caja.

All gas arrives by plane in 55 gallon barrels

and is either dumped into a larger underground tank or

siphoned directly into gas tanks. An. improvement to the

system was completed in 1970 when a pipeline from the air-

port to the storage tank was completed. This new line

made possible the emptying of the barrels as soon as they

were unloaded and obviated the need to roll the barrels

to and from the Caja. Considering the supply of labor

available, the justification for such an improvement may

be questioned.

Although gas arrives almost daily, there is rarely

a large reserve and often travel is curtailed until a new

supply is brought in. The price is high but so are trans-

portation costs and there is virtually no competition.

During 1969-70, the building in which the Caja is

housed, was being expanded and building materials arrived

in chartered planes as well as on the regular passenger

flights. Most of the construction is of concrete blocks.

The cement used in the blocks arrived on almost every

flight. Some have argued against the use of this construc-

tion as too costly, in a land surrounded by trees and

where cement must beflown in, but its use continues. Many

of the townspeople were employed as laborers and consider-

able money was added to the economy. Most of these workers


Fig. 14--Mitu Plaza. In the foreground the Mitt
plaza, in the background the house of the Comisa'rio
and government headquarters building.

Fig. 15--Colegio "Jose'Eustacio Rivera" The
secondary school was opened in 1963 to complete
the educational program.

were engaged in menial jobs; the six carpenters ;!':, were

doing the finishing work on the interior- were flown in from


Another arm of the federal government which forrrs

an important part of the economy is the Folicia .!1acional

which is responsible for enforcing the laws and maintain-

ing order in the town and surrounding area. In general, the

demands of their job are not great; they arrest the occasional

drunk who becomes too belligerent; they check the baggage

of foreigners; but they are also called upon to arrest

murderers and others who commit felonies. Although their

assignment in riitu is temporary the members of the Policia

National take an active role in the sports and social life

while they are there.

The ten men stationed in iHitu' spend a major portion of

their pay in the local stores and aid the economy. Their

influence would be even greater if they bought more of their

food and supplies in the local market. Host of their food

is purchased in Villavicencio and is flown in. This is

more expensive than buying locally produced food and also

means a reduced demand and market for food grown by local


Both the hospital workers and the teachers are almost

completely dependent on the local stores for their food

and other necessities. Like most of the other government

employees their salaries have tended to rise as rapidly

as prices aind they have .maintained tL.cir purchasijgii powr.

Because of this, plus the dependability of their incoLne, they

are very desirable customers.

detail Stores

There are many smaller retail storon in addition to

the Caja A raria and the comisniariato already mentioned. One

of the more important stores is run by the mission personnel

in the Catholic Church compound. Because of the greater

capital available to them and their better contacts on the

outside, they are able to maintain a larger stock than most

privately owned stores. Prices are competitive with other

stores but not especially low. As the official agency for

the distribution of both "CARE" and "Caritas" (A Catholic

relief organization) supplies they are able to supplement

their commercial stock with other donated items. In the

pnst there have been reports of donated itens bein, sold

to residents, but in general such items have been used as

prescribed and the store is able to provide a larger choice

of products than most stores.

The stock of independent stores varies a great deal

from week to week. When the stock runs low the owner

generally goes out to Bogota or Villavicencio, the closest

point with an aiple supply source. Due to the lower prices

and larger choice available, the majority of the proprietors

prefer to buy in Bogota. Transportation costs consume some

of the profit, bi. by, u: i.lji r:i .', tne .J'te.: fj i;.ht- ih .c}i

are partially subsidizcd. b the o:*:-:'n',:e.,nt. t'e :cost

only ,2.40 per kilo uhich is the ~sme. a tie Urraca I-..es

from Villavicencio (See Table 6).

Since the volume of sales is low and most of the

merchants do not have a great deal of capital available,

there are often times when shelves are virtually bare. For

several days the stock of one store consisted of matches,

writing tablets and bread. Without the bread customers,

business would have been almost nonexistent.

l'Iany residents complained that while the stores were

completely out of rice, potatoes, sugar or other staples,

there was always an ample supply of beer. During the period

when the field work was completed there was never a time

when beer was lacking in town. There seems to be some

status in drinking beer and the demand is great even when

economic conditions are poor.

Marcos Fulop noted in 1953 that there was a great

scarcity of food in Mitu's stores, at least in part due

to the propensity to bring in trade goods for the Indian

workers and liquor for the Colombians, rather than food.2

Although there are more flights today, the tendency to

move non-food items is still apparent.

The primitive state of the economy necessitates very

little specialization in the stores. Virtually all carry

an identical stock and if one runs out he never hesitates

Fig. 16--Garcia's Store. One of the better stocked
retail stores of Mitiu. Because photographers are not
common the owner's young son was also included in
the picture.

Fig. 17--Tito's Oven. Tito's oven with a fire laid.
After the oven is heated, the fire is removed and
the bread and rolls inserted.

to patronize his coi.'ipetitors. Also '.i.l;?e o.t :; l. sk .o.e:

in Latin America, the coi~-"i'rcial part occ-;:i.,l only the

front of the building and the family lives in the back.

The only material advantages that one possesses over

another is a slightly larger stock or a kerosene powered

refrigerator which may permit him to sell jello or other

products which require refrigeration.

Business is also somewhat stifled by the lack of im.oney

to make change. If a customer attempts to pay for the

purchase of an item costing one or two pesos with a twenty

peso bill, the proprietor often must go in search of change

from a neighboring store. Though they are competitors,

there is great cooperation between most of the merchants.

Wives are often involved in running the stores while

the husband seeks to supplement the income in various

other enterprises. Many of the merchants earn extra money

by serving as agents for the several small airlines that

fly regular schedules to Hitu' or make an occasional charter

flight in.

With some twenty-one shops serving as retail out-

lets, fitu is obviously over commercialized, but there is

no apparent solution to the problem. The large number

of stores is required to provide the goods that are re-

quired by all the people living within that section of

Colombia. The rubber emnresarios and others living in

the forest travel several days to reach Mitu and replenish

their supplies. Jf it wtere not for the greater rec :n.ccs

of the "naJ. _Igraria and the comisariato, even this nu!.ber

would not be sufficient to meet their demands. Each

merchant i.; so l.i:ited in his capital that 'he can only buy

a suiall stc:k and must wait until it is virtually all

sold before he again has enough money to finance a trip

to Bogota or Villavicencio to buy a new supply.

Three or four merchants with more adequate financial

resources might provide a much better choice of merchan-

dise but storekeepers with that much capital have found

investments for their money that offer far less risk. The

rubber business of the Vaupes is far fro;ii lucrative and

many merchants have not been able to collect for the

supplies they have advanced on credit. Due to the proble:qs

of selling rubber and collecting their pay, the cauchcros

are often without funds and must be carried6 on the books."

Thus only p-ople with a little r.ioey, :which they are

willing to risk, attempt to operate in this town.

Table 4 showing the rise in prices between 1964-70

indicates one of the economic problems of the 'Jaupcs,

and of Colombia. Inflation and rising transportation

costs have led to great increases in prices while the

price of rubber has gone up very little. The most direct-

ly effected are the caucheros, but the merchants are also

being adversely effected. The size of their stock is

progressively limited by skyrocketing costs and the problem

of collecting their debts is much gr etor.

TABLE 4..---etail Price Increases B3etween ] 964 and February, 970


1ice T ilo 0
Peas (Kilo)
Sugar (Kilo)
Beans (Kilo)
Canned Crackers
Potatoes (Kilo)
Cooking oil (gallon)
Alcohol (bottle)
Candles (dozen)
String Hammock
Machete (20")

1964 Price

:a 3.50

1970 Price

4 6.50
4. 90

aData for 1964 from Alvara Guzman Cortes, "Panorama
de la Comisaria del Vaupe's, vista Policia iacional de Vaupes,
Afio LT, Io. 104, Segunda Epoca (1964), p. 15.
Data for 1970 compiled in Iiitlu stores.

What is needed to stimulate trade is a cron or pro-

duct which could be spread over the year to keep capital

moving. When the season's collection of rubber is sold

there is money, but this is soon spent often on last

year's debts and very little money circulates until the

following Hay when the rubber is again brought to town.

With the decline in the rubber business, even this economic

stimulus is beginning to weaken.

The stores of Mitu offer only a very limited stock, but

they are providing high risk capital in an area that des-

perately needs it. If Mitu and the eastern Vaupis ever

develop into a truly viable economic region, these Iiterchants

with their inadequ2le stocks will havc ocon a-arsoly res-

ponsible for sustaining it until a stronr:or economic ba;e

could be devt lopjd.


The "rubber" industry in the Vaupc's began with the

collection of bajata from a species cf the Lanilkara tree.

At this time early in the twentieth century all sales

were made through iianaus and trade goods also came from

The dominance of plantation rubber from the East

Indies then lead to a decline in interest in Amazonian

rubber which was more expensive and often of an inferior

quality. As long as the eastern rubber was available,

there was no dem-and for that of Amazonia which was col-

lected from scattered wild trees by Indians who were

not well trained and had little intere.-t in their work.

The movement of the Japanese forces into the Pacific

during Uorld 'War II cut off the supply of plantatio:i

rubber and this, coupled with the increased demands of

a full scale w:ar brought about a renewal of interest in

the wild rubber from this hemisphere.

Nationals of the Amazonian countries were encouraged

to reopen old rubber trails and the Rubber Development

Corporation was organized and financed by the United

States government to determine the extent of the reserves

available for development and to recommend '*.q.ys, to increase

the current levels of production.

The Rubber Development Corporation (RDC) vwas extr-emely

important in the development of Mitu. kot only did the

increased demand and higher prices stimulate gathering,

but the new techniques introduced raised the quality of

the rubber collected.

Prior to the arrival of the RDC technicians, the

rubber was all made into large "balls" by pouring the

latex on a stick which was suspended across a fire. By

continuously turning the stick, successive layers of rubber

were applied. The smoke from the fire helped cure the

rubber and retarded the growth of molds and fungi which

could contaminate it. The new method was to mix the latex

with water, strain it to remove any trash, and then stir

in enough formic acid to cause it to coagulate. The rubber

floated to the top and was then run through rollers to

remove more of the water and transform it into thin strips.

The strips were draped on racks and smoked before being

pressed into bundles. The end result was a better quality

rubber which could immediately be classified as it was

all visible. The older "balls" often contained various

types of latex and it was necessary to cut them up to

determine what quality they were. One of the major problems

of quality even today is that the rubber is often not clean
or is contaminated by fungi after being packed. A local

processing plant arid better storage facilities could help

alleviate this trouble.

The HDC also recommended better techniques for tap-

ping the trees to increase the yield while also insuring

the long life of the trees. (Some types of trees must

be cut down to collect the latex but most are tapped by

cutting diagonal lines part way around the trunk so the

rubber drains into a cup suspended at the bottom.) Early

collectors used hatchets to cut through the outer bark

and into the cambium layer. This often resulted in the

death of the tree. The lack of trees in the Vaupe's

showing scars of previous tappings led RDC personnel to

speculate that either they were killed by the crude

methods used or that very few of them had been worked

prior to the 1940's.29

The new knives introduced have a small hook on the

end of the blade which simplifies the grooving and mini-

mizes the danger of permanent damage to the trees.

There are few Hevea brasiliensis trees in the Vaupes.

Host rubber is collected from Hevea guianensis and Hevea

benthamiana trees and neither of these varieties has the

quality of the brasiliensis.30 They grow along the rivers

and watercourses at the rate of about 8 20 per hectare.31

As each worker taps 100 150 trees per day he must often
walk 10 15 kilometers twice daily.32 he tine sent in

travel between trees is one of the chief drawbacks in the

Fig. 18--Raw Rubber. Bundles of new rubber are
stored on the porch before being taken to Caja
Agraria for sale.

F` a130

Fig. 19--Selling Gasoline. The Caja buys all
rubber and dispenses virtually all the gasoline
used in the area.

collection and utilization of wild ruober.

For i1lany years residents of Amazonia have been advised

to plant young trees between the native trees so that

ultimately the trail, or trocha, through the forest .wculd

be lined with producing trees. As long ago as 19-49, there

was discussion of planting rubber but the recomr.:endations

have not been carried out.'3

An even more productive idea was that proposed by

Schultes in 1945 when he recomruended the planting of

small family "plantations" containing from 500 to 1,000

trees with the seeds being procured from trees with

records of superior production.4 By utilizing only high

producing trees, yields would bI greatly increased and by

planting them near the house, the worker would be able to

care for them while they were young. He also would be

spared the long hours walking along the forest trails. A

farm in the Vaupes planted with good clones could pro-

duce as much as 2,500 kilos per hectare while one planted

with seeds collected from the forest would probably not

yield more than 500 kilos per hectare.35 1When the price

of rubber was high enough to justify collecting from the

trees, they could be worked but when the price dropped,

the settler would not tap them but could devote his time

to subsistence agriculture or to other crops. This system

presupposes that the individual would have the time to

carry on the planting operation and also a very limited

amount of capital. It would be necessary for the cg-.rn-

ment to carry on the selection and seedling program in

order to offer productive young plants at a minimum price.

One of the worst aspects of the native rubber industry

is the labor system which was devised, or perhaps evolved,

to make it work. The scattered trees can only be tapped

by clearing a path from one to the next closest tree. Be-

cause the trees grow only near the rivers, the ground is

low and often cut by watercourses. Fallen trees and other

obstacles make walking difficult. From the earliest days

of the rubber industry, local Indians have been recruited

both to cut the trails and to collect the rubber. Numer-

ous books and articles have been written describing the

treatment of these Indian workers the best known perhaps

being Roger Ca3ement's report of the rubber industry on

the Putamayo River in 1912. Conditions for the workers

have been improved since that time but many Indians re-

main in a virtual state of slavery to the empresarios who

have advanced them trade goods.36

In order to hire Indians to work rubber, the employer

must have a statement from the local monsenor (chief priest)

that he is a responsible citizen. This document is then

shown to the Protector of Indians who authorizes him to

go looking for workers.

Workers are usually recruited in August or September

and receive the season's wages in advance. The pay is


rarely in money but consists of cloth, clothing, shot-

guns, transistor radios, sewing machines or any other item

that the Indian might desire. These items are evaluated

by the employer and their value entered on the employee's

account. The terms of the contract and the amounts advanced

are also recorded with the Protector of Indians.

The crew is then taken to the concession area (Inderena

has charge of granting these concessions) where they remain

until March or April when the heavy rains begin that make

collecting impossible. Sometimes a man's family will

accompany him but usually the camp is composed only of

men. Their days are too long and busy to devote much

time to their families in any event.

The day begins as soon as there is sufficient light

to work. Each tree on the trail is tapped and a small cup

is attached to catch the latex. By the time the tapping

is accomplished, it is usually 11:00 12:00 A. i.. The

worker must then go all the way around the trail again

collecting the rubber which has drained into the cups.

The amount of rubber collected varies with the skill of

the worker and the yield of the trees being tapped, but

an average day's production is between three and six

kilos.37 When the worker returns to camp, this rubber must

be processed and hung up for smoking.

Each worker has from two to four trails which he

works on alternate days. The work week is from monday

through Saturday. Sunday are free and on rainy days no

collections are made because the water Iou.d dilute the

latex too much. These "free" days are usually taken up

with housekeeping chores, hunting or fishing.

The employer must furnish his workers with salt,

soap, matches, cigarettes and farila. He usually makes

no attempt to supply any meat or fish. Workers carry shot-

guns with them on their rounds in hopes of encountering

game and also spend as much time as possible hunting or


At the end of the season the rubber is brought to Hitu

and sold to the Caja Agraria, the only agency which can

legally buy rubber. The amount collected by each worker

is then computed and in the presence of the Protector of

Indians, the worker is either paid off for any excess over

his advances or apprised of how much money he still owes

the employer. In most cases the amount collected is not

enough to balance the advance and the worker is then

obligated to work off the excess the following year. How-

ever, before going out again, further advances are made

and fresh obligation incurred. In all likelihood the

debt at the end of the second year will be greater than it

was initially and a further obligation to work is imposed.

The only way this cycle can be broken is by an extremely

productive year or by someone else paying the debt. If

a second person pays the debt he can probably only be

repaid by labor so the worker is not free, he has merely

changed masters. After 30 years of .'ork! one man at .i'ira-

flores had run up a debt of 330.000 which he could noi. pay

off and he was no longer able even to alter..pt .o work it


One worker on the Cubiyu took the rubber he had

collected to Hiraflores, sold it to the Caja and paid his

debt with the proceeds. His employer was not pleased and

stated he wanted the rubber not the money.

If workers try to run away from the car.ip they are pur-

sued by the employer, sometimes aided by members of the

Policia Nacional. As recently as 1950 such runaways were

often returned in chains and some patrons were still whip-
ping the workers. The "Patron System" has been defended

as the only means of increasing rubber production by the

Indians who were not motivated to work once their immediate

needs had been iiet.40 If the -rotector of the ladians or

the local representatives of the Catholic church become con-

vinced that an employer is mistreating his workers, he

will lose his permit to hire Indians and will be left with

his debts as well as those the Indians owe him. His only

chance to recoup his losses then is to try to sell the

workers' debts to someone else who can qualify for a


Perhaps the most unfortunate part of the whole rubber

business is that no one seems to make any money. The


trade goods paid. to the Indians by the employers are

usually bought on credit from a local merchant at inflated

prices and at the end of the season his sales of rubber

are not enou;-h to cover his debts. The merchants must

charge high prices because of their expenses, in addition

to the high percentage of defaults which they must absorb.

During the 1968 69 season one employer with ten

workers ran up a debt of p22,000 which the rubber barely

paid off. He was trying again in the 1969 70 season but

experienced trouble with five Indians running away for a

time and felt that this would be his last year.

The cost of the trade goods required has gone up much

more rapidly than the price of the rubber which he collects.

Recently 4.00 50) in goods were sufficient to secure a

season's work. Now $1,500 is needed nd' the worker also

demands the use of an outboard motor to transport him to

the work site.

Since 1949, the wages of workers have risen more than

1,000 per cent while the price of rubber has gone up only

slightly more than 200 per cent. ($3 9.95)1 The cost

of farina and other supplies has also risen, thus further

reducing the profit of the employer. The diminishing

profits have been reflected in the amount of rubber being

purchased by the Caja in Mitu. This figure has dropped

from 350 tons in 1967, to 300 tons in 1968, to 200 tons in
196942 Less people are involved in working rubber each
1969. Less people are involved in working rubber each

year and the residents of iiitu' wre not at all opci.istic

about the future prospects for rubber collecting. The

manager of thn Caja estimated, tLat the total nur,:ber of

workers in the ;iitu area dropped fro;i 1,560 in 1969 to 1,200

in 1970. Those people still hiring u;orkers seei.; to be

doing so in spite of, not because of, the outlook for

profits. There are currently few alternatives open to the

cauchero trying to make his living there.

Some of the missionaries have begun to encourage

individual Indians to collect rubber on their own without

involving a "middleman." The only capital required to

begin work is ..200 to be paid to Inderena for a concession

area, and the acid to promote coagulation. The laminators

are widely distributed and probably would not need to be

purchased. TWhile this might be more profitable than the

present system, it is doubtful that it could exist long.

Dr. Schultes predicted in 1945 that after the war years

were past, the wild rubber industry would be unable to

compete with plantation rubber from the Far East. After

almost 25 years, his forecast seems to be coming true, for

while the collection of wild rubber was dropping, Colombia

was spending more than .:50,000,000 annually to import

8,000 tons from the Orient.45

Rubber collectors blame the government or the rubber

companies for the depressed state of the local industry.

They recommend the fixing of higher prices, tariffs and

the establishment of plantations as a means of revitalizing

the economy and stimulating the frontier development. The

most realistic suggestion is that of establishing small

family plantations as originally suggested by Schultos.

The lands ecologically suited for rubber production in

the 1940's, when the idea was first seriously proposed, re-

main so today.

Unfortunately all the other social, economic and

governmental conditions are also largely unchanged. The

plantations that could provide an abundant supply of good

quality rubber and furnish jobs for many people will not

be planted. In describing the rubber industry of Brazil

during its "Golden Era" MacCreagh wrote: "Rubber was such

easy money that they never learned to plant a potato or

weave a gee-string. They paid for every single thing

they ate or used with Black Gold." The rubber is no

longer "golden" but many have been so involved in their

quest of a sylvan el dorado that they failed to notice

the change.


The agricultural practices of the Vaupes are by all

accounts primitive and backward.47 The crops cultivated and

the techniques of production which were suitable for the

Indian population have not been appreciably modified to

accommodate the increasing numbers of mestizos who have

come there to work and settle.

Virtually all agriculture carried cn in the eastern

Vaupes is by Indians. The few blancos attemptijng fariingi

have largely adopted Indian crops and technique.

Any program which trys to make substantial changes in

local agricultural practices must take into account many

factors both physical and cultural. A half-hearted or

piecemeal plan of development is almost certain to fail.

Besides the very basic problem of land ow.ners:ip and title

clearance in a region which has never been accurately

mapped or surveyed, other elements of concern must be

choice of appropriate crops, soil fertility, insect damage,

transportation, low farm prices, and resistance to change.

This situation is not unique to the Vaupes or even to

Colombia, but reflects conditions throughout the A.'iazon Basin.

The "slash and burn" agriculture typical of the area, with

its extreme dependence on yuca (Manihot esculenta), when

coupled with lo.w population densities and ample supplies

of fish and game, supported the Indian population ade-

quately. Not until the early twentieth century did it

become apparent that changes might be in order. During

this time rubber collectors began recruiting Indians to

tap the rubber trees and to incorporate them or at least

their labor into the world economic system. At this time

when the population began to increase, new demands were

placed on the forest ecosystem to provide food. The

introduction of firearms accelerated t!e destruction of much

Fig. 20--Cubeo House. The Indians surround their
houses with useful food plants.

- r ';O51r
F.'~ _Y ~~~1' 17~iii c

Fig. 21--Raised Garden. To protect vegetables
from ants an old canoe has been converted to
a raised garden. Tin shields on the supports
are further protection.

wildlife while the removal of many of the men to work in

the rubber industry placed greater demands on those who

remained to produce food. Since this time there have been

sporadic and uncoordinated attempts to alter cropping

patterns but basically agriculture remains mi:uch as it was

during the nineteenth century.

The agriculture practiced is the usual slash and burn

carried on by natives in both the American and Asian tropics.

Fields are "cleared" by cutting the smaller trees and gird-

ling the larger ones to kill them. This cutting is usually

completed during February when precipitation drops. Burning

is accomplished late in the month with planting following;

immediately to take advantage of the nutrients in the ashes

before they are leached out.

The most important food crop is yuca and in its many

forms it is the staple food in the regional diet. Planted

from cuttings, it is easy to transfer and does well in a

variety of soils. In six months the roots are large enough

to be dug and made into cassava bread. Because of the

presence in the root of a cyanide poison, it must be ground

and the juice pressed out before it is cooked and eaten.

Any poison remaining after the processing is neutralized

by the heat of the fire.

If fariia is to be made, usually older roots are selected

which, after being ground and pressed to remove the poison,

are roasted on a flat griddle or tiesto. Properly roasted

Fig. 22--Burned Field. This field was not dry
enough to burn cleanly. The remaining wood is
often sold in town for firewood.

Fig. 23--Yuca Garden. Yuca grows well in even
poor soils often growing o heights of more than
five feet.



fariia will keep alrmoot indefinitely wit'noLt spoiling aann

is often used as "trail food" while on trips. Some is also

used as the basis for the manufacture of the mildly alcho-

holic drink, chicha.

Other crops found in most gardens are nuoulia (Guilielma

s eciosa), peppers, pineapples, sugar ca:e(for eating only),

and onions. Around the houses are often found citrus trees,

caimarones (Pourouma cgcropiaefolia), and bananas for both

cooking and eating.

The lack of fertility in the soils requires that garden

plots be moved frequently. Four or five years is the maxi-

mum farming time for most yuca fields and some are not

productive longer than one or two years. This rapid turn-

over necessitates large areas of vacant land ini the agri-

cultural cycle. Ideally, land would remain under natural

vegetation for twenty or thirty years to renew its fertility

before being cleared again. ouch a system rmcy require u

total of fifteen hectares of land to support each person
living there. .iany Indian gardens are now half an hour's

walk from the home because all adjacent virgin or fertile

land has been cut over, farmed out. and is now in second

growth fallow.

The Caja AMraria stocks fertilizer and some of the

farmers are aware of an alternative to shifting their

fields, but until they are able to sell more products for

cash they cannot afford it. The situation may well change

in the future but currently the labor to cleail'r ew. f ieldc

is cheaper than fertilizer.

The major insect problem is with the 3eaf cutter ants

(Atta sp.) which are found throughout the region. They

are especially damaging to vegetables and citrus. It is

not uncommon to see trails of ants two or three inches wide

leading from gardens to ant mounds. Each ant going to the

nest carries a half inch square piece of leaf over his

head. In order to thwart them, favored plants are often

grown on raised platforms with tin shields around the

supporting legs. Commercial poisons are available, but

like fertilizer they are beyond the means of most planters.

It is doubtful that the efforts of any one farmer would

be successful when there is so much unused land available

for their nesting and foraging.

It has often been stated that the greatest handicap

to improving tropical agriculture is the wealth of the

forest resources. A small increase in the price of rubber

or another natural product is sufficient to draw labor

away from agriculture, and fields abandoned for even a

short time are often beyond reclaiming. 'ieeds can quickly

take over a cleared plot of ground if they are not held in

check. In fact, competition from fast growing weeds and

shrubs and the rapid build up of insect and rodent popu-

lations, are often as big a factor in field abandonment as

loss of fertility.

With the decline in rubber production curi noiLyl t..king

place, ore might argue that the population and' food require-

ments will revert to the for iier conditions aid. that tradi-*

tional agriculture will again suffice to supply their needs

of the populace. This is not likely to occur. The blancos

who have moved there are not leaving, indeed the Co)ombian

government would go to great lengths to encourage them to

stay, and. the Indians will never rebuild their society as

it was before they became enmeshed in a monied economy.

Due to the lack of alternatives it is apparent that

agriculture in one form or another is going to be called

upon to support more and more people at a hig';rr level of

living than they have yet enjoyed. The problem is to

choose the best direction for agriculture to move and the

means to facilitate this growth.

In many remote areas of the world, livestock production

has served as the forerunner of more intensive land uses.

With Hitu located only one degree north of the equator,

there is an ample amount of solar energy to stimulate lush

pasture growth. A well distributed annual rainfall of

over 130 inches is adequate for good vegetative growth

even in this area of high evaporation. While native grasses

are not nutritious, imported varieties have been planted

and have done well.50 This, coupled with a twenty year

history of cattle in the town,51 should have encouraged


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