Yaruro people

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Total population
5,400 (2010)[1]
Regions with significant populations
 Colombia,  Venezuela
Pumé, Spanish[2]
traditional tribal religion

Yaruro people are Circum-Caribbean tribe and indigenous people of Venezuela. They live in savanna area of Venezuela called the Llanos, located on and around the Orinoco river.[3]

The Yaruro people are divided into two subgroups: The River Pumé, and the more nomadic Savanna Pumé that reside on the Llanos.


The word "Yaruro" was assigned to these people by the Criollo ranchers populating the area. The people refer to themselves as the Pumé which also serves as the name of their language. They are also known as Llaruro, Yaruru, and Yuapín people.[2]


Yaruro society is divided into two matrilineal exogamous moieties.[3]


The Pumé language is unclassified,[2] although it has been classified as a Macro-Chibchan language.[3] It is widely spoken by Yaruro people, and portions of the Bible were translated in Pumé in 1999.[2]


The Pumé live in temporary structures with thinly thatched roofs of palm leaves to allow for the flow of air during the dry season. These structures are easily put up and taken down for the sake of portability to wet season camps where the Pumé rebuild them with thicker, more protective palm leaf roofing to keep them dry during the rains of the wet season.


The Yaruro people are primarily hunter-gatherers. They fish with bows and arrows from canoes. They hunt crocodiles, manatees, and turtles and forage for turtle eggs.[3] In the wet season, Yaruro people harvest roots and edible plants throughout the wet season. They also eat insects and small animals such as armadillos, lizards, and snakes. When possible the Pumé men will hunt for larger game like deer using large arrows, typically as long as the hunter in question is tall.

The Pumé also use various natural toxins to poison fish, making them easier to obtain than by harpooning alone.

Though the Pumé are foragers, they also cultivate manioc.[1] They keep semi-permanent gardens of a plant called bai (Tephrosia sinapou). These gardens require little to no tending as the bai is highly toxic to both humans and animals until processed and cooked.

They have also been known to use controlled burning to add nutrients to the earth of the Llanos so it will bear more useful roots and plants for them in the wet season.

In more recent times as the Pumé have more exposure to outsiders they have also been known to raise small flocks of chickens.

Material culture[edit]

The main objects used for the carrying of items, roots, and collected food are tumpline baskets. The tumpline is a strap that goes around a woman's forehead to allow the weight of the basket to be carried on her lower back where women are physically strongest. These baskets are woven completely from a single palm leaf.

The Pumé also use digging sticks for various tasks, but they are mostly used for the digging of roots and wells. A digging stick is usually made from a heavy branch, but some digging sticks with metal tips have been procured through trade with outsiders.

The men use bows and arrows both for hunting large and small game as well as for harpooning fish. These bows and arrows are much larger than those that one would see in the western world, the arrows always being approximately the same length as the man who owns them is tall.

Naming system[edit]

All Pumé people are given Christian names by the Venezuelan government for census purposes, but they themselves do not use them in every-day life. Instead they refer to each other as their respective kinship identifiers in their family groups, such as "sister" or "mother" depending on age and sometimes relation by blood or marriage.


By the age of 15 or 16, most Pumé girls are married or preparing to be married. Pumé girls work less than girls in comparable hunter-gatherer populations, allowing them to spend more calories on growth rather than on foraging effort, and thus to reach sexual maturity at a younger age. This lengthens their reproductive lifespan, compensating for their short life expectancy and high infant mortality rate.

After a marriage, the groom moves in with the bride's family, and in the case of divorce is forced to leave the home and go back to his own family. Divorce is allowed and practiced among the Pumé, and a divorce can be initiated by either party.

Infidelity is sometimes reported among Pumé couples, and usually precedes a divorce.

There is no exchange of goods, bride price, or dowry practice among the Pumé for marriages from either side of the union.

Two-wife marriages are common among the Pumé, but affairs with other women that are not approved by the first wife are not tolerated

Religion and medicine[edit]

The Pumé engage in all-night dances called tohé for religious and social purposes in a cleared dirt plaza with a large pole in the center. The plaza is cleared of any and all debris by the children of the community. At tohé members of a village bring their sleeping gear outside to the dancing plaza to dance and sing throughout the night. Many Pumé take part in snorting a hallucinogenic plant referred to as nanú or tuipà(Anadenanthera peregrina).

The Pumé have little medicinal knowledge, and predominantly perform sucking cures on those that fall ill. It is a practice in which native peoples believe that a shaman or holy person can suck impurities out of the bodies of the ill.

Outside pressures[edit]

The Pumé are given no land ownership rights of the lands that they occupy on the llanos and there are threats by surrounding Criollo ranchers looking to expand their lands. They are also under threat of a national park being established on the llanos by the Venezuelan government.

A national park is a threat due to the fact that the Pumé have incorporated trade with outsiders into their lives, and depend on many metal tools and clothing that they receive from these trades. If a national park were to be established they would be forced to convert to an entirely traditional lifestyle, causing them to be unable to use these goods.

Pumé Project[edit]

The Pumé Project is a movement to work with the Venezuelan government to recognize Pumé land ownership and their environmental needs on these lands.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Greaves, Russell and Alissa Dill. "Pumé Staking a Claim in Venezuela: Pumé Project." Cultural Survival. 7 May 2010. Retrieved 14 Sept 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d "Pumé." Ethnologue. Retrieved 14 Sept 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d "Yaruro." Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 14 Sept 2013.


  • Greaves, Russell D., and Pei-Lin Yu. "Into the Life of the Nation: Use and Self-Determination Among Traditional Pume Hunter-Gatherers in Venezuela." Cultural Survival. Winter 4.23 (1999): 1-2.
  • Kramer, Karen L., Russell D. Greaves, and Peter T. Ellison. "Early Reproductive

Maturity among Pumé Foragers: Implications of a Pooled Energy Model to Fast Life Histories." American Journal of Human Biology. 21.4 (2009): 430-37.

  • Yu, Pei-Lin. Hungry Lightning: Notes of a Woman Anthropologist in Venezuela. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1997. Print.

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