Cuiva - Orientation

Identification. Although meaningless to the people to whom it refers, the name "Cuiva" is often found in the literature on the area and is commonly used in Colombia and Venezuela to designate some six groups of traditionally nomadic hunters and gatherers living near the border between the two countries. Each group or band sees itself as a unique and autonomous social entity that represents the largest group in society; members of each band call themselves "our people" and refer contrastingly to other bands as "other peoples." Often, each band is also identified in relation to the most important river within its territory.

Location. Situated near the center of the Orinoco plains, Cuiva territory is roughly bounded by parallels 5° and 6°34′ N and meridians 69°40′ W and 71°. Within Colombia, the three bands occupy the banks of the rivers Casanare, Ariporo, and Agua Clara; the other three bands, in Venezuela, are located on the Arauca, Capanaparo, and Cinaruco rivers. The territory consists mostly of grassy savannas dotted with palms and scattered shrubs, broken only by rivers and the gallery forest that fringes their banks. The climate is tropical, with a well-defined division of the year into a rainy season, between April and November, and the rest of the year, when any rainfall is exceptional.

Demography. There are no modern, accurate population data, but since each band normally has between 150 and 300 members, it is reasonable to estimate the total Cuiva population as somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500. The entire Guahibo cultural area has a population probably approaching 20,000.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Cuiva language belongs to the Guahibo Language Family, allowing them to communicate, with more or less effort, with nearly all the groups inhabiting the eastern plains of Colombia and southern Venezuela. Members of each Cuiva band are known by others, however, through specifically accented speech in their own "language."

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