ETHNONYMS: Alcojolados, Aliles, Añu, Anuu, Onotos, Parahujano, Paraogwan, Paraokan, Paraqgwan, Parauano, Parawkan, Parhowka, Sinamaicas, Toas, Zaparas

The 2,600 Paraujano Indians live in the general area of the Lagoon of Sinamaica, in northwestern Venezuela (11° N, 71°5°′ W). They refer to themselves as "Añu." Earlier in their history, they also inhabited stretches of the seacoast, the western shore of Lake Maracaibo, and the banks of the rivers south of Sinamaica. Discovered in 1499 by Alonso de Ojeda and visited by Ambrosius Ehinger in 1520, the Paraujano have occupied their habitat since pre-Columbian times. Today, some of the more assimilated Paraujano live in four settlements (Caño Morita, La Boquita, Boca del Caño, and El Barro) around the lagoon where they make their living through commercial fishing, and many have married non-Indians.

Their language belongs to the Arawak Family; however, there are only twenty Paraujano, mostly women, who still speak it.

Traditionally, the Paraujano were fishermen who supplemented their diet with wild fruit collected in the hinterlands of the lagoon. Fishing furnished a reliable source of food the year round, making a sedentary life-style possible. Hunting played a minor role. Today, the staple foods are fish and bananas; meat, maize, and other vegetables are occasionally part of the diet. The introduction of the coconut palm in the nineteenth century made it possible for the Paraujano to trade coconuts and various by-products of the palm with the surrounding criollo population. Other trade goods include dried fish, straw mats, and pork from pigs they raise around the house. Salt is obtained from deposits around the lagoon; it is used in cooking and the preservation of fish and meat. Modern creolized Paraujano often leave their homes to work as laborers in the oil fields, in industrialized agriculture, on ranches, and in the fishing industry.

Fishing is done with harpoons, short lances, bows and arrows, nets, and weirs; the latter two are often used in combination. Weaving and pottery are not practiced, but basketry was formerly an important craft. Women made basketry containers of various sizes as well as mats for domestic use and trade. Division of labor is by sex and age.

The Paraujano live in small rectangular dwellings erected on stilts in irregular rows close to the shore. The houses have saddle roofs covered with palm thatch. Walls of wooden boards have replaced the more traditional walls of reed matting. The floor is sometimes covered with straw mats. In addition to the house itself, there is a separate kitchen located either adjacent to the dwelling house on the same elevated platform or on a separate one. The kitchen consists of a rustic shed covered with a thatched roof but lacking walls. The house compounds are separated from each other by narrow channels. Sometimes neighboring houses are also connected by bridges made of narrow planks, but generally communication among the villagers is by paddled or poled dugout canoes of varying sizes.

Paraujano women adopted the long full-length dress customary among the Guajiro, their Arawakan-speaking neighbors. Paraujano women used to wear their hair loosely around their shoulders, but modern women wear long braids. The traditional dress of the men was a loincloth. Facial paint seems to have been applied by both sexes in earlier times.

Traditionally, Paraujano society was unstratified, and differentiation existed mainly along the lines of age and sex. The headman had little political authority, but his office was sometimes passed to one of his brothers or sons. Nowadays the basic social and economic unit of the Paraujano is the nuclear family, the members of which identify themselves with the local endogamous group with which they reside. The extended family is of little significance. Intragroup loyalty is based on consanguineal and affinal kin ties as well as on common residence. The kinship system is of the Hawaiian type, and descent is bilateral.

Polygyny was practiced by political leaders and by any man who could provide for a large family. Co-wives sometimes lived in separate houses with their children, but the first wife had authority over the other(s). Marriage rules, along with other traditional traits of Paraujano culture, are changing, with monogamy becoming more prevalent. Residence is neolocal.

Socialization takes place within the confines of the nuclear family and relies heavily on imitative learning of parental behavior. There are no puberty initiation rites for boys. Girls, upon reaching puberty, were traditionally isolated in a corner of the house; there they lay on a mat, cut off from communication with the outside world. The initiate could not touch the floor or any utensils, and her diet was limited to water and unsalted food. The shaman chewed tobacco and used his rattle to propitiate the spirits on her behalf. The smoke from a close-by fire was believed to ward off evil. Following the isolation period of ten to fifteen days, the mother bathed her daughter in the sea or in the river.

The Paraujano believed in a supernatural being who lived with his consort in the sky. He was the creator and culture hero who divided the land and distributed its wealth among the peoples on earth. The distribution took place during a festival that the culture hero sponsored shortly before departing from earth. All Indian groups had been invited, but the ancestors of the Paraujano came too late and had to contend with the leftovers.

The office of the shaman was passed from father to son, its outer sign being a necklace of alligator teeth. Shamans could cure and cause sickness. The souls of the dead were also believed to be the cause of sickness. Curing shamans chewed tobacco and used a ritual rattle when curing. They blew on the patient and sucked out the sickness-causing agents. It is uncertain to what extent the Paraujano still follow the traditional customs of their culture.


Pollak-Eltz, Angelina (1966). "Die Paraujano, ein arawakischer Fischerstamm in der Laguna de Sinamaica, Estado Zulia, Venezuela." Anthropos 61:156-176.

Wilbert, Johannes (1983). "Los Arm (Paraujano)." In Etnología contemporánea. Vol. 2, edited by Roberto Lizarralde and Haydée Seijas, 15-32. Los aborígenes de Venezuela, edited by Walter Coppens and Bernarda Escalante. Monograph no. 29. Caracas: Fundación La Salle de Ciencias Naturales, Instituto Caribe de Antropología y Sociología.


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