Guahibo-Sikuani - Orientation

Identification. The name "Guahibo," presumably of Arawak (Achagua or Piapoco) origin, has been applied to several ethnic groups of the family. The self-designation "Sikuani," used by some with the connotation of "backward," has been redefined by newly politicized groups to mean "authentic" or "nonacculturated," and refers specifically to the largest ethnic group of Guahibo. The terms "Cuiba" and "Chiricoa" refer to the nomadic groups of eastern Casanare and Arauca. "Hitnu," equivalent to "Jiwi" among the Sikuani and Cuiba, means "people" or "human beings" and is the autodenomination of a small group (also known as "Macaguanes") of horticulturists of the Arauca forest. The names "Guayabero" and "Cunimia" designate groups originating in the Río Guayabero area and now settled on the central part of the river, where it is known as the Guaviare.

Location. The traditional Sikuani territory includes the tropical savannas of the eastern Colombian plains, especially the area between the Orinoco, Meta, Manacacias, and Vichada rivers. Beginning in the 1950s, some groups migrated toward the east, to the central Orinoco and the jungle areas of the Río Guaviare and to Amazonas in Venezuela.

Demography. According to official data, the Guahibo number around 30,000 people: 25,500 Sikuani (70 percent in Colombia and 30 percent in Venezuela), 2,500 Cuiba (90 percent in Colombia and 10 percent in Venezuela), 1,000 Guayabero, and 250 Hitnu.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Guahibo language is classified with Sikuani and Cuiba (central Guahibo), Hitnu, and Guayabero, with which it forms an independent language family. These languages, especially Sikuani, show an increased number of lexical affinities with the Piapoco and Achagua languages of the Arawak Language Family. These affinities can be attributed to borrowing owing to lengthy coresidence, exogamic interchange, and trade, and not, as some authors have suggested, a genetic relationship.

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