Piaroa - Settlements

The traditional Piaroa settlement pattern was interfluvial, dispersed, and seminomadic. Communities consisted of a single communal house, the isode. A traditional-style house has a conical or rectangular wooden pole frame completely covered with palm-leaf thatching from crest to ground level. The household ranges from five to sixty or more people, comprising a simple nuclear unit or a large extended family of up to four generations. House membership is always fluctuating because of long periods spent visiting relatives in other communities and the constantly shifting allegiances of families and individuals. Indeed, an independent-minded minority maintains active membership in two or more different communities. Houses are typically spaced from a few-hours' to a two-days' journey apart. The strength and frequency of trade, marriage, kinship, and ceremonial ties between the households of a given region point to the existence of informal neighborhoods or territories of interlinked houses.

The ideal location for a Piaroa house is next to a small headwater stream, away from the larger river courses, often in the middle of an open garden clearing cut at the foot of a hill. The occupation of a house site is usually short-lived, major moves coming at intervals of one to five years. Related to this pattern of mobility is the practice of owning from two to four separate house-garden sites differing in age and maturity of crops and occupied in different seasons. The contemporary settlement pattern is much changed following the widespread migrations around the middle of the twentieth century of former headwater dwellers to downriver locations close to the White urban centers or points of access to the outside world. The majority of the population now lives in nucleated and permanent multihouse communities ranging in population from 40 to 300 inhabitants. These modern towns have been heavily subsidized by Venezuelan government programs, including funds for construction of rural schools, medical dispensaries, electric and running-water plants, and, in some places, matchbox-style cement-block housing.

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