artisans-piaroa-british-council
Piaroa's artisans defining their craft organisation. ©

British Council

The Piaroa's also called the Wothuja, are indigenous people of the Amazonia, traditionally living along the middle course of the Orinoco river, and the middle and upper course of the Sipapo and Cuao rivers in the Vichada Department. They currently inhabit the Gran Selva de Matavén Reserve, where the San Luis de Zama and La Urbana communities are located.

The Piaroa first came into contact with white men around the 1940s, and since then they have gone through a process of adaptation and establishment of external relationships. The communities that form the Piaroa people of Colombia make their living mainly from fishing, growing yuca (family-size plots), and gathering wild fruits.

The Piaroa have kept their traditions and beliefs, even throughout the most intense period of colonization of the last few decades. Largely influenced by evangelical groups during the mid-20th century, many of their customs and traditions were transformed by the process of evangelization.

Native language

Their language, Piaroa, stems from the Sáliba-Piaroa language tree, also root to other languages spoken by ethnic groups in the Colombian Orinoquía and the Venezuelan Amazon.

Worldview

The Piaroa people believe in practising life in peace. The UKUO (respect for oneself, the others, nature and for spiritual beings) is the principle for their view of life and their relationships.

The world began with the marriage between the Kwemoni and Wäjäri families. Another deity is Chejery, Wäjäri’s sister. She is the goddess of fertility.

In the Piaroa worldview, there are gods and heroes that relate to the natural environment that animals and plants inhabit. A deity worth mentioning is Ojwoda’ä, the tapir-anaconda God, who divides itself to create two heroes that represent good and evil. Each of them provides the Piaroa culture with teachings and inventions. Kwemoi represents evil while Wäjäri is the benevolent hero, creator of terrestrial animals and the Piaroa people, as well as of heaven, mountains and earth. He teacher of the art of fishing.

The gods’ temple is called Yvema, where the tianawas live, gods that come down to earth in the shape of different animals. Shamans turn to such gods and mythical figures through their chants to gain powers and invoke earth spirits, source of malady, to ask them for protection for their people.

Number of inhabitants

Around 1200 Piaroa live in Colombia, while around 15000 live in Venezuela. The “Sowing Our Knowledge” programme works with communities from:

Location People
San Luis de Zama (Gran Resguardo Selva de Matavén) 110
La Urbana (Gran Resguardo Slva de Matavén) 120

What is our main goal?

“Sowing Our Knowledge” works with the Piaroa people aims to advance a process of recovery of traditional knowledge, in order to:

  • Empower artisan groups in each of the communities, in relation to cultural elements of their craft.
  • Support their organization to manage commercial activities, and especially to improve communication and commercialization processes.