In the early seventies I photographed two Indian tribes in the Guiana Highlands of Venezuela. One, the Hoti (Hodi) were isolated until the sixties, some groups remaining isolated today. Their language was unknown at the time. The other one, the Eñepa (Panare), who speak a language of the Carib family, have a long history of contact with the Venezuelan Criollo population, but their culture is very resilient and they have kept most of their traditional mode of living, adding to it metal tools and other western artifacts. They divide their subsistence activities between the rainforest and the savanna. These two tribes are in contact with each other and trade items, mostly bamboo for making blowguns from the Hoti, and metal tools and curare from the Eñepa.
The pictures are from 1970 and 1971 expeditions to the north of the Hoti country, mostly from one group near Rio Kayama, a tributary of the Cuchivero River; and from a 1973 trip (with a third participant besides my guide and me) starting from caño Majagua at the south of the Hoti area, visiting several groups, going through the Caño Mosquito (a tributary of the Rio Parucito) watershed, and reaching the center of the Hoti area, at the foot of the Maigualida Mountains near the headwaters of the Cuchivero (map of Hoti territory in Egleé L. Zent, Joti ecogony, Venezuelan Amazon, 2013; the exact location of groups may have changed due both to their mobility and to the presence of two missions, a Catholic one at rio Kayama and a Protestant one at caño Iguana).
To the Hoti, who were probably not understanding exactly what I was doing, but who received me warmly, and to the Panare guides who took me there; to anthropologists Roberto Lizarralde and Robert Carneiro, who always saw my project with enthusiasm and gave me their unconditional encouragement, and to Walter Coppens who draw my attention to the existence of this tribe. Also to the many anonymous Criollos and semi-acculturated Indians who helped me during various stages of the trips. Two anthropologists, Egleé and Stanford Zent, were not involved at the time, but they started studying the Hoti 20 years after my first visit, and are still doing so. They invited me to publish a manuscript written 40 years ago; my next project is to slightly edit it and place it in their hands.
HOW IT HAPPENED
When I visited Venezuela for the first time in 1969, anthropologist Walter Coppens mentioned a tribe, the Chicanos, who had not been contacted. The next year, in 1970, I hired a Panare (Eñepa) Indian guide, Domingo, “capitan” of Manteco settlement near La Candelaria in Bolivar State, who said he could be take me to the Chicanos. It was 7 days of trekking with a heavy load up and down the hilly rainforest, the last days with blistered feet. I had no map, there were no GPS in those days; with a compass and my clock, I noted every change in direction and its duration, estimating a speed of 3 km/h in this rugged terrain. Later comparing comparing my notes with a map and a side-looking radar photograph I was able to determine the location we had reached: the Kayama river, a tributary of the Cuchivero. Finally we reached the camp of the most remote Panare group, the only Indians that were in contact with the “Chicanos”. One day Domingo told me that he had guided archaeologist José Maria Cruxent 10 years earlier and that they had a brief contact with a group of Chicanos. We stayed a few days at the Panare camp headed by “capitan” Augusto. On my first day there a small group of Chicanos appeared (maybe called by the Panare?) and set camp next to the Panare’s. Later linguistic similarity demonstrated that they were the same ethnic group that had been contacted about 200 km to the south by Protestant missionaries. I was with then only for 2 or 3 days, then 7 hard days of trekking back, still with blistered feet. At times the pain made me cry.
The following year, 1971, I decided to go by helicopter from the Guaniamo diamond mine to a savanna near the camp of Augusto. I was this time with Domingo´s 2 sons, who had never been there, but Indians can always find their way in the forest. First I went to La Candelaria,, the last criollo village that could be reached by road, a few km from Domingo´s settlement. Planes going from Ciudad Bolívar to the Guaniamo diamond mines flew over La Candelaria, which had a dirt airstrip. You extended a blanket at the head of the strip, signalling pilots that there was a passenger waiting. On the way back they would land and pick you up. At the mine I chartered a helicopter, which left us in a savanna close to where Augusto’ s group should be. We made arrangements for the helicopter to come back after a month; however payment depended of my agent sending money from New York to a French photographer, Henry Corradini, who lived in Ciudad Bolivar. Corradini spent a few days with me at the Panare camp and did a short visit to the Hoti, previous to my 23 days alone with them. My 2 guides then left me and went looking for their relatives; 2 days later they came back, bringing with them Augusto´s group which set up camp in the forest close to the savanna. Augusto made arrangements for 2 men to take me to the “Chicano” group. After hiking a certain distance, they suddenly lost sight of the trail and said we couldn´t continue. I “bribed” then with a machete, and suddenly they found the trail again… We finally arrived at a Hoti temporary camp, where the Panare left me. The Hoti stayed there a couple of days, then traveled to what turned to be their main house.
The Hoti (Hodi) live in the rainforest at the base of the Maigualida Mountains, a lone granite mountain range among the sedimentary tepuys (table mountains) of the Guiana Highlands in Venezuela. Showing a short vocabulary collected during my first trip to Robert Carneiro and Janet Chernela at the American Museum of Natural History, we found some similarities with Piaroa of the Saliva family. Indeed it was confirmed later that their language belongs to the Saliva family (recently Marcelo Jolkesky has re-classified them in the Macro-Daha family, amplifying the Saliva family). The Hoti are semi-nomadic, their subsistence consisting of products of slash-and-burn gardens, of hunting and gathering. They live in small bands averaging about 15 individuals each. Each band may have 2 or 3 “permanent” houses, and several temporary camps scattered in the forest. The Hoti subsistence is based on slash-and-burn horticulture (main crops: plantain bananas, maize, sweet potatoes, tobacco); hunting (spear for big game such as peccary and tapir, blowgun for monkeys and birds); and collecting of forest products such as wild fruits (many from palm trees) and honey. They move frequently from one location to another, apparently according to the local availability of a mature crop (they have gardens at several locations), of ripe wild fruit or of game. They trade the bamboo from which the inner tube of the blowgun is made to the Panare (Eñepa), their northern Carib neighbors, in exchange for metal tools and curare.
Hoti social organization, religious beliefs etc has been studied by anthropologists Robert Storrie (social organization and cosmology) and Stanford and Egleé Zent (ecological relationship with the forest, cosmology and much more, including helping them with the demarcation of their land).
Below is the main house of my hosts and guides, where I stayed for 13 days out of 23 days in 1971. From my hammock I could hear playing the flute inside the house, as people were relaxing. As I was resting in my hammock, with my camera ready on my side the couple came back from collecting in the forest.
As I was staying with the Hoti, they would give me the same food they were eating, bringing often copious servings to my hammock outside their house. I included bananas, both sweet and plantain, the latter either roasted on embers or served as a gruel; maize of several varieties, often roasted on embers; lute fruit (Dacryodes sp. of the Burseraceae family – Zent & Zent pp. 87 – 88) wich was abundant at this time of the year (1971 trip). Lute fruit are olive-sized, they are lightly cooked before eating or made into a kind of soup. I was abundant at the time of my visit and I ate it almost every day; the fruit of several palms. Meat is eaten communally; when there was meat they invited me inside the house. I kept track of everything I ate, and of all their activities, which I timed as accurately as was possible. I had to keep my belongings ready all the time, as I would sometimes suddenly see them, in their semi-nomadic way, leaving with packed carrying baskets, moving to a camp or to another house without warning. I needed to be ready to follow them. Displacements were usually short, about 2 hours, the rest of the time being spent is subsistence activities. I was the almost daily routine at the end of my stay after the 13 days at the house until they took me back to the Panare.
Same woman as above, preparing food (sweet potatoes), with pet monkey
Making baskets for collecting or harvesting, using immature palm leaves.
On a few occasions I noticed that a girl from this group, about 10, was apparently sick. The first time, her mother washed her with vine water (see also below, photograph of baby treated with vine water). Days later she was in her hammock, sick with fever and sometimes vomiting. Her father applied his hand on her then blew, keeping his hand on her head. It lasted more than a week. Despite her being sick, after the first 13 days we left the main house and the group traveled to shelters and smaller permanent houses. On the way to one of the shelters, the father had to carry his sick daughter on his back. An old woman was also seen shivering a couple of times. Once I gave the girl´s father a chloroquine tablet, the malaria preventive used at the time, which I was using. He gave her half the tablet, then he chewed the other half and rubbed the resulting mixture on her body (I gave her later a full tablet). Despite her sickness was seen harvesting sweet potatoes with her mother in a slash-and-burn garden close to the house. (According to Zent & Zent, vomiting can be induced to expel undesirable agents: Ser y volverse Jodï: … p. 209 ; I don´t know if the vomiting I saw was natural or induced).
(Back in New York, a few months later, as I had stopped taking chloroquine, I got sick with high fever and vomiting. I had malaria previously in Africa, but the symptoms were very different, so I did not immediately think of malaria. I was hospitalized, all kinds of tests were made, with no results. The doctors were puzzled, until I suggested to test for malaria. The results were positive, so given the right medicine I recovered in a few days. Then came the worst of it all: a New York hospital bill!)
Two other groups lived relatively close to the main house of y hosts, no more than an hour´s walk, forming a “neighborhood”.
At one of them I had a hint at shamanism, when my hosts visited the house of this old woman, about an hour to the south. She wore the typical collars crossed over the chest, but much more ornamented than most people, with what looked like amulets or perhaps containers of magical material. Both my hosts went into the house with the old woman, and with members of the third group, also present, asking me to stay outside; the old woman gave me food to eat while waiting. I suppose must have dealt with transactions with the supernatural. On a couple of other occasions I was asked to stay away while my host was talking to her.
(it was confirmed in an email by Egleé Zent, who studied the Hoti for the last 20 year with her husband Stanford: “As far as the woman definitely she is a jkajo jau! a little one, a visionary, a wisdom woman, a shaman… no doubt to me! some old women were supposed to be strongest or stronger than the men.”
Here she is seen in informal conversation, probably without any ritual significance.
A man from this group was probably also a shaman, as my host asked me to stay away while talking to him.
Both Robert Storrie and Stanford and Egleé Zent documented Hoti shamanism.
Arrival at camp: man making fire with fire drill…
… and girl fetching water in calabashes near her house.
1973. House with girl carrying baby, Caño Mosquito region, on the way to the Hoti heartland.
Group of Hoti Indians, Caño Mosquito region. While staying briefly with this group on our way toward the headwaters of Rio Cuchivero, we had a demonstration on how carefully the Hoti manage their resources, taking only what they need. Our guide, a semi-acculturated Piaroa, had a shotgun. One day he went hunting with one of the 4 men. He killed 7 peccaries to take the tusks to make collars to sell to tourists, letting the dead animals rot in the forest. In the evening the leader of the group (man at left on the photograph) made me understand (I don´t remember how!) that he was not happy about it.
thereafter a woman and children became sick; I was made to understand that the cause was the killing of the peccaries with the shotgun. The older man rubbed his hands on the barrel, then rubbed his hands on his belly, seemingly to transmit to himself the force of the shotgun.
Curing: he blew the water of a water vine on the head of a sick baby.
I made sure to tell the guide not to kill animals that are not for eating anymore. Management of resources is well documented in Zent & Zent, various articles
Young man processing bamboo stems to make blowgun.
Children playing with annatto seed (which children don´t like to make a mess with colors?). They must be in their early to mid-forties now. What is their life as adults? Did they go to
the catholic mission school (which did not exist during my visit) and learned to read, write and speak Spanish? Or did they decide to stay in the forest, living the traditional semi-nomadic life, going only occasionally to the mission to get such things as metal tools? Or have they been contacted by illegal miners and do cheap labor for them in exchange for manufactured goods? Or, perhaps, they were taught to use a GPS to identify their traditional land and help with the demarcation of their territory (unfortunately this demarcation is being delayed by a cultural conceptual difference of the relationship between man and land and by an ever-increasing bureaucracy: Zent, Zent & Molo, IWGIA 1911; Bello, IWGIA 2013).
After 23 days the Eñepa (Panare) came to get me and left me in the savanna to wait for the helicopter. They left, leaving me alone, waiting for the helicopter, if it ever came as it has not been paid for yet. I had observed how the Hoti build their temporary shelters; so I cut some saplings, tied them with vine and covered the frame with false banana (Phenakospermum sp.) leaves. It wasn´t very pretty, but I had a place to hang my hammock. The next days were spent cutting small trees in the savanna to make a heliport. I also gathered dry wood to make a fire to signal my presence to the helicopter. On the day it was supposed to come I cut some branches with green leaves to throw on the fire to make smoke. Than I waited anxiously… Suddenly a black point appeared at the horizon. He was coming! I threw the leaves on the fire, and soon the helicopter was there. He told me he had seen the cleared area before the smoke came up. So we went back to the Guaniamo mine. He told me the money had not arrived from New York, but Corradini had paid for the flight. Merci Henry!
Purchase photographs: Photo gallery: Hoti (Hodi) Indians of the Guiana Highlands of Venezuela
Contact and purchase images
LINKS AND REFERENCES
Egleé and Stanford Zent studied the Hodi: list of their publications at Academia.edu (ecological relationship with the forest)
Among their many publications I selected:
Treading & threading memories: a personal encounter with forest and people in Southern Venezuela, by Stanford & Eglee Zent. A vivid personal account of first contacts with Hoti groups.
Jotï ecogony, Venezuelan Amazon , by Egleé Zent, (pdf download also from Academia.edu list above) (abstract) which shows how the Hoti interact with the environment, both at the material and immaterial levels.(published in Environmental Research Letters).
Jodï horticultural belief, knowledge and practice: incipient or integral cultivation? (pdf download) Crença, conhecimento e prática horticultural Jodï: cultivo incipiente ou integral? Stanford Zent, Egleé Zent Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas. Caracas, Venezuela Abstract
Ser y volverse Jodï: la construcción del ser, el cuerpo y la persona a través de las prácticas curativas p. 191, in PERSPECTIVAS EN SALUD INDÍGENA – COSMOVISIÓN, ENFERMEDAD Y POLÍTICAS PÚBLICAS, Germán Freire, Editor, Grupo de Estudod Antropológicos, Universidade Politécnica Salesiana
LOS JODÏ ( Hotï ) by Egleé L. Zent y Stanford Zent in Salud Indígena en Venezuela, vol 1, p.77 – Academia.edu
Being Human: personhood, cosmology and subsistence for the Hoti of Venezuea Guiana, by Robert Douglas Storrie. PhD thesis, University of Manchester, 1999
Macro-Daha: reconstrução de um tronco lingüístico do noroeste amazônico, by Marcelo Jolkesky (UNICAMP). ROSAE – I Congresso Internacional de Lingüística Histórica, 2009
Salivan Language Family: State of Documentation and Brief Typological Sketch, by Jorge Emilio Rosés Labrada – The University of Western Ontario
The Hoti – Now and future
EL ESTADO ANTE LA SOCIEDAD MULTIÉTNICA Y PLURICULTURAL
Políticas Públicas y Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas en Venezuela (1999-2010)
Luis Jesús Bello (editor) IWGIA 1911 (pdf download)
STANFORd ZENT, EGLEÉ L. ZENT y LUCAS JUAE MOLO: Un largo y sinuoso camino: breve historia de la autodemarcación territorial Jodï en su décimo aniversario ……….97
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES IN VOLUNTARY ISOLATION AND INITIAL CONTACT
IWGIA – IPES – 2013 (various authors) (pdf domnload)
VENEZUELA INDIGENOUS PEOPLES IN RELATIVE ISOLATION By Luis Jesús Bello………………………………………………………….. 130
Location of isolated indigenous people………………………………131
History of contact with isolated indigenous people……………. 135
The current situation facing Proposals to protect indigenous people in ‘relative isolation’…………………………… 144
Policies to protect the lives of indigenous people in ‘relative isolation’……… 153
Sierra de Maigualida:
Botanical novelties from Sierra de Maigualida, southern Venezuela. I by Shingo Nozawa, José R. Grande & Otto Huber. Anales del Jardín Botánico de Madrid Vol. 67(2): 195-202 julio-diciembre 2010: (pdf download)
“The almost unexplored Sierra de Maigualida is the largest and highest non sedimentary, granitic mountain system in the Guayana Shield.”
“In contrast to the famous sandstone table mountains (“tepuis”) sparsed over the territory of the northern Guayana Shield such as Mt. Roraima, Mt. Duida or Cerro de la Neblina, the Sierra de Maigualida is a mountain system made up of igneous-metamorphic rocks”
THE PANARE – Tradition and Change on the Amazonian Frontier, by Paul Henley. Yale University Pres, 1982. (BOOK)
Yoroko: A Panare shaman’s confidences by Marie-Claude Mattei Muller (1992) (BOOK)