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Identification. "E'ñepa" is the self-designation, but "Panare" is the most common name in the literature and probably derives from the word for "friend" or "ally" in the languages of neighboring Indian groups in Venezuela.

Location. The Panare inhabit the middle and upper reaches of certain right-bank tributaries (Suapure, Manapire, Chavirapa, Cuchivero, Guaniamo) of the middle Río Orinoco. This area falls between 5° and 8° N and 65° and 67° W and lies mostly within the Cedeño District of Bolívar State, Venezuela. Throughout the territory there is a marked alternation between undulating savannas at less than 100 meters above sea level and the forest-covered mountains, which in most parts of the region reach over 1,000 meters. It is warm throughout the year, but there is a marked difference in precipitation between the rainy season (May to November) and the dry season (December to April).

Linguistic Affiliation. Panare clearly belongs to the Carib Language Family, although it has certain traits that distinguish it from other Guianese Carib languages.

Demography. The Venezuelan Indigenous Census estimated the Panare population at 2,379 in 1982. They are scattered over some 20,000 square kilometers, but this area is also extensively settled by non-Indians. The available evidence suggests that the Panare population has been increasing rapidly.

History and Cultural Relations

Until the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Panare were confined to the upper Río Cuchivero, but then they began to expand to the north and west, occupying the territory of other indigenous groups that had become extinct. In doing so, they came increasingly into contact with criollo peasant agriculturists and cattle herders who were moving into the area as well. Until the 1960s, however, this contact had relatively little cultural impact on the Panare. Although they traded actively with the criollos, there was virtually no intermarriage and very few Panare learned to speak more than a few words of trade Spanish. No Panare would willingly work for a criollo master. Since that time, both the number and sophistication of the local criollo population have increased greatly following the building of new roads into the area and other developments in the local economy, including the discovery of rich deposits of diamonds and bauxite. At the same time, the area has been penetrated by missionary groups, both Catholic and evangelical. As a result, although most Panare communities continue to resist intermarriage and other forms of social and economic integration with the criollos, many groups have now abandoned traditional forms of dress and settlement. In the evangelized communities, traditional forms of belief and ritual have disappeared, and in most other communities they are becoming increasingly attenuated. Only in the upper Cuchivero, among the most isolated communities, do they remain strong. This is also the only area in which relations with other Indians remain significant. Here, the Panare communities are in regular contact with neighboring groups of Hoti.


Under traditional circumstances Panare settlements were usually sited close to a river's edge, at a point close to the conjunction of savanna and forest so that they could exploit the resources of both environments. Settlements were generally small, most consisting of between 20 and 40 residents, although under certain circumstances the population might reach as many as 90. In recent years, as the Panare have begun to congregate around missions and other non-Indian centers, settlement size has increased greatly. In April 1989, Colorado, an evangelical mission village, had 407 inhabitants.

Settlements traditionally consisted of one or sometimes two large collective longhouses, with possibly one or two smaller houses nearby. Houses were made of palm branches lashed to a wooden structure. The overall house form could be oblong or conical, depending on the species of palm available in the vicinity. Within a collective house, nuclear family hearths were arranged around the perimeter, and bachelors slept in the central area. The smaller houses nearby could be cooking sheds, or they might belong to a family unit in the process of breaking away from the main collective house. After about five years, the palm thatch would begin to let in too much rain and the settlement would be moved to a new site. Nowadays settlements tend to be more permanent, as traditional materials are replaced by zinc panels for roofs and mud or even concrete blocks for walls.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Panare have a mixed subsistence economy based on slash-and-burn swidden cultivation, fishing, hunting, and gathering. The principal cultivated crops are manioc, yams, plantains, and maize. All these crops are usually eaten boiled or mashed in the form of broths or drinks. Only limited quantities of cassava bread are made. In some areas rice and sugarcane, both recently imported crops, have become important. Other edible crops include papaws, pumpkins, hot peppers, and peanuts. Cotton, tobacco, and fish poisons are also grown.

Of the sources of animal protein, fishing is more important in the dry season, when the rivers are low and fish are easy to catch, whereas hunting is more important in the rainy season. Fishing is frequently aided by poisons released by certain plants when crushed and dunked in the river. These poisons bring the fish to the surface and make them very slow in their movements. They can then be easily harpooned or even picked out by hand. Nets and traps are never used, but fishing with hook and nylon line is now becoming increasingly common. The shotgun is now widely used for hunting, although the blowgun, charged with curare-tipped darts, is still used for hunting canopy-dwelling game such as monkeys and birds. The most frequently hunted game animals are various species of giant rodent (agoutis, pacas), peccaries, and tapir. Various species of birds and monkeys are also hunted, as is a species of small forest deer.

The most important gathered food in terms of dietary contribution is undoubtedly palm fruit, but the most appreciated by far is honey, and a great deal of time and effort are expended in collecting it. At certain times of year, flying ants and palm grubs are eaten as snacks, usually after being briefly toasted on a griddle.

Industrial Arts. Women weave loincloths and hammocks from cotton grown in the gardens or, increasingly, bought from the criollos. In most communities traditional pottery has been displaced by aluminum ware, but where the former is still found, it is women who make it. It is a very simple ware, painted black inside and out but otherwise without decoration. Men make hunting weapons (harpoons, spears) by shafting slivers of steel fashioned out of old machete blades. They do not make blowpipes since the bamboolike reed used for the inner tube does not grow in their territory. But they do make the darts and the curare with which they are tipped. Men also make musical instruments of various kinds, including long flutes, nose flutes, panpipes, and maracas. They also make rattles from a cluster of toucans' beaks or peccaries' hooves, which are attached to sticks and used as percussion instruments by the women.

The artisanal activity on which men spend most time, however, at least in Western Panare territory, is undoubtedly basket weaving. Carrying baskets and mats are woven from kokorite palm leaves (Maximiliana regia ), whereas manioc sieves and presses, as well as storage baskets of various kinds and a circular decorative basket known as a wapa are woven from itiriti (Ischnosiphon obliquiformis ). The majority of storage baskets and all the wapa are made for sale to tourists. The Panare also make a cheese mold that they sell to local criollo cattle herders.

Trade. Some Western Panare groups traditionally traded their curare for blowpipes produced by their southern neighbors, the Piaroa. This trade has more or less ended, however, since the Piaroa are no longer making many blowpipes. Some communities in the extreme south of Panare territory trade with the neighboring Hoti, exchanging steel goods, aluminum pots, beads, and other industrially produced items for game or the promise of labor in the Panare's agricultural plots. In most parts of Panare territory, however, trade with the criollos is by far the most important. In order to be able to buy industrial goods, the Western Panare sell decorative baskets, whereas those from the south and east sell agricultural produce. In most parts of Panare territory, men also collect tonka beans and sell them to local criollo intermediaries, who then pass them on for use in the industrial manufacture of soaps and perfumes.

Division of Labor. The only significant division of labor is along the lines of gender, and even here there is some overlap. Men hunt, cut down and burn trees for swiddens, collect honey, play the leading role in fishing, weave baskets, and trade with criollos. Women predominate in child care and the planting and harvesting of gardens. They do all the cooking, make pots, weave cotton hammocks and clothing, and gather palm fruits.

Land Tenure. Although a local group is thought to have a vaguely defined right over nearby resources, there are generally no alienable individual rights to land. When a family has prepared a swidden plot, they are thought to have an exclusive right to it, but this is no more than a right of usufruct; when the swidden reverts to forest, their right is thought to lapse also.


Kin Groups and Descent. There are no terms in Panare for "family" or any other kind of kin grouping, although those who share the same settlement (who are often a bilateral kindred) may sometimes be referred to collectively. Descent is traced bilaterally but only to a very limited extent: if a person's grandparents died while he or she was still a child, it is quite likely that the grandchild will not even know their names. On the other hand, the lateral tracing of kinship relationships is theoretically infinite, and even two Panare who have never met before will usually quickly be able to identify a "real" or classificatory relative in common and thereby establish their own relative status.

Kinship Terminology. This apparently paradoxical circumstance is a particular property of the kinship terminology that in Ego's own and the two adjacent generations largely conforms to the ideal-typical two-line symmetric or Dravidian model, with Iroquois cousin terms and bifurcate-merging avuncular terms. In the generations two above and two below Ego, however, there is a greater elaboration of terms that can be associated with the practice of alternate-generation marriage.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. There is a positive rule of marriage that obliges an individual to marry someone from a category that includes cross cousins as well as certain members of the generations two above and two below. Marriages of the latter kind are usually between distant relatives, but a number of marriages of men with their "real" daughter's daughter have been reliably recorded. Such marriages are seen as means whereby the wife's father can pay his father-in-law back for the daughter whom the latter gave him as a spouse. An emphasis on the importance of reinforcing marriage ties between families through reciprocation also influences marriages within generations, with the result that there is a high degree of sibling-group intermarriage.

There is no clear break between courting and marriage and there is no associated rite of passage. A man simply moves his hammock to his prospective wife's family hearth and begins to supply her and her family with food. The union will simply be consolidated by time and/or children. Once children arrive, the new couple will establish an independent hearth within the longhouse and eventually move out altogether, either to found their own collective house with their siblings or to join the husband's residential group. Divorce is relatively rare, but men sometimes take more than one wife, in which case the first union tends to become less significant.

Domestic Unit. The domestic unit typically consists of a nuclear family. Between them, a man and a woman can carry out most subsistence tasks by themselves, but there is usually some degree of collaboration between nuclear families and pooling of the food produced within the residential group. The principal occasion for this collective consumption is the joint meal, one for each gender, which takes place on most evenings in a Panare settlement.

Inheritance. Individuals have very little personal property other than their clothes, hammock, hunting weapons, and tools. All these are buried with the deceased or destroyed. Dogs and other domestic animals are killed. Modern goods such as shotguns, cassette players, and motorbikes, which are expensive and difficult to replace, are usually sold to someone outside of the community, preferably a criollo.

Socialization. Shortly after birth, a child is given certain body adornments that vary according to gender. No name is given a child until at least the age of 2 years, when she or he is assigned one of a long list of names specific to children. Children lead a carefree life, doing largely what they like and rarely receiving any reprimand. Social and technical skills are learned by example rather than by formal instruction. It is noticeable, though, that from a very early age boys and girls play separately. This gender division is accentuated when a boy is about 10 and leaves the family hearth to sleep alongside other bachelors in the center of the collective house. Shortly thereafter, he is initiated by being dressed in his first loincloth during a special public ceremony. He will then adopt one of the six possible adult male names, but he is unlikely to get married until he is at least 18. A girl's initiation ceremony takes place shortly after her first menstruation, but this is a private event, for her immediate female relatives only. She will then adopt one of the four possible adult female names and marry within two or three years.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The largest group that has any collective identity is the settlement. Although anthropologists have distinguished between Western, Eastern, and Southern Panare on the basis of minor cultural and linguistic traits, these terminological distinctions are not recognized by the Panare themselves. Each settlement group is an autonomous entity, owing no allegiance to any other.

Political Organization. Panare society is highly egalitarian. Although men generally exert some control over women, one adult has very little power over another of the same gender in day-to-day life. There is no word for "chief" as such, though the term i'yan is used of someone with leadership qualities; there can be one, many, or no i'yan in a given community. The authority of an i'yan is very limited and rarely extends beyond his own settlement.

Social Control. There are no formal institutions of social control. Deviant behavior receives only adverse comment from other members of the settlement, but this is very effective since deviance is rare. Serious misdemeanors and irreconcilable conflicts are simply resolved by one of the parties leaving the settlement.

Conflict. Oral tradition includes accounts of warfare in the distant past, but physical violence is abhorred by the Panare and is almost unknown today.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Panare believe that the world was created by their culture hero, Mareoka. Their first ancestors lived at a place called Arewa, which some Panare associate with a mountain from which the Río Cuchivero springs, and other Panare with the banks of the Orinoco. From here they spread out to populate the world, but not before Mareoka had turned many of them into the game animals on which the Panare now depend. Despite his importance as its creator, Mareoka no longer influences the world, and no living Panare ever seeks his intervention. Indeed, most of the Panare's traditional religious behavior consists of trying to avoid contact with the supernatural, since any misfortune or illness is attributed to one of the many malignant but invisible spirits thought to roam the world.

Religious Practitioners. Those with shamanic qualities are described as i'yan. They enjoy no special privileges, but they are thought to be capable of curing the sick and/or leading the singing at public ceremonies. In order to become a shaman, one has to undergo a rigorous but largely self-directed training, one of the main purposes of which is to establish control of a number of jaguar familiars.

Ceremonies. The most elaborate ceremonies are funerals and male initiation. The forms of both were taught to the Panare by Mareoka long ago. The male-initiation ceremonies culminate with the dressing of boys between 10 and 12 in their first loincloths, but there are many preliminary rites in which the Panare's hunting, fishing, and agricultural activities are also celebrated. The main purpose of the funeral ceremony is to ensure that the soul of the deceased returns to Arewa and does not remain in this world to pester the living. All ceremonies involve much dancing and chanting as well as the consumption of great quantities of mildly alcoholic sugarcane or cassava beer. For this reason these ceremonies have been opposed by evangelical missionaries and have been abandoned in the evangelized communities.

Arts. Public ceremonies are the most developed form of artistic expression, not only in terms of music and dance, but also in relation to body decoration and ritual paraphernalia. Otherwise, the only significant artistic activity is the weaving of decorative baskets for sale to tourists.

Medicine. There is no elaborate pharmacopoeia, although emetics are widely used to cure stomach disorders. Shamanic curing largely consists of trying to suck out the darts blown into the victim by evil spirits.

Death and Afterlife. Death occurs when the soul (inyeto ) leaves the body. The body is buried, but the soul becomes a ko'cham, a dangerous spirit roaming this world unit; during the funeral ceremony, it is invited to dance with the living for one last time and then dispatched back to Arewa.


Henley, Paul (1982). The Panare: Tradition and Change on the Amazonian Frontier. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Henley, Paul (1988). "Los e'ñepa." In Etnología contemporánea. Vol. 3, edited by Jacques Lizot, 215-306. Los aborígenes de Venezuela, edited by Walter Coppens and Bernarda Escalante. Monograph no. 35. Caracas: Fundación La Salle, Instituto Caribe de Antropología y Sociología.

Henley, Paul, and Marie-Claude Mattei-Muller (1978). "Panare Basketry: Means of Commercial Exchange and Artistic Expression." Antropológica (Caracas) 49:29-130.

Mattei-Muller, Marie-Claude (1990). And Mareoka Created the World.. . . Caracas: Armitano.