ETHNONYMS: Carib, Caribe, Carinya, Galibí, Kalinya, Kariña, Karinya

The Cariña of eastern Venezuela treated here are a population of 7,000 Indians. The majority of them live on the plains and mesas of northeastern Venezuela, specifically in the central and southern parts of the state of Anzoátegui and in the northern part of the state of Bolívar, as well as in the states of Monagas and Sucre, near the mouth of the Río Orinoco. In Anzoátegui, they live in the towns of El Guasez, Cachipo, Cachama, and San Joaquín de Parire. Other Carina groups commonly referred to by different local names (e.g., Galibí, Barama River Carib) live in northern French Guiana (1,200), Suriname (2,400), Guyana (475), and Brazil (100). All told the Cariña population comprises approximately 11,175 people. Carinan belongs to the Carib Language Family. Most Venezuelan Carina are integrated into the national culture, and, except for young children and some elderly members of the group, they are bilingual in their native language and in Spanish.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Cariña were allied with the Dutch and French against the Spanish and the Portuguese. They rebelled against the Franciscan missionaries who attempted unsuccessfully to gather them into pueblos. Until almost the end of the mission at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the warlike Cariña destabilized the missions and native populations of the lower Orinoco region. Today, the Venezuelan Cariña are nominal Catholics, but their observance of this religion is syncretic with beliefs of their traditional religion. As a result of the development of eastern Venezuela, including the introduction of the steel and oil industries, most Cariña are quite acculturated.

The Cariña used to live in round communal houses, internally subdivided into family compartments. Since around 1800 they have built small rectangular wattle-and-daub houses with roofs of moriche -palm thatch or, more recently, of sheet metal. A separate shelter is built in close proximity to the dwelling house and serves as kitchen and workshop during the day.

The Cariña have traditionally relied for their subsistence on horticulture, which is practiced mainly on lowlying banks of rivers and streams. They cultivate bitter and sweet manioc, taro, yams, bananas, and sugarcane. Along the rivers, they hunt for capybaras, pacas, agoutis, deer, and armadillos. Birds are also hunted occasionally. Fishing is of lesser importance; like hunting, it is usually practiced with bow and arrow, but sometimes also with hook and line or fish poison. Traditionally, domestic animals were not eaten, but chicken, goats, and pigs have been kept in more recent times. Dogs and donkeys are also kept. Carina men were avid and widely roaming traders and warriors, tied into a trade network that spanned the Guianas, the Lesser Antilles, and large parts of the Orinoco Basin. Metal tools and firearms were desirable trade items. The Carina exchanged hammocks, moriche cordage and fruits, and manioc flour and bread. In colonial times, war captives of other Indian societies in the general area were of great commercial value on the slave markets of the European colonies.

Division of labor is by sex and age. As the more mobile members of society, men occupied themselves with trade and warfare. When at home, they carried out the initial clearing of a field and provided game and fish. They also produced sturdy carrying baskets, basketry trays, and manioc presses. Before the adoption of metal pots and plastic containers, women made a rather crude pottery for cooking and storing grain and water. They spin cotton and twist moriche fiber into cordage, which they use to make hammocks. Today men and women find employment in the industrialized economy of the region.

Like the kinship systems of other Carib societies of the Greater Guiana region, that of the Carina is strongly Dravidian in character. Identified as a kin-integration system, it unites the members of a small local community without the imposition of strong organizational strictures. Kinship is cognatic, descent rules are not well defined, corporate groups are absent, marriage tends to be community endogamous, and exchange and alliance, nowadays pursued informally, are restricted to the local group. Marriage is based on mutual attraction, and the marriage ceremony entails the establishment of a consensual union through the creation of a separate household. The union was publicly sanctioned by a ceremony that featured an ordeal of rolling bride and groom into a hammock filled with wasps and ants. A Christian marriage ceremony may take place after the couple has lived together for several years. The preferential postmarital residence rule is uxorilocal, although nowadays virilocality obtains almost as frequently. The use of teknonymy is an important feature of Cariña kinship.

Enculturation is informal, and corporal punishment is practically unknown. Boys enjoy greater freedom in childhood than do girls, who begin performing a number of chores within the nuclear family and the neighborhood at an early age.

Local groups recognize a chief of limited political power, who presides over a council of elders elected annually. Upon taking office, the chief had to submit to a wasp-and-ant ordeal similar to that of a bridal couple. Among the traditional functions of a chief were the organization of communal labor and the redistribution of food and goods. It is uncertain whether traditional war chiefs of greater authority functioned in combat. Some headmen seem to have been shamans.

Cariña religion retains many of its traditional features. Their cosmology distinguishes between four planes of heaven, mountain, water, and earth. Heaven is inhabited by the Supreme Ancestors of all Ancestors. This realm is governed by Kaputano, the highest-ranking being. After living on earth as the principal culture hero of the Cariña, he ascended to the sky, where he was transformed into Orion. The ancestral spirits who accompanied him there used to inhabit the earth and are the masters of the birds, the animals, and the shamans. They are omnipotent and ubiquitous and have a house in the sky world and on earth. The mountain is governed by Mawari, the initiator of shamans and grandfather of the mythical jaguars. The mountain functions as a world axis, connecting heaven and earth. Mawari associates with the vultures, who are the servants and messengers of the Supreme Spirit of the sky world and puts them in contact with the shamans. The water is governed by Akodumo, the grandfather of the snakes. He and his serpent spirits rule over all aquatic animals. He maintains contact with the aquatic birds who depend on the celestial water. This makes Akodumo very powerful magically and of importance to the shamans, whom he serves as auxiliary. Earth is governed by Ioroska, the ruler of darkness, ignorance, and death. He maintains no contact with heaven but is the absolute master of the earth. He assists shamans in curing illness caused by the masters of animals and nocturnal birds. Shamans provide the liaison between humankind and the spirit world through magical chants and ritual tobacco smoking. Nowadays Cariña burial customs follow Christian tradition.


Crivieux, Marc de (1974). Religión y magia kari'ña. Caracas: Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, Facultad de Humanidades y Educación.

Crivieux, Marc de (1976). Los caribes y la conquista de la Guyana española: Etnohistoria kariña. Caracas: Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, Facultad de Humanidades y Educación.

Schwerin, Karl H. (1966). Oil and Steel: Processes of Karinya Culture Change in Response to Industrial Development. Latin American Studies, 4. Los Angeles: University of California, Latin American Center.

Schwerin, Karl H. (1983-1984). "The Kin-Integration System among Caribs." Antropológica (Caracas) 59-62: 125-153.

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willem koning
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Dec 18, 2013 @ 5:05 am
I would like to know if there is a contact adress to reach a Carinya community. since i am involved with a Carinya revival language project.


Willem Koning

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