Pemon - History and Cultural Relations

Pemon territory is bordered on the east by that of the Akawaio and the Patamona. On the south are the Makushi, and the Arawak-speaking Wapisiana. To the west, in the mid-Paragua and Caura drainages are the Yecuana. All of these groups maintained extensive intertribal trade relations in colonial times, as at present. The Pemon intermarry with the Makushi, the Akawaio, and the Patamona. Pemon entered the Western historical record in the mid-eighteenth century when they were encountered by Spanish missionaries in the Caroní and Icabaru river valleys. In 1817, with the collapse of the Spanish missions, this pressure subsided. Early reports from the 1770s indicated raiding and hostilities among Pemon in the Caroní region, and nineteenth-century reports refer to raiding among settlements in the Roraima area and elsewhere. No extensive warfare has been reported among the Pemon during the last 200 years, however. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, the syncretistic Hallelujah religion first swept through the eastern and southern Pemon areas; Hallelujah is now found throughout Pemon territory.

Their land is bounded by mountains on all sides, and these protected the Pemon from extensive incursions until the early twentieth century. Direct continuous contacts between the Pemon and Europeans, Venezuelans, Guyanese, and Brazilians were minimal until after 1900. Major outside influences have been the Capuchin and Adventist missionaries. Capuchin missions exist at Kavanayen, Kamarata, Uonken, Uriman, and Santa Elena; Adventist settlements are found at Yuruani, Apoipo, Morokmeru, and Maurak. Diamond mining in the streambeds of the region has been a strong economic and social influence, particularly since 1945. In the last quarter-century, the Venezuelan government's presence has increased substantially in the area of Santa Elena along the border with Brazil. Road penetration of the eastern portion of the Gran Sabana dates from the early 1970s. Land entitlement for Pemon communities is the most pressing issue facing them in the early 1990s.

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