Pume - Orientation

Identification. The Pume live in southwestern Venezuela and call themselves "Pume" (people). If asked, the Pume further distinguish between the Bea Khonome Pume, who live along the major rivers, and the Ciri Khonome Pume, who live in the open savanna. The name "Yaruro" is applied by criollos (non-Indian Venezuelan nationals) to the Bea Khonome Pume and has been the most common ethnonym used in the literature, whereas the term "Capuruchano" is used by criollos to refer to the Ciri Khonome Pume.

Location. The Pume are located between 6° and 8° N and 67° and 70° W. This area of Venezuela is known as the Llanos, or plains, of the Río Apure and is a subregion of the vast neotropical savanna region of Venezuela and Colombia forming the western half of the Orinoco River Basin. This vast region is extensively flooded during the wet season, which lasts from May through September; the dry season lasts from October through April and is characterized by excessive drought. The Bea Khonome Pume constitute approximately 83 percent of the population and live on the banks of the Apure, Arauca, Capanaparo, Riecito, and lower Cinaruco rivers. The Ciri Khonome Pume constitute the remaining 17 percent of the population and live along seasonal tributaries of the Capanaparo, Cinaruco, and Riecito rivers in open savanna.

Demography. The First National Indian Census of Venezuela, performed in 1982-1983, enumerated a total of 3,859 Pume. Earlier census attempts among the Pume largely estimated the population (incorrectly) and are too unreliable to establish the current rate of population growth. Only about 3 percent of the total Pume population are urban dwellers (most of these live in and around San Fernando de Apure); the remaining 97 percent live in rural areas.

Linguistic Affiliation. There is no consensus among scholars on the affiliation of the Pume-mae language, still spoken by nearly all Pume. Some classify it with the Jivaroan languages of eastern Ecuador, others group it with the Chibchan languages of eastern Colombia, and still others maintain it is an independent language. Pumemae is polysyllabic and nontonal, with twenty-one consonants and fifteen vowels. Pume-mae has been reduced to a phonetic alphabet that the Venezuelan government is attempting to introduce among Pume children attending grammar school.

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