The film focuses on recent changes in the culture and society of the Cuiva, hunters and gatherers in a remote forest region of south-eastern Colombia, brought about through contact with Colombian settlers. Two groups of Cuiva are shown: one is relatively isolated, while the other has had extensive contacts with the settlers. The first group live a nomadic life moving frequently: the men hunt and fish, the women gather. The second group has been drawn into the Colombian economy, working occasionally for the ranchers to earn money to buy trade goods. The film also usefully includes interviews with white ranchers, showing their racist attitudes to the Indians, whom in the past they feared and on whose land they are now continually encroaching. The basic incompatibility between the economic systems of the Cuiva (based on communal distribution of food, gift-giving and receiving), and that of the settlers who attempt to survive within the world-capitalist market, is startlingly illustrated. Unlike later films in the Disappearing World Series, 'The Last of the Cuiva' relies on a moving commentary recorded during filming by the French-Canadian anthropologist, Bernard Arcand, who emphasises that the traditional way of life of the Cuiva (whom he describes, following Sahlins, as exemplifying the 'original affluent society') will be seriously damaged by these contacts with whites. Rather than giving a more conventional anthropological description, Arcand's commentary is a humanist plea for the survival of hunter-gatherer groups, and carries an implicit criticism of western lifestyles.
B. Arcand, 1972. The Urgent Situation of the Cuiva Indians of Colombia, Document No. 7, International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, Copenhagen. (Available from Survival International, 36 Craven Street, London WC2.)
B. Arcand, 1979. 'The Cuiva Band'. In G. A. Smith and D.H. Turner (eds.), Challenging Anthropology: A Critical Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology.
McGraw Hill, Toronto. P. and D. Maybury-Lewis, 1974. Review of the film. American Anthropologist, Vol. 76, pp.487–489.