ALTERNATE NAMES: Arecuna, Kamarakoto, Taurepan
POPULATION: 15,000 (estimate)
RELIGION: Indigenous beliefs mingled with Christian elements
Though the date of first occupation of the Gran Sabana is not known, the Pemon are thought to have immigrated into the region some 200 years ago. The Pemon-Caribs are known in the literature as Arecuna, Kamarakoto, and Taurepan. They call themselves Pemon and became widely known relatively recently when Capuchin missionaries and Protestant evangelists from Guyana and Brazil came to their territory in the southeast of Venezuela, together with the first gold and diamond mine workers. There are no historical sources from before 1750, when the area was mentioned in the context of determining borderlines by individuals who never visited the area. The first real incursions date from 1838 and 1843. At the end of the 19th century, English Protestant missionaries started to evangelize among the Pemon, followed later by all kinds of Christian groups, but it was only in 1931 that the first Capuchin mission post in the Pemon area was established, 20 km (12 mi) from the Brazilian border. From 1936 onward, the gold and diamond rush penetrated the area and, during the 1960s, the air connection and overland route were built. But, the diamond mining operations have been intermittent. This, together with the poor quality of Pemon agricultural land and grasses for pasturage, and the late opening of the Pemon area, has spared them from major land invasions. Many traditions and much of the original communication—language, smoke signals, and swift-footed walks—have survived.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
The expanse of the Pemon's tribal territory covers the coastal area of the Atlantic in Venezuela, the inland mountain savanna area, and the Amazon area. They are the most far-flung of the Central Guiana Highlands peoples. The Guayana region of La Gran Sabana in the state of Bolivar is characterized by big table-mountains and an immense savanna. The German writer and explorer, Uwe George, when describing what he saw in this part of the Pemon territory, in a remote corner of southeastern Venezuela near the border with Brazil and Guyana, spoke of the tepuis, the Pemon word for enormous sandstone mesas. The tepuis are the remains of mighty sandstone plateaus that once stretched across the entire area. In the course of time the plateaus were largely worn down by erosion, leaving only the tepuis as giant monuments to their existence. The word tepui means "house of gods" in the native language of the Pemon.
The table-top mountains are the oldest exposed rock formations on the planet, and there are more than 100 such tepuis, but fewer than half have been extensively explored. Many of them are hidden by dense cloud cover for days at a time, like the surface of Venus. "In some respects," George says, "we know more about that distant planet than we do about the vast and mysterious tepuis of Venezuela." The tops of this flat-topped hill are characterized by cool temperatures with frequent rain- fall, while the bases of the mountains have a tropical, warm, and humid climate. Some tepui depressions contain unique animals and flora not found anywhere else in the world. This has led topographers and other scientists to call the tepuis the Galapagos Islands of the mainland. Most tepuis are located in the more than 30,000 square kilometers that conform the Canaima National Park in Venezuela, which in 1994 was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The most famous tepuis in the park are Mount Roraima, the tallest and easiest to climb, and Auyantepui, which has the Angel Falls, the highest waterfall in the world with 807 m (2,648 ft) of altitude. The Pemon have an intimate relationship with the tepuis and believe they are the home of the mawari spirits.
There are at least 40 languages in Venezuela, and Pemon is one of them. According to the Venezuelan constitution of 1999, Spanish as well as the languages spoken by Indigenous peoples from Venezuela are considered official. Pemon is a Caribbean language spoken mainly in Venezuela, specifically in the Gran Sabana region of Bolivar State. According to the 2001 census, there are 15,094 Pemon speakers in Venezuela. Other names used in the literature to describe Pemon speakers are: Pemong, Arecuna, Aricuna, Jaricuna, Kamarakoto, Camaracoto, Taurepan, Taulipang, Makuxi, Macuxi, and Macushi. There are two major Pemon dialects, Taurepan and Arecuna. Speakers of each dialect can understand each other fairly easily. Two other closely related languages, Camaracoto and Ingariko, are also considered Pemon dialects by some linguists but are more distinct and difficult for Taurepan and Arecuna speakers to understand.
Father Cesareo de Armellada was the author of the first grammar and dictionary of the Pemon language (1943), formerly called Taurepan. The world of the Pemon is shown in their very descriptive language. Their word for "sugarcane" is kaiwara-kún-imá, which means "pineapple with very long leg." The word for "pineapple" itself, kaiwara, means "a sweet with wrinkles." The Pemon word for "dew" is chirké-yetakú, which means "star's saliva." Yetakú is "saliva" or, more precisely, "juice of the teeth."
There is no word for "year" in the Pemon language, and the day is divided into "dawning," "morning," "noontime," "afternoon," and then just "dark" or "nighttime." Most temporal references only cover "yesterday," "today," "tomorrow," and pena, "time past." The Pemon speak their own Carib language among each other, and Spanish or pidgin Spanish with the criollos (mixed-blood Venezuelans). In the mission villages and mining areas of the state of Bolivar, more and more youngsters also use Spanish in their own Amerindian society. Most Pemon people have Christian names now. They often have two Amerindian names as well, one of which is a sacred and secret name.
The religious notions from the time before contact with the Christian world have been preserved by accounts from anthropologists and folk tales. The Pemon traditionally believed that each person has five souls that look like shadows of a human. The fifth one is the one that talks and leaves the body to travel around when the person is dreaming. This is the only one that goes to the beyond after death, en route to the Milky Way. Before arriving, it meets the Father of the Dogs, and if the person has mistreated his or her dogs, their souls will recognize the person and kill him or her. One of the other four souls inhabits the knee and stays put for a while after death to turn later into a bad spirit. The other three souls turn into birds of prey after death. All animals and plants are believed to have souls. Stones, on the other hand, do not have souls but house bad spirits.
The Makunaima is a sequence of creation tales of the Pemon land, crops, techniques, and social practices. It starts with the creation of a wife for the first Pemon—the Sun—by a water nymph. The basic sexual divisions of labor, and the ideas of proficiency in subsistence tasks as a prerequisite to a successful marriage, are laid out in this story. At the time, the Sun was a person. One day he went to the stream and saw a small woman with long hair. He managed to grasp her hair, but she told him, "Not me! I will send you a woman to be your companion and your wife." Her name was Tuenkaron, and the next day she sent the Sun a White woman. He fed her, and she lit a fire. But when the Sun sent her to the stream, as she came in contact with water, she collapsed into a little heap of clay. The woman was made of white earth. The next day Tuenkaron sent him a black woman. She was able to bring water, but when she tried to light a fire, she melted: the woman was made of wax. The third woman was red, a rock-colored woman. The sun tested her—she did not melt or collapse. She was strong and able to contribute to the running of the household. They had several children, and these are the Pemon. Other important myths are the Tree of Life and the Spirit of Death.
The Tree of Life narrates a famine experienced by Pemon ancestors and how they managed to overcome this great hunger. According to this tale, Pemon people discovered a magical tree laden down in the jungle. What made this tree special was that it had all the fruits and vegetables in the world, which allowed the tribe to survive in times of scarcity. The Spirit of Death is related to the highest waterfall in the world: the Angel Falls. Even though this natural beauty is regarded as one of the most impressive natural beauties, for the Pemon people the cascade represents an evil spirit that seduces the visitors with its gorgeous beauty and attracts them into the forest where a poisonous snake awaits to bite the intruders.
The wide range of myths in Pemon culture finds its explanation in the fact that they do not believe in natural death, therefore, all legends are an attempt to explain through magical means the people's disappearance. Moreover, with the purpose of personalizing the evil, Pemon people have created a symbolic character, the Kanaima. This figure represents death in Pemon culture. According to the popular belief, it is the Kanima who seeks them to defeat and kill them. Among Kanima's supernatural powers is the ability to take the form of a jaguar or a spirit.
Though the Pemon have been relatively spared the influence of the modern nation-state, as not enough of anything valuable has been found to attract wholesale colonization, the presence of missions has left its mark. Most of the Amerindian thoughts and consciousness came to be mixed to a lesser or higher degree with Christian elements. Chichikrai is the name for Jesus Christ in three syncretistic Christian Amerindian cults: Hallelujah, Chochiman, and San Miguel. These cults have the nature of a spiritual movement. Hallelujah as a name suggests Christian influence. However, while to Christians it means "Praise the Lord," to the Amerindian it means "the word of god." This is because, in a vision given by God to a former shaman, who had converted to Christianity and was then betrayed by the missionaries, God taught the shaman the new religion and told him it was called Hallelujah. Some Hallelujah beliefs are similar to Christian beliefs. They believe in God and Jesus Christ as his son but do not acknowledge the concept of salvation through Jesus Christ's death and resurrection. In spite of the strength of Catholicism, the Pemon believe in Kanaima—the spirit of evil. Social traditions, like cross-cousin marriage, that are opposed by the Church are practiced by many Pemon. Cult saints, like Maria Leonza, a female saint of Amerindian origin whose role is a healing and protecting one, sometimes can hardly be discerned from another local saint, the Virgin of the Valley, who is actually a Maria (Mary, mother of Jesus) in the Catholic sense.
An important attempt to prevent the disappearance of Pemon beliefs and traditions was made in 1985 at the AVEC Congress on Bilingual Education. It was declared that the Amerindians have a natural right to uphold their traditional beliefs, and that Jesus Christ and the New Testament are only additions to that indigenous religion.
As most Pemon have been evangelized, their major holidays are the same as those celebrated by Catholics. Holy Week and Christmas are duly kept, with open demonstrations of sorrow during the first and joy in the latter. As is common all over Latin America, religious practices are a potpourri of new and old beliefs and, particularly in the case of peoples like the Pemon Indians whose cultural memory has not been lost, the shadows of the past can be traced, even when hidden behind a thick layer of Catholicism.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Traditional rites of passage were associated with the life-cycle (birth, puberty, and death), but most are no longer celebrated. Baptism in a Catholic mission is the only important rite of passage nowadays. Often the father will give the child a name in the Pemon language that is secret, and it is forbidden to use the secret name to address any person, male or female. Not so with Spanish names, and the Pemon are eager to baptize their children to give them such names. Women usually do not have last names, and men adopt the ones of their criollo (mixed-blood Venezuelan) bosses in the diamond mines. Brothers, therefore, sometimes end up with different last names.
One of the traditional rites of passage ruled eating habits during pregnancy to protect the soul of the child. The parents were forbidden to eat big fish, some species of birds, and many mammals. The big fish, for example, would take the child's soul into the water where it would drown. The parents were allowed, on the other hand, to eat small fish and the dove wakuwa, which is the one that brings the soul to the baby.
The Pemon believe that the man forms the baby in the woman's uterus through repeated copulation. According to traditional beliefs, the solid parts of babies—the bones—come from the father, and the blood comes from the mother. The mother gives birth behind a partition installed in the hut. Her mother or mother-in-law helps her. For ten days after the birth, the parents stay behind the partition with their newborn child.
The rites of puberty also involved forbidden foods for males for a year after the first ceremony in which an alderman lashed the boy's body, made incisions in his body, and applied magical substances to the wounds. Finally, the boy had to endure the challenge of the ants. Girls' hair was cut before their first menstruation, and the edges of their mouths were tattooed in a traditional design. At the first sign of menstruation, the girl would retire to her hammock and was considered impure. Her grandmother would then paint her whole body. At some point during puberty, the girls also had to endure the challenge of the ants, on their hands, arms, face, and feet.
Marriage is the key to the social organization of the Pemon people: it determines the pattern of visits between villages, which is at the heart of their social life. Reciprocal visits for beer parties and meetings with relatives tie neighborhoods and regions together. The prestige of a settlement is often gauged by the quality and quantity of manioc (cassava) beer offered by the hosts. Conversation is animated when the family gathers around the pepper pot, and if guests are present, the men will eat first. Overt conflict, anger, and fighting are strongly reproved by the Pemon. The basic response to conflict is to withdraw from the conflict situation, often by taking an extended visit to relatives living elsewhere and waiting for things to calm down. Gossip, ridicule, and sometimes ostracism are used as ways of controlling situations. Gossip, however, is a double edged weapon: the Pemon say trouble occurs over false gossip and women. As the Pemon do not approve of anger or displays of hostility, physical punishment of their children is very rare. If an adult strikes a child at all, it is so mildly as to be merely a reminder. Pemon children learn by example and are given free rein.
In the old days, when somebody in a Pemon village fell ill, the local shaman or paisan ascribed the illness to one of the many mythical spirits. For healing, the shaman uses his taren recipes, a mixture of magical and medicinal plants and charms. The taren is a magical invocation, a verbal spell that can aid in the birth of a child, counter the bite of various snakes, heal headaches and stomach pain, and so on. The taren can only be taught on a one-to-one basis, and its performance is as private as possible. Taren esak are practitioners and may be men or women who do not have to be shamans. The problem is that the traditional taren and murang treatments cannot heal the Old World diseases easily, to which the Amerindians are still extremely sensitive, as they were in the first centuries of the colonial period when their population was decimated. Today, "medicine-men" as well as dentists have the task to visit the Amerindian villages in their area regularly, but the modern criollo (mixed-blood Venezuelan) doctors are too far distant. Still, mission-provided antibiotics and vaccines have reduced Pemon infant mortality rates.
The Pemon's traditional housing consists of huts whose walls are made of clay or bark, with roofs made of palm leaves. Their shape is either oblong or rounded and, more recently, square. Also recent is the introduction of walls within the house. The hammocks are hung from the beams of the roof, and a fire is kept at one or two corners of the house. Arrows, knifes, axes, and fishing rods are piled up in one corner, while baskets, haversacks, and pumpkins hang on the walls. The Pemon, even those who live in the forest, like to build their houses out in the open savanna. They place them near watercourses, and often the settlements are known by the name of the adjacent watercourse. Living on the savanna and cultivating in the forest often means traveling long distances on foot to get to the fields and back.
The traditional subsistence activities of the Pemon are agriculture, hunting, and fishing, but today there is increasingly more work to be found in mining and tourism.
Marriage is the basis of the principal economic unit: the couple. The relationship between the father-in-law and son-in-law is most important. For the father-in-law, his son-in-law is the substitute for his own son; therefore, after the marriage, the son-in-law will detach himself from his own father and take care of his father-in-law. In the Pemon society there is no wedding ceremony. The groom simply moves his hammock to his father-in-law's house and starts working with him.
The Pemon love their children, and their attitude towards them is lenient. Grown-ups never impose severe prohibitions, and parents are not constantly reminding their children how they should behave. Children learn by following the parents' example and very seldom require discipline or punishment.
Pemon women can run the household well enough by themselves, and they often do so, as their husbands are absent for long periods on trading trips, working at missions, or in the diamond mines.
Even though in the past the Pemon went naked, now the traditional clothing of a Pemon woman is an apron made of cotton or beads. At the beginning of the 20th century, Pemon women wore metal earrings known as butterfly earrings. It was also common for them to have facial tattoos and to wear bands of cotton cloth or glass beads around their arms and legs. Traditionally, the men wore loincloths, which in the 20th century were made of a bright red fabric obtained from the criollos (mixed-blood Venezuelans). Influenced by the Capuchin missions, by 1945 the Pemon had started wearing Western cotton clothes: the men tend to wear khaki, while the women make their dresses using cotton fabrics with patterns. The mixture of indigenous and outside items is not exclusive: the Pemon might wear Venezuelan alpargatas, or Western-style shoes, but it does not mean they have abandoned their own sandals, made from parts of the moriche palm stalk.
Yucca, manioc root, or cassava, as for many other Amerindian groups, is an important ingredient for the Pemon's culinary art. The peeling, washing, and grating of this root is done by women, who then proceed to squeeze out the acid and, with the resulting dough, prepare their flat bread or fermented drinks. One of these beverages, the cachiri, is made with bitter yucca paste that is grated and chewed and mixed with a red root, cachiriyek, also grated. The mix is then boiled for a whole day. The resulting brew is mildly intoxicating.
Also part of the Pemon diet are a spinach-like vegetable called aurosa, peppers, more than 10 varieties of bananas, potatoes, pineapple, plantain, and sugarcane. Women gather peppers and aurosa daily for the pepper pot, a soup that forms part of every meal. Fishing provides the principal source of animal protein in the Pemon diet. In the past, hunting was not very effective, though men put a lot of time into it. The situation changed, however, with the arrival of firearms in the 1940s. Birds and mammals, such as deer and vampire bats, became an important part of their diet. During the rainy season, the Pemon capture flying ants, and throughout the year, they gather the larvae found in the moriche palm.
One of the Pemon tools for educating their young is oral tradition. Their many stories are used by the elders to teach their sense of morality and concept of the world. "A-pantoní-penichii," "May you take advantage of this story," are often the closing words of the narrator.
Since the law of 1979, bilingual education at Amerindian primary schools is compulsory. Most of the main languages in Amerindian territory have at least one schoolbook. Though the teachers' organizations and the government have proved their good will in the recent past, the difficulties are considerable; they include long distances, bureaucracy, and Amerindian teachers sometimes too acculturated to cooperate wholeheartedly or just too poor to travel to the federal bilingual course far away in the middle of the industrialized part of the country. Some Pemon children spend time in mission boarding or day schools, through the primary school years and sometimes beyond.
Music and dance are important components of Pemon activity. The same forms of dances and melodies, with different texts, are performed in medical contexts, shamanistic wars, or hunting preparations. They also accompany various rites of passage, incidental celebrations, and nonpublic healing rituals. Mari' or Mari'k, for example, is the Pemon word for the dance and music that used to be performed in public by the paisan (shaman) and his assistants. In one Mari'k everyone sang and danced and stamped the waronka (a hollow tube of wood or bamboo) or a branch around which strings of rustling and rattling seeds or shells are hung. They also played flutes and a kind of horn made from a long, straight bamboo tube. The Pemon paisan generally restrained himself to a bundle of rustling leaves, the drum sambura, or the waronka.
Nowadays, there are no paisans left in the Christianized Pemon villages, and some Pemon seem to be ashamed of tokens from the past, like old instruments. Still, on occasions when cachiri -drinking makes them receptive to tradition, spontaneously an old dance starts. With sticks and empty cans and tins, they sing songs full of endlessly repeated short phrases, varied by improvisation, jokes, and remnants of the old shaman songs.
Work for the Pemon is part of life, and there is no word for working other than senneka, which means "being active" more than "laboring." Only when they started working with the missionaries or miners did they adopt the Spanish word trabajo (work) that turned into trabasoman to characterize work done in the European fashion. The Pemon's means of subsistence are based in slash-and-burn horticulture, fishing, hunting, and collection of wild fruits and insects. There is now considerable flexibility in the division of work in all areas among the Pemon people. Traditionally, for example, men were responsible for the preparation of the soil, while women were in charge of weeding, harvesting, and transporting the produce.
Processing bitter manioc (cassava) takes a long time and a great deal of effort, but women break the monotony with the aid and companionship of other women. The arrival of metal tools made the preparation of the fields less difficult, so the men have more time for mining diamonds and gold. The task of fishing is usually shared. Catching the small fish found in the savanna is possible with the help of the inek, a poisonous plant that asphyxiates the fish and brings them to the surface where they can be easily trapped with nets. The men go up the river and pound the stems of the inek to extract the poison, while the women and children wait down the river to gather the fish with the nets. A Pemon man is a hunter, fisherman, woodsman, clearer of fields, maker of fiber basketry, and house-builder. A Pemon woman is a manioc-processor, weaver and tier of cotton, seamstress, and tier of fish nets. Cooking and procuring water and wood is left to the women. They are also responsible for the care of the children, though men help.
Spectator sports were not very common among aboriginal tribes. Most of the talents applauded by indigenous societies are what they consider to be essential survival skills and and are part and parcel of Amerindians' day-to-day life. Fishing, hunting, and merely getting from one place to another demand the ability to run fast, jump high and long, master archery and swimming, etc. Though good hunters might be admired, hunting is still above all a subsistence activity.
Pemon Indians who are in close contact with Whites participate in the national sporting culture.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
The Pemon culture is very rich in what is known as oral literature: tales and legends that the Amerindians call pantón. There is no specific time dedicated to telling stories, but the favorite moment is just before going to sleep. The morning is the time to narrate and interpret dreams, and storytelling might happen again after meals. Stories and legends are considered luxuries of such worth to justify a trip to visit other tribes to procure them. The possessor of stories is called sak and, for the Pemon, a guest that tells stories or brings news or new songs is always welcome.
Dancing and beer accompany Pemon ceremonies, which draw large groups for periods of several weeks. Their gatherings are informal: while lines of men and women dance in a circle inside the round house for Hallelujah ceremonies, others slip in and out for conversation or for a gourd full of manioc (cassava) beer.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
The Pemon value the abilities of their artisans: outstanding persons are recognized for their individual skills. Some women are renowned for the quality of their clay bowls. They are mainly made in the Kamarata and Uriman areas by women who learned the skill from their mothers. As not many females know the skills, and good clay sites are limited, the bowls are dispersed in the trade network. Basketry is another main Pemon art form. Men manufacture all basketry and fiber articles, including eating mats, strainers, baskets, and squeezers used in everyday household production. But everyday basketry is different from the more elaborate forms, which can be used as trade items. As in the case of pottery, only certain men are skilled at making complex patterned baskets. The Pemon also make wooden dugout and bark canoes, paddles, and bows, and weave hammocks and baby carriers.
The Venezuelan government's presence has increased substantially in the area of Santa Elena along the border with Brazil during the last 25 years. Road penetration of the eastern portion of the Gran Sabana dates from the early 1970s. Land entitlement for the communities has been recognized by experts and international support organizations as the most pressing issue facing the Pemon in the 1990s. Venezuela recognizes land rights for their Amerindian population but in many cases provides only provisional titles that can be easily ignored. Gold, diamonds, and wood are once again attracting outsiders, and their arrival often leads to violation of Amerindian rights. The tourist industry is also threatening the region, as what has been a controlled eco-friendly enterprise could turn into a virtual invasion if plans to build big hotels are approved.
Even though polygamy is practiced, only about 8% of all marriages involve a male and two or more co-wives. Divorce rates are low, accounting for about 10% of all ever-married individuals.
Women still tend the gardens, bake the traditional kasabe bread, and brew kachiri, the fermented drink made from manioc roots. Women often tend their gardens with a sister-in-law. Although the content of daily work is often gender-specific, men and women carefully coordinate their tasks and cooperate in many of them, such as the preparing of game for cooking and the making of tools for vegetable processing.
In 2001, the Women's Development Bank had worked to extend women's access to credit in Venezuela, particularly for small businesses and technical assistance purposes. Credit programs for indigenous women had benefited 70 Pemon women, and micro-enterprises involved career development, self-esteem building, and sexual and reproductive rights.
Brill, E. J. Continuity & Identity in Native America. New York: E. J. Brill, 1988.
Como son los Indios Pemones de la Gran Sabana. R.P. Cesareo de Armellada, 1946.
Cuentos y no cuentos. Fray Cesareo de Armellada. Instituto Venezolano de Lenguas Indigenas. Caracas, 1988.
Gutiérrez Salazar, Mariano. Cultura pemón. Caracas: Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, 2002.
———.Los pemones y su códico ético. Caracas: Hermanos Menores Capuchinos: Universidad Catolica Andrés Bello, 2001.
Hacia el Indio y su Mundo. Gilberto Antolinez, 1972.
Los Aborigenes de Venezuela. Fundacion La Salle de Ciencias Naturales.
National Geographic, May 1989. "Venezuela's Islands in Time," Uwe George.
Order without Government: The Society of the Pemon Indians of Venezuela. David John Thomas, 1982.
Survival International documents and information, London, 1996
Tauron Panton: Cuentos y Leyendas de los Pemon. Padre Cesareo de Armellada.
Thomas, David John. Order Without Government: the Society of the Pemon Indians of Venezuela. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982.
—revised by C. Vergara
ETHNONYMS: Arecuna, Arekuna, Camaragoto, Kamarakoto, Taulipang, Taurepan
Identification. "Pemon" is a self-name meaning "people." "Arekuna" is used by Pemon and others to refer to neighboring groups of Pemon speakers, particularly those in the northern part of their territory. Southern Pemon are referred to as "Taurepan," and those Pemon living in the valley of Kamarata, Uriman, and parts of the Paragua drainage are called "Kamarakoto."
Location. Pemon territory includes the Gran Sabana (4°34′ to 6°45′N, 60°34′ to 62°50′ W) and the valleys of the Caroní, Carun, and lower Paragua rivers (4° to 7° N, 62°30′ to 64°20′ W), all in southeast Estado Bolívar, Venezuela. There are also Pemon in the valleys of the Cuyuni, the upper Kamarang, and Venamo rivers and some in Roraima Territory in Brazil.
Demography. In the late 1970s Pemon within Venezuela numbered about 8,000; the 1982 Venezuelan census registered 11,600. Population growth rates have averaged about 3 percent per year since 1970.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Pemon language, with three regional dialects (Arekuna, Kamarakato, and Taurepan), belongs to the Guayana Group of the Carib Stock.
History and Cultural Relations
Pemon territory is bordered on the east by that of the Akawaio and the Patamona. On the south are the Makushi, and the Arawak-speaking Wapisiana. To the west, in the mid-Paragua and Caura drainages are the Yecuana. All of these groups maintained extensive intertribal trade relations in colonial times, as at present. The Pemon intermarry with the Makushi, the Akawaio, and the Patamona. Pemon entered the Western historical record in the mid-eighteenth century when they were encountered by Spanish missionaries in the Caroní and Icabaru river valleys. In 1817, with the collapse of the Spanish missions, this pressure subsided. Early reports from the 1770s indicated raiding and hostilities among Pemon in the Caroní region, and nineteenth-century reports refer to raiding among settlements in the Roraima area and elsewhere. No extensive warfare has been reported among the Pemon during the last 200 years, however. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, the syncretistic Hallelujah religion first swept through the eastern and southern Pemon areas; Hallelujah is now found throughout Pemon territory.
Their land is bounded by mountains on all sides, and these protected the Pemon from extensive incursions until the early twentieth century. Direct continuous contacts between the Pemon and Europeans, Venezuelans, Guyanese, and Brazilians were minimal until after 1900. Major outside influences have been the Capuchin and Adventist missionaries. Capuchin missions exist at Kavanayen, Kamarata, Uonken, Uriman, and Santa Elena; Adventist settlements are found at Yuruani, Apoipo, Morokmeru, and Maurak. Diamond mining in the streambeds of the region has been a strong economic and social influence, particularly since 1945. In the last quarter-century, the Venezuelan government's presence has increased substantially in the area of Santa Elena along the border with Brazil. Road penetration of the eastern portion of the Gran Sabana dates from the early 1970s. Land entitlement for Pemon communities is the most pressing issue facing them in the early 1990s.
Pemon settlements range from a single family to a maximum of six or seven families (i.e., from four to seventy people). They prefer to locate dwellings in open savanna, not far from streams and within a walk of an hour or two to their fields in the nearby gallery forest. In the western valleys and tributaries, Pemon often settle in the forest and put up houses close to their plots. Larger ceremonial centers having a round house (waipa ) for dances and ceremonies draw large groups for periods of several weeks. Mission sites and Adventist villages have produced larger, nontraditional settlements. Pemon dwellings may be round, oblong, or rectangular and usually house a nuclear or extended family. Houses are of mud or slatted walls with thatch roofs and are open and undivided inside; less frequently, they are mission-type houses with interior rooms patterned on criollo styles.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Pemon are slash-and-burn cultivators, fishers, hunters, and gatherers of wild fruits and insects in season. Bitter manioc, peppers, and a leafy vegetable known as aurosa are the mainstays of the Pemon diet. Yams, ocumo, batata, bananas, plantains, maize, pumpkins, and sugarcane are secondary food crops. Cotton is still grown for hammocks. Tobacco growing has diminished because of the increased availability of commercial cigarettes. Fish, the bulk of daily protein intake, are taken with hook and line, fish poison, and weirs. Hunting, formerly less important, is now done with single-shot shotguns; game includes tapir, deer, peccaries, pacas, agoutis, and birds. Palm fruits, flying ants, and certain larvae are gathered and eaten. Gourds are raised in the fields alongside food crops and are used for water and manioc-beer containers. Money made in the alluvial diamond mines or at mission labor sites has produced a partial cash economy of small purchases alongside traditional subsistence patterns.
Industrial Arts. Pemon make decorated basketry, clay bowls, wooden dugout and bark canoes, paddles, and bows and weave hammocks and baby carriers. They make necklaces from trade beads and weave small fish scoops from twine.
Trade. An extensive long-distance trade network links the Pemon with neighboring tribes and involves direct exchange of shotguns, blowpipes, manioc graters, bowls, and bead necklaces, among other items. Pemon have managed to mesh cash purchases of outside goods with traditional exchange at fixed rates, thus keeping all Pemon in the network whether or not they have cash.
Division of Labor. Work roles are sex-specific, but overlapping. Men hunt, fish, weave baskets, cut fields, build houses, gather wild foods, work for pay in mines and missions, and go on trading expeditions. Women cook, tend and harvest fields, make manioc beer, fish, gather wild foods, weave cotton articles, assume primary responsibility for children, and also go on trading expeditions. Pemon perform a wide variety of wage labor in Santa Elena and at a number of tourist sites.
Land Tenure. Every Pemon family has usage rights to the fields it cultivates, and when fields go fallow and return to secondary forest, the land reverts to the community at large. Family groups tend to fish and cultivate within a two hours' walk of their settlement, and Pemon would not think of fishing near another's settlement without first informing their neighbors. Hunting, singly or in groups, is done far from settled areas, and no specific rights to hunting territories exist.
Kin Groups and Descent. Descent in Pemon society is bilateral, and every person traces an Ego-focused kindred of relatives on both mother's and father's sides. An individual's kindred consists of relatives, including in-laws, up to the grandparental generation and downward to the grandchild generation; Pemon do not trace genealogies beyond their grandparents. There are no corporate groups outside of the household. A neighborhood is made up of groups of siblings linked by marriage bonds, with some inmarrying outsiders from more distant settlements. Age categories (infant, child, adult, aged) are used at times, but most references to other Pemon are kinship references. Personal names in Pemon are taboo, though criollo names have been adopted, are used to some extent, and are not taboo.
Kinship Terminology. Traditional terms approximate the Iroquois type, with variation in the cousin terms. Criollo kin terms, especially that for brother-in-law, are sometimes used by bilingual Pemon.
Marriage. Marriage ties form the links that bind different settlements together, and the overall pattern of residence can be thought of as the result of ties to parents, brothers, and sisters, on the one hand, and in-laws on the other. Married couples form the basic economic units of Pemon society, and formerly the families of the betrothed spent considerable time discussing the proficiency, or lack thereof, of the prospective spouses at subsistence tasks. Upon marriage, the groom takes up residence with his parents-in-law to perform at least one or two years of bride-service. There is no marriage ceremony; the relationship becomes public when the groom slings his hammock in the house of his father-in-law. Pemon have a rule enjoining marriage with a category of relative that includes the opposite-sex cross cousin, although the rule is only partially followed in practice. Marriage with a category of relative that includes the sister's daughter is also found. Polygyny is practiced, with about 8 percent of all marriages involving a male and two or more co-wives; co-wives are often sisters. Divorce rates are low; about 10 percent of all ever-married individuals have been divorced.
Domestic Unit. Nuclear families predominate, although two- and three-generation extended families build up as sons-in-law marry in or sons bring their wives back home after bride-service. A settlement may have two or three households within five minutes' walk, the members of which span several generations of one or two families.
Inheritance. In the past, an individual's personal belongings were destroyed at death, but nowadays valued items such as shotguns or manioc graters may be passed on to near relatives, usually a child or sibling of the deceased. Houses were formerly burned or abandoned upon the death of the head of household.
Socialization. Pemon children learn by example and are given free rein. Early on, both boys and girls begin helping parents at subsistence tasks such as gathering firewood and hauling water. The Pemon do not approve of anger or displays of hostility; if an adult strikes a child at all, it is so mildly as to be merely a reminder. Some Pemon children spend time in mission boarding or day schools, through the primary school years and sometimes beyond.
Social Organization. Heads of settlement are usually the oldest economically active males. Reciprocal visits for beer parties and seeing relatives tie neighborhoods and even whole regions together, and the prestige of a settlement is often gauged by the quality and quantity of manioc beer offered by the hosts. Other than the subordinate role of the son-in-law vis-à-vis his wife's parents, hierarchical relationships outside the domestic unit are based solely on age and personal prestige or special skills.
Political Organization. Regional leaders, called capitanes, (Pemon: epuru ) may wield influence throughout a river valley area. Their leadership is diffuse; they are men who exhort, speak well, and inspire followers, not men who give orders. For the most part, their role lies in defusing conflict before it escalates and also includes being a community representative vis-à-vis non-Pemon. Shamans, both male and female, practice their curing powers and sometimes align themselves with capitanes in disputes. Female and male prophets of the Hallelujah religion and of other syncretistic religious movements have wide followings. The egalitarian nature of Pemon society is everywhere evident. There are severe limits on the building up of power by any one person or group.
Social Control. Overt conflict, anger, and fighting are strongly reproved by the Pemon. Gossip, ridicule, and sometimes ostracism are principal forms of social control. The dispersion of settlements acts in concert with the tendency to avoid interaction between disputants to ensure that the main means of social control is not allowing the conflict to break out in the open in the first place. In extreme cases where sorcery is believed to have been confirmed, an assassination attempt may be mounted against the wrongdoer, or the wrongdoer is put on notice not to return to a given river valley area. Homicide is very rare. It is difficult to gather people for vengeance against the perpetrator, who generally flees the territory and does not return. Pemon say trouble occurs over women and false gossip. Sorcery accusations can be leveled when serious or widespread illness strikes a settlement or neighborhood. The basic response of the Pemon to conflict is to withdraw from the conflict situation, often by taking an extended visit to relatives living elsewhere and waiting for things to calm down. Individuals who get in fights at beer parties are quickly labeled as angry men and are avoided by all. Venezuelan police and courts are not much in evidence outside of border towns and diamond mines. The Pemon, for the most part, have little recourse to them except in cases involving disputes with criollo miners. Missionaries may be called upon occasionally to discuss conflicts, but most mediation is done directly by heads of settlement or capitanes.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. Pemon traditional beliefs centered on soul concepts, plant and animal spirits, Kanaima (the spirit of evil in all its forms and manifestations), and spirits of the dead (mawari ). Various celestial and subterranean spirit worlds can only be reached by shamans in ceremonial trance. Spirits of the dead live inside the mountains and can cause harm to the living. Plant spirits, such as the "grandfather of tobacco," are helpers and can be used by a shaman to combat the evil effects of the spirits of the dead. Kanaima, the spirit of evil, is mostly believed to come from outside one's settlement or neighborhood, never from close by, and there is a tendency to implicate non-Pemon outsiders as Kanaima. Kanaima may take possession of a person and cause the person to do evil. Ancestral beings are portrayed in a magnificent oral literature that documents the origin of the Pemon world and its spiritual, geographical, and social aspects. Religious movements led by prophets combining Pemon and Christian beliefs have sprung up over the past 100 years, including Hallelujah, Chimiding, Chochiman, and San Miguel. Shamans cure disease by communicating with the spirit world. Knowledge of plant medicines is commonly held, and masters of magical formulas (taren ) provide others with specific invocations serving to ward off disease or to ensure a successful outcome from a dangerous situation, such as childbirth. Various food taboos surround pregnancy and the period immediately after the birth of the child; these taboos are to ensure the health of the child and the strength of its soul.
Ceremonies. Dancing and beer accompany Pemon ceremonies, except in Adventist Pemon settlements, where manioc beer is prohibited. Lines of male and female dancers, arms linked, circle inside the round house for Hallelujah ceremonies or traditional dances, while people slip in and out for conversation or a gourdful of manioc beer. Informality is the key to the ceremonial gatherings, which are often held in the dry season. Smaller neighborhood gatherings may occur throughout the year with no fixed schedule. Mission services are attended by some Pemon living at mission sites.
Arts. Storytelling, basketry, and pottery are the principal Pemon art forms, and outstanding persons are recognized in all of these areas for their individual skills. Pemon distinguish quickly between everyday basketry and the more elaborate forms, which can become valued trade items. Some women are renowned for the quality of their clay bowls—the making of pottery is not a skill possessed by many females. Good clay sites are limited. Clay bowls are mainly made in the Kamarata area by women who have acquired the skill from their mothers; the bowls are then dispersed in the trade network.
Medicine. Pemon use bark and leaves to make poultices for wounds and cuts. Specific food prohibitions apply to various illnesses. Pemon quickly attribute injury and illness to natural causes—only if healing does not occur in the expected time or if the patient dies are supernatural causes invoked. Death is attributed to Kanaima, even though a natural cause is also cited. Introduced diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, and measles have at times caused wide-spread illness. Mission-provided antibiotics and vaccines have reduced Pemon infant mortality rates. A hospital is located in Santa Elena.
Death and Afterlife. Upon death, the soul joins the mawari and migrates beyond the sky. The death of an adult is accompanied by much wailing and mourning by the female relatives of the deceased; sorrow over the death of a child is deeply felt but mostly private. Pemon may have a memorial service held at a mission if the deceased is to be buried there rather than near the settlement.
Butt Colson, Audrey J., and H. Dieter Heinen, eds. (1983-1984). "Themes in Political Organization: The Caribs and Their Neighbours." Antropológica (Caracas) 59-62.
Gillin, John P. (1948). "Tribes of the Guianas." In Handbook of South American Indians, edited by Julian H. Steward. Vol. 3, The Tropical Forest Tribes, 799-860. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 143. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.
Koch-Grünberg, Theodor (1916-1928). Vom Roroima zum Orinoco. 5 vols. Berlin and Stuttgart: Dietrich Reimer; Strecker und Schröder.
Thomas, David John (1982). Order without Government: The Society of the Pemon Indians of Venezuela. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
DAVID JOHN THOMAS
ALTERNATE NAMES: Arecuna; Kamarakoto; Taurepan
RELIGION: Indigenous beliefs mingled with Christian elements
1 • INTRODUCTION
The Pemon-Caribs of Venezuela used to be called Arecuna, Kamarakoto, and Taurepan. But they call themselves Pemon. There are no historical records of their lives from the time before 1750. At the end of the nineteenth century, English Protestant missionaries started to Christianize the Pemon. In 1931, the first Capuchin (a Catholic religious order) mission post in the Pemon area was established. Gold and diamond rushes began in the area in 1936. During the 1960s, the area was connected with other parts of Venezuela by airplane and by new roads.
Diamond mining has not been a major activity in recent years. This, together with the poor quality of Pemon agricultural land and the late opening of the area, has spared the Pemon from major land invasions from the outside world. Many of their traditions and their original methods of communication—their language, smoke signals, and messages carried by people on foot—have survived.
2 • LOCATION
The Pemon territory covers the coastal area of the Atlantic Ocean in Venezuela, the inland mountain savanna (plains) area, and the Amazon River area.
The region is unique for its tepuis, the remains of mighty sandstone plateaus that once stretched across the entire area. In the course of time, the plateaus were worn down by erosion. This left only the tepuis as giant monuments to their existence. There are more than one hundred of them. Fewer than half have been thoroughly explored. Many of them are so tall that they are hidden by dense cloud cover for days at a time. Much of the plant and animal life atop the tepuis is unique—found nowhere else.
In the area south of the Orinoco River, the country is mainly lowlands. Farther south, toward the Amazon region, the landscape turns mountainous.
3 • LANGUAGE
Father Cesareo de Armellada was the author of the first dictionary of the Pemon language (published in 1943). At the time it was called Taurepan. Many words in this language show interesting patterns of formation. For example, the word for "sugar-cane" is kaiwara-kún-imá, which means "pineapple with a very long leg." The word for "pineapple" itself, kaiwara, means "a sweet with wrinkles." The Pemon word for "dew" is chirké-yetakú, which means "star's saliva." Yetakú is "saliva" or, more precisely, "juice of the teeth."
There is no word for "year" in the Pemon language. The day is divided into "dawning," "morning," "noontime," "afternoon,"
The Pemon speak their own language among themselves, and Spanish or a simplified form of Spanish with outsiders. In the mission villages and mining areas of the state of Bolívar, more and more young people also use Spanish among themselves. Most Pemon people now have Christian (Spanish) names. They often have two American Indian names as well. One of these is a sacred and secret name.
4 • FOLKLORE
The Pemon have traditionally believed that each person has five souls, which look like the shadows of a human being. The fifth soul is the one that talks and that leaves the body to travel around when the person is dreaming. This is the only one that goes away—to the Milky Way—after death. Before arriving there, it meets the Father of the Dogs. If the person has mistreated his or her dogs, the dogs' souls will recognize the person and kill him or her.
One of the other four souls lives in the knee and stays put for a while after death; later, it turns into a bad spirit. The other three souls turn into birds of prey after death. All animals and plants are believed to have souls. Stones do not have souls, but they house bad spirits.
The Makunaima is a series of creation stories of the Pemon land, crops, techniques, and social practices. It starts with the creation of a wife for the first Pemon—the Sun—by a water nymph. At that time, the Sun was a person. One day he went to the stream and saw a small woman with long hair. He managed to grasp her hair, but she told him, "Not me! I will send you a woman to be your companion and your wife."
Her name was Tuenkaron, and the next day she sent the Sun a white woman. He fed her, and she lit a fire. But when the Sun sent her to the stream, she collapsed into a little heap of clay. The woman was made of white earth, or clay. The next day Tuenkaron sent him a black woman. She was able to bring water, but when she tried to light a fire, she melted. The woman was made of wax. The third woman was red, a rock-colored woman. The sun tested her and she did not melt or collapse. She was strong and able to help run the household. The woman and the Sun had several children, and these are the Pemon.
5 • RELIGION
Most American Indian belief systems have been mixed to some degree with Christian elements. In spite of the strength of Catholicism, the Pemon still believe in Kanaima —the spirit of evil. Also, some social traditions, such as the marriage of cousins, that are opposed by the church are practiced by many Pemon. The Pemon have also mixed traditional cult saints with Catholic saints.
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
Traditional rites of passage were associated with the life cycle (birth, adolescence, and death), but most are no longer celebrated. Baptism in a Catholic mission is now the only important rite of passage.
Often a father gives a child a secret name in the Pemon language. It is forbidden to use a secret name when speaking to any person, male or female. This is not the case with Spanish names, and the Pemon are eager to baptize their children with Spanish names. Women usually do not have last names. Men sometimes adopt the last name of their boss in the diamond mines. Brothers sometimes end up with different last names for this reason.
Traditionally, a boy's passage into adolescence was marked with a special ceremony. A Pemon religious leader lashed a boy's body, made incisions in his skin, and applied what were believed to be magic substances to the wounds. For one year after the ceremony, certain foods could not be eaten.
A girl's passage into adolescence was marked by a haircut before the first menstruation. In addition, the edges of a girl's mouth was tattooed in a traditional design. At the first sign of menstruation, the girl retired to her hammock and was considered impure. Her grandmother would then paint her whole body in a special way.
8 • RELATIONSHIPS
Marriage is the key to the social organization of the Pemon people. It determines the pattern of visits between villages, which is at the heart of their social life. Visits for beer parties and meetings with relatives tie neighborhoods and regions together. The respect that a village or neighborhood receives is often gauged by the quality and quantity of manioc (cassava) beer offered by the hosts.
Conversation is lively when the family gathers for a meal. If guests are present, the men eat first.
Open conflict, anger, and fighting are strongly discouraged. The basic response to conflict is to withdraw. Often this means a person will leave home and make an extended visit to relatives somewhere else, waiting for things to calm down. Since the Pemon do not approve of anger or displays of hostility, physical punishment of children is very rare. If an adult hits a child at all, it is done so mildly that it is just a reminder. Pemon children learn by example and are given much freedom.
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
In the old days, when somebody became ill, the local shaman or paisan connected the cause of the illness with one of the many mythical spirits. For healing, the shaman uses his taren recipes. These are a mixture of medicinal plants and charms. The taren is believed to be a magic spell that can aid in the birth of a child, counter the bite of various snakes, heal headaches and stomach pains, and so forth. The taren can only be taught to one person at a time, and it is performed in the presence of as few people as possible.
The Pemon's traditional housing consists of huts whose walls are made of clay or bark, with roofs made of palm leaves. Hammocks are hung from the beams of the roof, and a fire is kept at one or two corners of the house. Arrows, knives, axes, and fishing rods are piled up in one corner. Baskets, carrying sacks, and pumpkins hang on the walls.
10 • FAMILY LIFE
Marriage is the basis of the main social and economic unit. The relationship between the father-in-law and the son-in-law is most important. For the father-in-law, his son-inlaw is the substitute for his own son. Therefore, after the marriage, the son-in-law detaches himself from his own father and takes care of his father-in-law. In the Pemon society, there is no wedding ceremony. The new husband simply moves his hammock to his father-in-law's house and starts working with him.
According to traditional beliefs, the solid parts of babies—the bones—come from the father, and the blood comes from the mother. The mother gives birth behind a partition installed in the hut. She is helped by her mother or mother-in-law. For ten days after the birth, the parents stay behind the partition with their newborn child.
The Pemon love their children. Their attitude toward them is lenient. Parents do not constantly remind their children about their behavior. Children learn by following the parents' example, and they very seldom need to be disciplined or punished.
11 • CLOTHING
In the past, the Pemon went naked or used only loincloths. The traditional clothing of a Pemon woman was an apron made of cotton or beads. In the twentieth century, the men's loincloths were made of a bright red cloth obtained from the criollos (Venezuelans of mixed descent).
By 1945, the Pemon had started wearing Western cotton clothing. The men tend to wear khaki, while the women make their dresses using cotton fabrics printed with patterns. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the women wore metal earrings known as "butterfly" earrings, which they bought. It was also common for them to have facial tattoos and to wear bands of cotton cloth or glass beads around their arms and legs.
12 • FOOD
Yucca, manioc root, or cassava is an important ingredient of the Pemon diet. The women peel, wash, and grate this root. They then squeeze out the acid and make it into a dough. With this, they prepare their flat bread or fermented drinks. One of these beverages, the cachiri, is made with bitter yucca paste, which is grated and chewed and mixed with a red root, cachiriyek, that has also been grated. The mixture is then boiled for a whole day. This brew is mildly intoxicating.
Also part of the Pemon diet is aurosa, a spinachlike vegetable. The Pemon also eat peppers, potatoes, pineapple, plantain, sugarcane, and more than ten varieties of bananas. Women gather peppers and aurosa daily for the pepper pot, a soup that forms part of every meal.
Fishing provides an important source of animal protein in the Pemon diet. In the past, hunting was not very effective, even though the men put a great deal of time into it. The situation changed, however, with the arrival of firearms in the 1940s. Birds and mammals, such as deer and vampire bats, then became an important part of the diet.
During the rainy season, the Pemon capture flying ants. Throughout the year, they gather the insect larvae found in the moriche palm.
13 • EDUCATION
One of the tools of the Pemon for educating their young is oral tradition. Their many stories are used by the elders to teach their sense of morality and concept of the world. The storyteller's closing words are usually A-pantoní-pe nichii (May you take advantage of this story).
Since 1979, bilingual (two-language) education at American Indian primary schools has been compulsory (required). Most of the main languages in American Indian territory have at least one school-book. Although the teachers' organizations and the government have proved their good will in the recent past, there are many difficulties in keeping up this system. Some Pemon children spend time in mission boarding schools or day schools through the primary-school years and sometimes longer.
14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE
Music and dance are important components of Pemon culture. They accompany all sorts of public festivals and rituals. Mari' or Mari'k, for example, is the Pemon word for the dance and music that used to be performed in public by the paisan (shaman) and his assistants.
Nowadays there are no paisans left in the Christianized Pemon villages. Some Pemon even seem to be ashamed of tokens from the past, such as old musical instruments. Still, on occasions when cachiri drinking makes them receptive to tradition, spontaneously an old dance starts. With sticks and empty cans and tins for instruments, they sing songs full of endlessly repeated short phrases, varied by made-up phrases, jokes, and bits of the old shaman songs.
15 • EMPLOYMENT
For the Pemon, work is a basic part of life. There is no word for "working" other than senneka, which means "being active" more than "laboring." Only when the Pemon started working with the missionaries or miners did they adopt the Spanish word trabajo (work), which turned into trabasoman to describe work done in the European way.
The Pemon's means of subsistence (getting enough food to live on) are based on slash-and-burn farming, fishing, hunting, and collecting wild fruits and insects. There is now more flexibility in the division of work among the Pemon people. Traditionally, for example, men were responsible for preparing the soil for planting, while women were in charge of weeding, harvesting, and transporting the crops.
16 • SPORTS
Spectator sports have never been common among aboriginal peoples. Most of the talents valued by these societies are part of their day-to-day life—essential survival skills. Fishing, hunting, and merely getting from one place to another require the ability to run fast, jump high and far, use the bow and arrow, swim, and so forth.
Pemon Indians who are in close contact with whites do pay some attention to spectator sports.
17 • RECREATION
The Pemon culture is rich in oral literature: tales and legends that the American Indians call pantón. There is no specific time dedicated to telling stories, but the favorite moment is just before going to sleep. The morning is the time for telling and interpreting dreams, and storytelling might happen again after meals. Stories and legends are considered luxuries. People take special trips to visit other groups in order to collect them. The possessor of stories is called sak. A guest who tells stories or brings news or new songs is always welcome.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
The Pemon value the abilities of their artisans. Outstanding persons are recognized for their individual skills. Some women are famous for the quality of their clay bowls.
Basketry is another major art form. Men make all of the baskets and fiber articles, including the eating mats and strainers used in everyday household work and cooking. But everyday basketry is different from the more complicated forms, which can be used in trade. As in the case of pottery, only certain men are skilled at making complex baskets.
The Pemon also make wooden dugout and bark canoes, paddles, and bows, and they weave hammocks and baby carriers.
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
Authorities and international support organizations identified land rights as the most pressing issue facing the Pemon in the 1990s. Venezuela recognizes land rights for its American Indian population. But in many cases it provides only provisional titles to land, which can be ignored easily. Gold, diamonds, and timber are once again attracting outsiders. Their arrival often leads to violation of Indian rights. The tourist industry is also threatening the region. What has been a controlled, eco-friendly enterprise could turn into an invasion if plans to build big hotels are approved.
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
Brill, E. J. Continuity & Identity in Native America. New York: E. J. Brill, 1988.
Cuentos y no cuentos. Fray Cesareo de Armellada. Caracas, Venezuela: Instituto Venezolano de Lenguas Indigenas, 1988.
George, Uwe. "Venezuela's Islands in Time." National Geographic (May 1989).