Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Ecology of the Barí

The Ecology of the Barí: Rainforest Horticulturalists of Latin America

  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Ecology of the Barí
    Book Description:

    Inhabiting the rainforest of the southwest Maracaibo Basin, split by the border between Colombia and Venezuela, the Barí have survived centuries of incursions. Anthropologist Roberto Lizarralde began studying the Barí in 1960, when he made the first modern peaceful contact with this previously unreceptive people; he was joined by anthropologist Stephen Beckerman in 1970.The Ecology of the Baríshowcases the findings of their singular long-term study.

    Detailing the Barí's relations with natural and social environments, this work presents quantitative subsistence data unmatched elsewhere in anthropological publications. The authors' lengthy longitudinal fieldwork provided the rare opportunity to study a tribal people before, during, and after their aboriginal patterns of subsistence and reproduction were eroded by the modern world. Of particular interest is the book's exploration of partible paternity-the widespread belief in lowland South America that a child can have more than one biological father. The study illustrates its quantitative findings with an in-depth biographical sketch of the remarkable life of an individual Barí woman and a history of Barí relations with outsiders, as well as a description of the rainforest environment that has informed all aspects of Barí history for the past five hundred years. Focusing on subsistence, defense, and reproduction, the chapters beautifully capture the Barí's traditional culture and the loss represented by its substantial transformation over the past half-century.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-74820-0
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Kinship Abbreviations Used in Chapter Six
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Preface
    (pp. vii-xviii)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    The Barí are a group of native South Americans who live in the rain forests of Colombia and Venezuela. They are known in Spanish as the Motilón Indians, or simply the Motilones, and their land is sometimes called Motilonia. This book is about them and what the study of their culture has contributed to anthropology.

    Anthropology at base is about the variability of human nature, about the limits and possibilities of being human. The anthropological justification for studying the Barí, or any other culture, is ultimately to find out what it can tell us about human capacities—the abilities, tendencies,...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Physical Environment
    (pp. 27-60)

    Many of the particulars of the Barí natural environment derive from two general characteristics of its location: a northern tropical latitude and a landscape marked by mountain ranges on the south and west. From these features descends a string of consequences displaying two patterns, one temporal and one spatial. Temporally, this environment is marked by bimodal oscillations: two rainfall peaks per year, two river rises per year, and so forth. Spatially, it is arranged as a series of concentric rings (ring segments, strictly speaking) whose geometric center is near the mouth of the río Catatumbo. The annular order is manifested...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Social Environment and Ethnohistory
    (pp. 61-81)

    All human groups relate to a natural environment of land and climate, flora and fauna, and to a social environment of other peoples. As described in chapter 2, the natural environment of the Barí seems to have been fairly constant over the last millennium or so. It has always presented daily fluctuations and seasonal changes, but over time the rain forest has remained reasonably constant, with a landscape, climate, flora, and fauna similar from one century to the next, until extensive forest clearing began in the 1920s.

    The social environment is another story. It has manifested dramatic changes throughout the...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Production
    (pp. 82-143)

    The natural environment is always a place of variable food availability. A major issue for subsistence economy human populations is stabilizing the supply of food.

    The field of human ecology has been criticized for its excessive emphasis on how populations achieve and/or maintain homeostasis, and the point is in general well taken. Human beings do not as a rule maintain stationary populations, or seek to; history is full of examples of burgeoning populations linked to expanding territories and ravaged resources—and of displaced and conquered neighbors who suffer the consequences of these disequilibria. Contrariwise, one does not have to look...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Protection
    (pp. 144-159)

    Obtaining an adequate, regular supply of nutrients is necessary but not sufficient for the maintenance and reproduction of life. The world is full of dangers—and the tropical rain forest has its share, some of which are illustrated in Tótubi’s biography in chapter 1. Every society owns a set of strategies whereby its members try to protect themselves and their loved ones from the hazards of their place and time. We deal with the dangers of Motilonia and the responses of the Barí under three broad headings: accidents, disease, and homicide. There is no general theory in ecology that encompasses...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Reproduction
    (pp. 160-211)

    If it is true that people, like all organisms, take in nutrients and defend themselves from dangers in order to live, in the ultimate biological sense they live in order to reproduce. The Barí, like all peoples, reproduce largely in the context of the peculiar human institution of marriage. To the ordinary anthropological understanding of marriage they add a system of sanctioned extramarital affairs that contributes to the health and survival of their children. These matters have to be understood not only in the contexts of the Barí natural and social environments but also within the framework of Barí social...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Conclusions
    (pp. 212-236)

    After our examination of the ecology of the Barí, concentrating on their practices in production, protection, and reproduction, there remained the task of putting these matters in wider perspective. Several points of views might have been appropriate. The most obvious was ethnographic comparison. Two possibilities presented themselves in this connection. We might have compared Barí ecological strategies with those of the other speakers of languages in the Chibchan family, a linguistic category that includes the Barí and is found from Central America (where it may have had its origin around the Panama–Costa Rica border [Costenla-Umaña 1995]) down into Colombia...

  12. APPENDIX. Additional Data on Barí Horticulture
    (pp. 237-242)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 243-260)
  14. Index
    (pp. 261-273)