12 April 2008

Venezuela Indigenous News: Barí Disenfranchisement, and a new Yanomami Language Manual

Barí People Left Without Land by Oil, Cattle, Coal
By Humberto Márquez

KUMANDA, Venezuela, Apr 11 (IPS) - For 900 years, Barí indigenous hunters roamed freely throughout a vast region in western Venezuela. "Now they want to sentence us to die by locking us up in this corral, watching the white man get rich by destroying the land that used to be ours," says schoolteacher Conrado Akambio.

The huts and multi-family dwellings of the 150 inhabitants of the community of Kumanda are scattered over a hectare of heat-drenched grassland along the banks of the Aricuizá River.

The walls of their homes are made from tree trunks, the floors are packed dirt or a few wooden planks, the roofs thatched palm leaves. Everything is bleached a pale dry grey by the blazing sun. Children run and play among a handful of chickens as the adults seek a shady spot to sit and talk about their plight.

"Our grandparents fought to defend our land, but they lost their fight to the oil companies, who sent in men with rifles. Our people took refuge in the mountains, and then the cattle farmers came in and grabbed this," said Ignacio Akambio, another member of the community.

"We can’t hunt anymore, because all the animals have disappeared, and we have nowhere to grow crops," he continued. "And so we eat corn flour bread or spaghetti, and we don’t live to be old-timers like before; instead we are sick all the time and only live to about 60." It is a harsh fate for the people that Sabaseba, the creator, plucked from the inside of pineapples, according to legend.

Anthropologist Lusbi Portillo, from the non-governmental organisation Homo et Natura, told IPS that "the crux of the Barí people’s problem is that between 1910 and 1960, they lost their land and were decimated by the advance of oil exploration, first, and then by the cattle farmers who occupied and cut down their forests in the flatlands and pushed them towards the unproductive land in the mountains."...continue reading

New Compendium on Yanomami Language
By Humberto Márquez

CARACAS, Nov 23 (IPS) - When a Yanomami Indian dies, his or her name is not to be pronounced for some time, so as not to soil the memory of the deceased.

This may be a problem if, for example, someone is called Shoco, which is also the term for Tamanduá, an anteater that is common in the jungles of southern Venezuela and northern Brazil, where the Yanomami live.

However, the difficulty can easily be resolved thanks to the linguistic wealth of this indigenous group that has existed for over 25,000 years, a living testimony to the Neolithic era, the most recent period of the Stone Age.

There are several synonyms for the names of animals, and also of some plants. Therefore, ”aroto” means exactly the same as ”shoco”, and the community can use that word without violating the tradition that protects the deceased.

This explanation is provided by one of the 10,000 entries in the ”Compendio ilustrado de lengua y cultura yanomami” (”Illustrated Compendium of the Yanomami Language and Culture”), a book by French anthropologist and linguist Marie-Claude Mattéi that has just gone to print.

It is more than a mere dictionary, instead serving as an encyclopaedic manual that can be used in Yanomami schools and for outsiders studying the Yanomami language and culture.

After 15 years of research, ”we have concentrated our efforts on producing something more useful and rich in information than a simple dictionary -- a book that can support the didactic measures that the Venezuelan society and state have the obligation to undertake with respect to the indigenous communities,” Mattéi told IPS.

Venezuela's new constitution, which was approved by voters in 1999, dedicates an entire chapter to the rights of indigenous peoples, including ”the right to an intercultural and bilingual educational system that takes into account their special social and cultural characteristics, values and traditions.”...continue reading

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