Piaroa - Orientation

Identification. "Piaroa" is not an aboriginal name, and its etymology is open to speculation. The native terms "De'arua" (owners of the forest), "Wõthhã" (knowing people), "De'athhã" (forest people), and "Thhã" (people) are all self-designations, the form used varying according to audience and situation.

Location. The traditional territory of the Piaroa lies on the right bank of the Río Orinoco within the geographical coordinates of 4° to 6° N and 66° to 68° W in what is today the Territorio Federal Amazonas, Venezuela. The approximate boundaries correspond to the middle Río Parguaza in the north, the lower Rio Ventuari in the south, the Orinoco in the west, and the Rio Manapiari in the east. The area is predominantly tropical forest habitat, with the terrain broken by abrupt sandstone mountain formations in the interfluves and headwaters. The major river basins settled were those of the Autana, Sipapo, Cuao, Samariapo, Guayapo, Cataniapo, Manapiari, Parguaza, and Marieta. Out-migration since the 1950s has extended the geographic frontiers in all directions: west into Colombia, up the Mataveni and Zama rivers; south, up the Orinoco as far as the evangelical mission station of Tamatama; and north to the lower Parguaza, upper Suapure, and Guaniamo rivers.

Demography. The official Indian Census of 1982 counted 7,030 Piaroa in Venezuela, although several hundred Mako were lumped in with this figure. Another 300 to 600 Piaroa are estimated to be living in Colombia. Population size in past eras is unknown but was probably smaller than that of today. Recent geographic expansion—the takeover of lands occupied by neighbors, the neardefunct Mapoyo and Yabarana—suggests that the Piaroa population is increasing.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Piaroa language belongs to the small Salivan Family. Dialectal differences are considerable and have a regional basis, but they have not been systematically documented. Variations in pronunciation distinguish speakers of at least three regions: Sipapo-middle Orinoco, upper Cuao-Parguaza, and Ventuari-Manapiari.

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