Piaroa people

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Piaroa Indianer.JPG
Piaroa at work
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Venezuela,  Colombia
Piaroa, Maquiritare, Yabarana, and Spanish[1]
Christianity, Traditional Piaroa religion

The Piaroa are an indigenous people of the middle Orinoco Basin in present-day Venezuela, living in an area equivalent to the size of Belgium, roughly circumscribed by the Parguaza (north), the Ventuari (south-east), the Manapiare (north-east) and the right bank of the Orinoco (west). Their present-day population is about 14,000 (INE 2002), with some 500 living on the left bank of the Orinoco River, in Colombia, in several reservations between the Vichada (north) and the Guaviare (south).[2]


The Piaroa, a term of unknown origin, are also known as De'arua (masters of the forest), Wothuha (knowledgeable people), also spelled Huǫttųją (NTM spelling) and Wötʰïhä (IPA spelling), and De'atʰïhä (people of the forest).[2]


Seeing competition as spiritually evil and lauding cooperation, the Piaroa are both strongly egalitarian and supportive of individual autonomy.[3] The Piaroa are also strongly anti-authoritarian and opposed to the hoarding of resources, which they see as giving members the power to constrain their freedom.[3]

Despite sometimes being described as one of the world's most peaceful societies,[3] modern anthropologists report that the relations of Piaroa with neighbouring tribes are actually "unfriendly, marked by physical or magical warfare".[4] Violent conflict erupted between the Piaroa and the wæñæpi of the Upper Suapure and Guaviarito regions, with both tribes fighting to control the clay pits of the Guanay valley. Clay from that valley is a valuable commodity, being the best clay for making pottery in the region. Constant warfare also exists between the Piaroa and Caribs, who invaded Piaroa territory from the east in search of captives.[4]

Anthropologist Joanna Overing also notes that social hierarchy is minimal, and that it would be difficult to say any form of male dominance exists, despite leaders being traditionally male.[3] As a result, the Piaroa have been described by some anthropologists as a functioning anarchist society.[3]


Traditional Piaroa religion involves shamans and is centered around a creator god named Wahari who was said to have incarnated as a tapir. However, many Piaroa have converted to Christianity and the influence of the shamans over local communities have waned as new generations of Piaroa are becoming more educated and modernized.[5]


The Piaroa engage in many forms of subsistence. Many are agriculturists and grow cassava, cash crops, and more. Some also hunt, fish, raise cattle, and collect vines (for rattan furniture). Wage work is also a common occupation among the Piaroa.[5]


The Piaroa speak Wötʰïhä tivene, or Piaroa language, which belongs to the Salivan language family.[6]


  1. ^ a b "Piaroa." Ethnologue. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
  2. ^ a b Freire & Zent. 2007. "Los Piaroa", in Salud Indígena en Venezuela, vol. 1.
  3. ^ a b c d e Graeber, David. 2004 "Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology."
  4. ^ a b https://ivic.academia.edu/Zent/Papers/454553/The_Political_Ecology_of_Ethnic_Frontiers_and_Relations_among_the_Piaroa_of_the_Middle_Orinoco
  5. ^ a b Winston, Robert, ed. (2004). Human: The Definitive Visual Guide. New York: Dorling Kindersley. p. 371. ISBN 0-7566-0520-2.
  6. ^ Overing, J. 1988. "Los Wothuha," in Aborígenes de Venezuela, edited by J Lizot. Fundación La Salle.

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