Karihona - History and Cultural Relations

The Karihona probably migrated centuries ago from Guiana to the northwestern Amazon and adopted, in the course of time, cultural traits—such as masks, bark trumpets, and patricians or patrisibs—from the surrounding ethnic groups. The enemies of the Karihona were the Witoto to the south; the expression witoto refers likewise to foes and slaves or captives. Well into the nineteenth century, the Karihona were better protected than other groups from the harmful influences of the advancing White population because their territory was away from the main rivers. At least from the second half of the seventeenth century on, the Karihona traded with Spaniards of the Colombian area to the west and, later, also with Brazilians to the east. The Indians exchanged slaves and forest products like beeswax for iron tools and other manufactured objects. In the second half of the eighteenth century some Karihona settled in Franciscan missions on the upper Putumayo, although the attack against another mission (on the Rio Mecaya) was attributed to the Karihona. Beginning about 1900, some Karihona worked as rubber gatherers; probably from the 1920s on, a great number of the men did so for different employers. To this end, one group of the Karihona emigrated to the Caquetá, and another went to the middle Apaporis and from there to the upper Uaupés. A different group of Karihona escaped from persecution by the Witoto and allied with the Peruvian Casa Arana by moving to the Rio Orteguasa, where they were integrated with the Korewahe. Because of close contact with the nonindigenous population at these locations, various epidemics decimated the Karihona during the following decades. The few surviving Karihona are widely dispersed in southeastern Colombia.

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