Barí - Orientation

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

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

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

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

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