Skip to main content



ETHNONYMS: Bari, Barida, Dobocubí, Motilones Bravos, Motilones del Sur


Identification. The Barí are a group of South American tropical-forest slash-and-burn cultivators inhabiting the southwesternmost lobe of the Maracaibo Basin (Colombia-Venezuela).

Location. Traditionally, the Barí occupied the tropical rain forest at the juncture of the central and eastern cordilleras of the Andes, between 8° and 10° N and 72° and 73° W. This region, bisected by the Colombian-Venezuelan border, comprised the nonswampy lowlands of the drainages of the Río Santa Ana and the Río Catatumbo and their affluents below 600 meters, and perhaps the western tributaries of the Río Escalante as well. In the early 1990s the Barí reservations constitute less than 15 percent of the land controlled by them around 1900; these reservations amount to about 2,400 square kilometersroughly 1,500 square kilometers in Venezuela and 900 square kilometers in Colombiain the upper reaches of the Santa Ana and Catatumbo tributaries. Fewer than 1,900 square kilometers of the reserve area remain uninvaded by homesteaders.

Demography. In 1989 there were about 1,600 Barí, roughly 1,100 in Venezuela and 500 in Colombia. Almost all the Colombian Barí live on the reservation, whereas several hundred Venezuelan Barí live off the reservation. The population at the time of contact (1960) was probably 1,100 to 1,200. Three measles epidemics reduced the Barí to 800 or 900 by 1966. The population has grown steadily since. Population density is estimated to have been under 0.15 persons per square kilometer in 1900 and to have grown to 0.21 persons per square kilometer by 1960. As of the 1980s it was over 0.84 persons per square kilometer.

Linguistic Affiliation. Barí-aa is classified as a Chibchan language, related to the languages of the Cuna and the Guaymí of Panama and the Kogi, Tunebo, and the now-extinct Muisca (Chibcha proper) of Columbia. There is no published grammar of Barí-aa, and its classification is based only on word lists.

History and Cultural Relations

The first historical mention of the Barí (as "Motilones") dates to 1622 and is a comment on their attacks on Spanish trade. Spanish military expeditions ravaged their territory sporadically for the next 150 years, burning longhouses and killing and capturing (as slaves) their residents. In 1772 the Barí were pacified through the offices of a boy who had been captured a few years before. In the following decades most of them were "reduced" to missions operated by Capuchin monks. The missions recorded a total population of 1,233 in 1799, and of 1,025 in 1810; the size of the "unreduced" portion of the population is unknown. In 1818, following the war of independence led by Simón Bolívar, the Capuchins were expelled, and the Barí returned to their traditional way of life. Relations with local criollos had turned bloody again by the 1880s, and raids on the Barí increased in scale and number after the discovery of oil in the region in the first decade of the twentieth century. By the 1950s a band of Colombian Indian killers was making a regular living hunting Barí, and oil-company pilots were bombing longhouses with gasoline drums. Peaceful contact was made in July 1960 by anthropologist Roberto Lizarralde, then in the employ of the Venezuelan Departamento de Asuntos Indígenas (Department of Indigenous Affairs). The pacification program was then turned over to the Capuchin order, now aided by nuns of the Hermanas de la Madre Laura order. An independent North American missionary, Bruce Olson, began work with the Colombian Barí in 1961.

A reservation was established in 1961 in Venezuela and another in Colombia in 1974. On both reservations the traditional manioc-farming and spear-fishing economy has been massively supplemented by cattle raising financed by the missionaries, and to a lesser extent by the cash cropping of cacao, rice, beans, and plantains. Most Barí children now receive some formal schooling. Since the 1970s the Colombian Barí region has been a refuge for guerrilla groups financing themselves with kidnappings and marijuana cultivation; their relations with the Barí are increasingly tense.


The traditional Barí were divided into local groups of fifty (plus or minus twenty) people, each of which had a territory of 100 to 1,000 square kilometers in which it maintained two to five communal longhouses, distanced one from another by half a day's walk or more. Typically, at least one of these houses was convenient to the best fishing spots in the major river of the territory, with others near lesser fishing spots on smaller rivers, and still others back from watercourses, near good hunting grounds. Houses were located in the center of circular to oval fields, 0.3 to 0.5 hectares in size, of manioc and other crops. The local group tended to cycle around the longhouses in accord with the seasonsat the major river house in the dry season, when fishing was best, and at the upland house(s) at the height of the rainy season, when reliance on hunting was heaviest. Longhouses of unshaped trunks, palm-wood slats, and Geonoma palm-leaf thatch, were 20 to 25 meters long by 10 to 15 meters wide by 8 to 12 meters high at the ridge pole. It took a local group about a month to build one, and a house lasted, with several rethatchings, for about ten years.

Functionally, the interior of the longhouse was divided into two areas: an outer ring where hammocks were slung and most indoor activities took place and a central hearth gallery where people cooked. Each hearth corresponded to an adjacent cluster of hammocks in the outer ring. The longhouse has disappeared in Venezuela, where the Barí now live in single-family dwellings of the kind used by local criollo peasants. There are three mission villages of such houses with populations of over 200 in Venezuela, and another in Columbia. Colombia also has a mission settlement with a traditional longhouse as well as individual houses and three isolated longhouses.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Traditionally, the Barí diet was based on the cultivation of manioc and Musa (bananas and plantains), fishing, and hunting. Sweet manioc was the major crop, contributing over 80 percent of the calories in the diet and occupying over 70 percent of cultivated land area. Yields were more than 18 metric tons of roots (wet weight) per hectare per year. Of the twenty-odd additional crops, only Musa made up a substantial fraction of the diet. Barí men averaged 400 to 500 person-hours/year engaged in farming, women a bit less. The caloric input Output ratio of Barí horticulture was about 1:30. The animal protein in the diet came from fish (75 percent) and game (25 percent). Most fishing was done with spears, between temporary stone weirs constructed at named spots in the rivers. Men built one weir, women the other, and men did the spearing. Fishing return rates varied with rainfall; the Barí did more fishing, up to 15 days per month, in the driest months when returns were greatest, than in the wettest month, when they might not fish at all. Yearly mean fishing returns were around 350 grams per person-hour. Hunting took the place of fishing in the wettest months, although hunting return rates did not fluctuate with rainfall. Bows and arrows were the weapons of the hunt, which gave a yearly average return of about 135 grams per person-hour (butchered weight). Barí men spent about 1,500 person-hours/year in hunting and fishing combined, the monthly proportions varying with rainfall, although the monthly combined total of 125 person-hours was remarkably constant.

The contemporary Barí own several hundred head of cattle, which take up a good deal of the time of many younger men. Cash cropping of rice, beans, and cacao also occupies many people, although virtually all families still maintain a traditional manioc field. Land clearing for pasture has reduced the abundance of game dramatically, and commercial overfishing downstream as well as agricultural runoff have driven the bocachicos (Prochiloidus reticulatus ), which once comprised two-thirds of the fish catch, to near extinction. Fishing and hunting are still practiced, but are becoming avocational. Some off-reservation Barí, particularly in Venezuela, work as ranch hands.

Industrial Arts. Traditional Barí material culture included fewer than forty items. Only arrows and women's skirts, both important in ritual exchange, were produced in surplus. There were no specialists; all adults were able to produce all items appropriate to their sex. It appears that all artifacts required at least one step in their manufacture to be performed by an individual of the opposite sex from the eventual owner.

Trade. Although the ritual exchange of arrows and skirts was clearly not an economic transaction, it was sometimes accompanied by gifts of utilitarian items such as knives and drinking gourds, these gifts being the closest approach the traditional Barí made to commerce. The contemporary Barí buy clothes, tools, and so forth from small shopkeepers.

Division of Labor. Although the Barí have a typical South American tropical-forest division of labor (males clear fields, fish, and hunt; females harvest, cook, and weave), it is notable for its flexibility and for the tight interdependence of sex-specific activities.

Land Tenure. Traditionally, individuals obtained usufruct to cultivated areas by the act of planting them. There are no records of local groups disputing territorial boundaries. Off-reservation Barí in some cases now own parcels of land individually, according to Venezuelan and Colombian law. The question of individual possession of cultivated tracts, including pastures, within the reservations, has not yet come to a head.


Kin Groups. The Barí have no kin groups per se outside the domestic unit. Instead they divide the social universe into two categories: sagdojira (fictive kin) and okjibara (fictive affines). Although the logic of the system recalls moiety organization, in fact no such social groups exist, and the relations are considered to be sets of dyadic ties tying each Ego to all alters.

Descent. The content of Ego's ties with others, whether sagdojira or okjibara, follows those of his or her father.

Kinship Terminology. In keeping with the emphasis on the two fictive-kinship categories, genealogical-kinship terms are few: mother, father, son, and daughter have unique terms, whereas brother, father's brother, and brother's son are covered by a single term, as are sister, father's sister, and brother's daughter. Mother's father and father's father are covered by a single term, as are mother's mother and father's mother. There are also terms for elder and younger sibling. There are no terms for cousin, nor for matrilateral uncle or sibling.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Traditionally, Barí men first married at around 18 to 20 years of age, women at around age 14 to 16. When polygyny occurred it was usually sororal, but most marriages were monogamous. A girl was free to take a lover when she wished, but was not legitimately married until "turned over" by her parents, often during a seasonal migration from one house to another. Only partners in the okjibara category were legitimate mates; all sagdojira were covered by the incest taboo. In the most common form of marriage, the groom left his natal local group and found a bride in another longhouse, joining her family's hearth group after her parents agreed to the union. Young men preferred to marry within their own longhouses, however, in which case the bride often joined the groom's family. The small size of the local group made this preferred form of matrimony difficult. Most marriages were between people with no known genealogical link, although cross-cousin marriages (father's sister's daughter-mother's brother's son being considerably more common than mother's brother's daughter-father's sister's son) were not rare and even mother's brother-sister's daughter marriages were known and legitimate. Divorce seldom occurred, especially after the birth of a child; widow- and widowerhood were more common; and remarriage after such an event was virtually universal. Remarriages sometimes produced couples of widely disparate ages. Adoption of a new spouse's dependent children was automatic and so complete that, when fieldworkers discuss genealogies, many Barí are surprised to discover that they have stepparents.

Domestic Unit. The traditional hearth group, the production and consumption unit, comprised the people who cooked at the same hearth, ate together, and hung their hammocks in a given section of the longhouse periphery. It ranged in size from a married couple with a single child to a dozen or more peopleusually a married couple with their unmarried siblings (including half and step siblings), surviving parents, and children, as well as occasional unrelated individuals. Contemporary Barí domestic units tend to be smaller than the maximal hearth groups of the longhouse days, approximating the size of the criollo nuclear family.

Inheritance. There was little to inherit; items usually went to the same-sex children of the deceased. Nowadays, insofar as land and cattle are concerned, Venezuelan and Colombian law governs transactions.

Socialization. Barí men engaged in a good deal of child care, although primary socialization of the infant rested with the mother. Grandmothers were often helpful, even nursing the infant; girls, from only 4 or 5 years of age, helped with their younger siblings. Physical punishment was never used, and even toddlers were not coerced to do anything they resisted. Today children are coerced and sometimes hit, particularly at mission settlements.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The local group, owning several longhouses, was made up of half a dozen to a dozen hearth groups. The male heads of household of many of these hearth groups were related as brothers (including half-and stepbrothers) and brothers-in-law; however, the boundaries of the local group were permeable enough that hearth groups with distant or unknown genealogical connections to the "core" hearth groups were also often present. Most contemporary settlements trace themselves to the survivors of one or two traditional local groups.

Political Organization. Although robustly egalitarian, traditional Barí society did recognize the man who suggested and directed the construction of a particular longhouse as the man to whom that house pertained, and it accorded him a title. The other man or men who had aided in the direction of the construction also had titles. Most of the time, the contemporaneous houses of a local group had been constructed under the direction of a single leader and one or two assistants, who were considered the most important individuals of the group. Sometimes local groups had houses constructed by different leaders, however, and the reaction to a leader's becoming overbearing was to move to or construct a longhouse in which he was not a leader. Contemporary Barí community leaders are called by the same word, nyatobaye, as the traditional longhouse builders, and are in many cases former house builders or their sons. Some of them are now employed by the government as rural development officials and the like. Some individuals have been removed as nyatobaye at the insistence of mission personnel.

Social Control. Traditional Barí values stressed avoidance of conflict. Aggrieved parties never confronted one another, and if rancor built up between individuals in a longhouse, one party left to join another local group. With single-family dwellings and the large settlements of missions, rancorous confrontations are beginning to occur.

Conflict. There is no reliable record of any violent conflict within Barí society. During the time they were preyed on by ranchers and oilmen, the Barí raided the settlements of the criollos for revenge and for tools and other booty. Over 100 criollos were shot by Barí arrows; most survived. The Barí also maintained a traditional enmity with the neighboring Carib-speaking Yuko (Yukpa), occasionally kidnapping children or shooting adults.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The universe is composed of various levels, of which this is the middle. A culture hero (Sabaseba, "Old Wind") is responsible for much of the form of this world and for the practices of the Barí. These traditional beliefs are now mixing with criollo folk Catholicism. In addition to various culture heroes, there are beings who live under the ground, in the rivers, and in trees.

Religious Practitioners. The Barí had no religious specialists, although some elderly people were especially wise.

Ceremonies. The only important traditional ceremony was held when some or all the members of one local group visited another local group. Guests sang in turn with hosts of the same sex, while swinging back and forth in hammocks; the men's hammocks were slung as high as possible in the longhouse, the women's just clearing the floor. After singing, the pairs exchanged theoretically equal giftsarrows between men, skirts between women. The songs sung by each pair were chosen according to their sex and whether they were sagdojira or okjibara to each other. In some cases the singing and gift exchange preceded a marriage or change of local-group affiliation; in others it appears to have been of little consequence. The ceremony is still practiced in Colombia but has been absent in Venezuela since the 1970s.

Arts. The Barí had virtually no plastic arts. Some ceremonial songs were in archaic Barí-aa, but many were hardly more than lists of place-names or daily activities.

Medicine. Death could seize people by the hand or copulate with them in their sleep. Spitting of tobacco juice on an ill or endangered person (such as a girl having her first period) helped to prevent aggravation of the condition.

Death and Afterlife. After death, one goes beyond the horizon to live a life much like the present one.


Beckerman, Stephen (1983). "Carpe Diem: An Optimal Foraging Approach to Barí Fishing and Hunting." In Adaptive Responses of Native Amazonians, edited by Raymond Harnes and William Vickers, 269-290. New York: Academic Press.

Lizarralde, Roberto, and Stephen Beckerman (1987). "The Contemporary History of the Barí." In Indigenous Survival among the Barí and Arhuaco: Strategies and Perspectives, edited by Roberto Lizarralde, Stephen Beckerman, and Peter Elssas, 3-39. Copenhagen: International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.

Pinton, Solange (1985). "Les barí." Journal de la Société des Américanistes 54:247-333.


Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Barí." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . 26 Mar. 2017 <>.

"Barí." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . (March 26, 2017).

"Barí." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved March 26, 2017 from


Bari (bä´rē), city (1991 pop. 342,309), capital of Bari prov. and of Apulia, S Italy, on the Adriatic Sea. It is a major seaport and an industrial and commercial center. It is connected by road, rail, and ship to other Adriatic ports and is now connected by road to Naples. Manufactures include chemicals, machinery, textiles, printed materials, and petroleum. Probably of Illyrian origin, Bari became a Greek and then a Roman colony. It later was controlled by the Goths, the Lombards, and the Byzantines. The Normans conquered Bari in 1071. The city became the chief city of Apulia, and many Crusaders sailed from there. Enfeoffed to the kingdom of Naples, Bari, during the Middle Ages, was a duchy ruled by powerful lords, including the Hohenstaufens and the Sforzas of Milan. It was badly damaged in World War II. Noteworthy buildings include the Romanesque basilica (1087–1197), a major place of pilgrimage, with relics of St. Nicholas of Bari (see Nicholas, Saint); the Romanesque cathedral (12th cent.); and the Hohenstaufen castle (1233). The city has a university founded in 1924.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bari." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 26 Mar. 2017 <>.

"Bari." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (March 26, 2017).

"Bari." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved March 26, 2017 from


BariBarry, Carrie, carry, Cary, Clarrie, Gary, glengarry, harry, intermarry, Larry, marry, miscarry, parry, tarry •angry • chapelry • cavalry • lamprey •Crabtree •gantry, pantry •Langtry • polyandry •askari, Bari, Cagliari, calamari, Campari, charivari, curare, Ferrari, Harare, Kalahari, Mari, Mata Hari, Qatari, Rastafari, safari, sari, Scutari, shikari, sparry, starry, Stradivari, tamari, terramare, Vasari, Zanzibari •compadre • chantry •beriberi, berry, bury, Ceri, cherry, Derry, ferry, Gerry, jerry, Kerry, merry, perry, Pondicherry, sherry, terry, very, wherry •débris • Hendry • Geoffrey • belfry •devilry, revelry •Henri, henry •peltry •entry, gentry, sentry •pedantry •peasantry, pheasantry, pleasantry •vestry • every • elderberry •checkerberry • whortleberry •chokecherry • daredevilry •Londonderry • knobkerrie

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bari." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 26 Mar. 2017 <>.

"Bari." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . (March 26, 2017).

"Bari." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved March 26, 2017 from