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ETHNONYMS: Capuruchano, Saruro, Yaruro, Yuapín, Zaruro


Identification. The Pume live in southwestern Venezuela and call themselves "Pume" (people). If asked, the Pume further distinguish between the Bea Khonome Pume, who live along the major rivers, and the Ciri Khonome Pume, who live in the open savanna. The name "Yaruro" is applied by criollos (non-Indian Venezuelan nationals) to the Bea Khonome Pume and has been the most common ethnonym used in the literature, whereas the term "Capuruchano" is used by criollos to refer to the Ciri Khonome Pume.

Location. The Pume are located between 6° and 8° N and 67° and 70° W. This area of Venezuela is known as the Llanos, or plains, of the Río Apure and is a subregion of the vast neotropical savanna region of Venezuela and Colombia forming the western half of the Orinoco River Basin. This vast region is extensively flooded during the wet season, which lasts from May through September; the dry season lasts from October through April and is characterized by excessive drought. The Bea Khonome Pume constitute approximately 83 percent of the population and live on the banks of the Apure, Arauca, Capanaparo, Riecito, and lower Cinaruco rivers. The Ciri Khonome Pume constitute the remaining 17 percent of the population and live along seasonal tributaries of the Capanaparo, Cinaruco, and Riecito rivers in open savanna.

Demography. The First National Indian Census of Venezuela, performed in 1982-1983, enumerated a total of 3,859 Pume. Earlier census attempts among the Pume largely estimated the population (incorrectly) and are too unreliable to establish the current rate of population growth. Only about 3 percent of the total Pume population are urban dwellers (most of these live in and around San Fernando de Apure); the remaining 97 percent live in rural areas.

Linguistic Affiliation. There is no consensus among scholars on the affiliation of the Pume-mae language, still spoken by nearly all Pume. Some classify it with the Jivaroan languages of eastern Ecuador, others group it with the Chibchan languages of eastern Colombia, and still others maintain it is an independent language. Pumemae is polysyllabic and nontonal, with twenty-one consonants and fifteen vowels. Pume-mae has been reduced to a phonetic alphabet that the Venezuelan government is attempting to introduce among Pume children attending grammar school.

History and Cultural Relations

The first record of the Pume by the Spanish explorers of the New World dates from 1589. In northern South America, the history and presence of groups such as the Pume that belong to independent language stocks remain enigmatic since Arawak-speaking groups were culturally and numerically dominant at first Spanish contact in 1498. Jesuit missionaries established the first Catholic mission among the Pume in 1739 by militarily confining the essentially nomadic Pume to a mission site. Between 1767 and 1800 Capuchin missionaries following the Jesuits' steps after their expulsion from Spanish dominions established several more missions in the Llanos that included Pume in their congregations. The Venezuelan War of Independence (1810-1820) caused an 80 percent drop in the criollo population in the Llanos of Apure. There followed a 100year period during which the area stagnated economically, and there was little contact between Pume and non-Indians. During the 1930s the first neocolonial cattle ranches were established along the Río Capanaparo, marking the beginning of the modern economic development of the area. At present, all Pume villages, no matter how remote, come into occasional contact with criollo ranchers, and many Pume work as migrant laborers during the dry season. The Venezuelan Office of Indian Affairs maintains four field offices among the Pume that are meant to provide technical, educational, and medical assistance to them.


The 1982-1983 census noted a total of 100 Pume communities ranging in size from 3 to 274 people with an average size of 39 people. Villages are spatially discrete and tend to be located at 5to 16-kilometer intervals. The Bea Khonome Pume locate their villages on the river levee less than 1 kilometer from the channel. These villages tend to be permanent, some having been continuously occupied for over thirty years. The Ciri Khonome Pume, more mobile than the Bea Khonome Pume, maintain a wet-season and a dry-season village, each occupied for approximately six months of the year and relocated every three to five years. In addition, up to nine different camps may be used during the dry season for periods of a few days to a few weeks. Villages of both the Bea Khonome and the Ciri Khonome Pume are compact in area and have as their characteristic feature a large, circular plazalike area on their eastern side, which is used during the the ceremony (see "Ceremonies"). Houses are built of poles tied together with vines and covered to within 50 centimeters of the ground with moriche palm fronds (Mauritia flexuosa ) or corrugated iron. Houses generally lack walls, enabling free circulation of air. Shelters in the camps used by Ciri Khonome Pume during the early and late dry season, when rainfall is possible, consist of small conical structures 1 to 2 meters in diameter and thatched with palm fronds; camps used in midsummer, when rain is no longer a problem, have shelters consisting of a few upright leafy tree limbs that simply provide protection from the sun.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Fishing provides approximately 17 percent of the calories and 64 percent of the protein in the Pume diet, whereas slash-and-burn farming of manioc and corn provides about 62 percent of the calories and 8 percent of the protein. Additional food resources providing smaller percentages of the diet consist of various species of waterfowl, three species of dwarf caimans, savanna armadillos, various species of wild tubers collected in the savannas and forested areas, and rice and pasta products obtained as compensation for manual labor performed for local criollo ranchers. Over one-half of the total time dedicated to subsistence activities is spent fishing; this activity is performed with bow and arrow (from platforms and blinds), hook and line, spear, and poison. Domestic animals maintained by the Pume include chickens, pigs, and dogs.

Industrial Arts. Items of everyday use such as hammocks, baskets, mats, and other woven products are fashioned as needed by the members of each household. There are five Pume villages that specialize in making water jugs, cassava (manioc cake) griddles, and other pottery objects for retailing. Some Pume families manufacture alpargatas (sandals with a rubber tire sole and uppers of woven nylon cord).

Trade. Visiting Pume commonly barter for woven household items, arrows, hallucinogenic virola seeds (Anandenanthera peregrina ) and freshwater mussel shells (various species) for making nan (a hallucinogen), commercial clothing, and metal implements such as knives, machetes, and fishhooks. Pottery artifacts and alpargatas are sold directly to consumers or to middlemen who come to the villages where these items are manufactured.

Division of Labor. There is a well-defined division of labor among the Pume. Fishing and hunting are almost exclusively male activities, except for poison fishing and armadillo hunting, in which women occasionally participate. Only men and boys over 10 years of age engage in wagelabor activities, consisting of fence building and paddock weeding. Most gardening activities are performed by men and women, although clearing and burning of fields is performed by men only. Women collect wild tubers, prepare and cook food, clean house, and care for babies and infants.

Land Tenure. There is no concept of individual landownership among the Pume, but members of each community recognize an area of approximately 200 square kilometers surrounding the main settlement as their area of rightful use and exploitation. Individual and communal slash-and-burn gardens are established here, and most wild tuber collecting, hunting, and fishing activities take place within this area. Without outside interference, communities apparently remain within the boundaries of these areas for many years; even the more mobile Ciri Khonome Pume can use these areas for fifteen years or more. Extensive cattle ranching by criollos now causes land-access problems for most Pume. Conflict arises over lakes and ponds where the Pume fish and the cattle drink water, but the most serious problem has been the actual dispossession of many Pume of their traditional resource areas. Criollos have fenced the land, which is typically nationally owned, and forced the Pume off in the process. As a result, many Pume have been pushed into seasonal migrant work in order to meet the subsistence needs of their families.


Kin Groups and Descent. Descent has minimal significance among the Pume. The largest cooperative or aligned kin group is the nuclear family.

Kinship Terminology. The Pume use Dravidian terminology, which systematically distinguishes parallel and cross relatives. Relative age is recognized among classificatory siblings.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Up to 30 percent of nuclear family groups in a village may be polygynous. A polygynous man typically marries two women, but may marry up to four; these plural wives are generally sisters or half sisters. The preferred marriage is to a cross cousin, which for a man would be either father's sister's daughter or mother's brother's daughter. There does not seem to be a preference for patrilateral or matrilateral cross cousins. Marriage may be either locally exogamous or endogamous depending on the availability of partners. New families typically reside with a close relative of one of the partnersusually mother's brotherfor one to two years before establishing an independent household. Divorce is not common, but when it occurs children remain with their mother.

Domestic Unit. The nuclear family, comprising three to four individuals, is the basic domestic group that lives together, eats together, and forms an independent economic unit. Although multifamily houses formed of close relatives are occupied seasonally among the Ciri Khonome Pume and year-round in some Bea Khonome Pume villages, households are still only nuclear-family based. Widowed men (who are more common than widowed women) usually maintain their own house, but give any food items they obtain from fishing or hunting to a brother's, sister's, or daughter's family unit and receive cooked food in return.

Inheritance. Personal property is minimal, and upon the death of an individual useful items such as bows, arrows, knives, or clothing are simply divided among surviving family members.

Socialization. Infants and young children receive primary care from their mothers but are also watched over by their mother's close female relatives. Emphasis is placed on independence and self-reliance to the point that children beyond the age of 3 or 4 years are seldom under direct or active parental supervision for most of the day. Physical punishment of children is not practiced.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Pume society is organized by family and residence only; there is no social hierarchy or class structure. Villages are composed of between four and thirteen nuclear family units, and residence in a village determined by kinship.

Political Organization. Villages are politically autonomous, each having a headman referred to as ote (old one). The headman lacks true authority since he cannot order or punish individuals; rather he serves as a focal point of information about villagewide events, such as seasonal moves, and acts as a social host to village visitors. Traditionally, headmen probably assumed their position through personal charisma as well as their social abilities. As the Pume come into increasing contact with criollos who do not speak Pume-mae, it is often the individual who speaks Spanish who becomes the headman. Recently, some Pume have been appointed by the Venezuelan government or have appointed themselves representatives of all Pume. Given the lack of a cultural precedent for such a leader, few Pume acknowledge the apparent authority of these individuals.

Social Control. Villagewide participation in most social and religious events provides the basis for community cohesiveness and orderliness in Pume society. The headman of a village does not impose social control, but individuals going beyond the norms of acceptability are jokingly jostled and pressured by their peers to conform.

Conflict. Interpersonal conflict among the Pume is rare and is generally avoided by not allowing the situation to develop. For example, to avoid having to give visitors bows and arrows (which are often in short supply), these items are hidden in the grass or forest beyond the village (once asked for, an item cannot be denied if it is visible). Physical injury resulting from a conflict is socially censured and causes great consternation among the Pume. Such an action is now generally attributed (often rightly) to getting drunk on commercially available alcohol, for which the Pume have a low tolerance; many Pume object to drinking commercial alcohol out of fear of its effects upon their behavior and community solidarity.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The Pume are polytheistic and have a pantheon composed of five culture heroes and numerous minor spirits called tio. The five culture heroes of the Pume are a woman called Kumañi; her two younger sisters, Hareroñi and Pareapañi; her younger brother Aetanerea, or Ichiai; and Poana, a giant anaconda. Minor spirits provide personal guidance, assistance, or protection and act as guardians of the sky, the water, and the earth. Living in the forests and certain areas of the savanna are evil spirits called yarka, said to cause illness and death.

Religious Practitioners. Each village usually has a religious specialistshamanbut at some level all men and women are free to communicate with otherworldly beings. The shaman has a dual role in the village. First, he is the guardian of the rocks called tio ikara (spirit box) that contain or represent guardian and assistance spirits for members of that community. Second, the shaman performs most of the cures that involve "sucking" an evil spirit out of the sick person's body.

Ceremonies. The principal religious ceremony, the, is an all-night event of singing and dancing. Practiced once or twice a week year-round, these events are held so the living may communicate with the spirits of dead relatives living with Kumañi in her otherworld located in the western sky. Other important rites and ceremonies are associated with puberty, menstruation, postpartum, curing, hunting, and fishing.

Arts. Women often paint their faces with geometric designs in preparation for a the ceremony. Men carve animal figurines from jet that the women wear on bead necklaces. Men also carve the gourd rattles used during this ceremony with figures representing Kumañi, Poana, the jaguar spirit, and dead relatives. The rattle is the only musical instrument used by the Pume, but song is a well-developed form of Pume expression. The singing at a the is performed by a soloist, who is answered in song by a choir of all the men and women in the village.

Medicine. Illness is attributed to possession or the actions of yarka. Cures are performed with numerous plant remedies and by singing, sucking the evil spirits from the ill person, and spitting water on him or her.

Death and Afterlife. The death of someone is a sorrowful event, but also transcendent because it signifies that a spirit will now join those of previously deceased relatives. The dead are buried in a semiflexed position on their right side at a depth of about 130 centimeters. The grave is marked on the surface with a log up to 100 centimeters in length laid lengthwise to the body. The spirit of the deceased is believed to go to the land of Kumañi, where everything is clean, there is no illness, and no one suffers from hunger.


Gragson, Theodore L. (1989). Allocation of Time to Subsistence and Settlement in a Ciri Khonome Pume Vittage of the Llanos of Apure, Venezuela. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International.

Leeds, Anthony (1961). "Yaruro Incipient Tropical Forest HorticulturePossibilities and Limits." In The Evolution of Horticultural Systems in Native South America: Causes and Consequences, edited by Johannes Wilbert, 13-46. Caracas: Fundacíon La Salle de Ciencias Naturales, Instituto Caribe de Antropología y Sociología.

Mitrani, Philippe (1988). "Los Pume (Yaruro)." In Etnología contemporánea. Vol. 3, edited by Jacques Lizot, 147-213. Los Aborígenes de Venezuela, edited by Walter Coppens and Bernarda Escalante. Monograph no. 35. Caracas: Fundación La Salle de Ciencias Naturales, Instituto Caribe de Antropología y Sociología.

Petrullo, Vicenzo M. (1939). "The Yaruros of the Capanaparo River, Venezuela." Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 123:161-290.