Piapoco Indians

The Piapoco (Pee-ah-poh-coh) Indians are a group of Indians that live in the lower portion of the Vichada River region in the Amazon basin of Venezuela. This group of Indians survives off the land by hunting, gathering, and producing crops. They are a traditional group that relies on the culture and traditions passed through their ancestors. They live in traditional villages and their homes are palm-thatched huts.

The Piapoco grow many different crops. Their number one producer is the manioc, which they use to make bread, beer, and other foods. They also grow maize, pineapples, beans, sweet potatoes, yams, citrus fruits, and medicinal herbs to make medications and use for the healing of the sick and injured tribal members. The Piapoco live off the crops that they grow and they eat wild fruits, honey, and insects. The men gather in hunting groups to hunt for deer, monkey, and peccaries. Using their own handmade bows and spears, they work with the dogs that they raise to find their prey.

In the Piapoco society, the Father in Law is the greatest authority. Since the Piapoco are a matriarchal society, the groom lives with his bride’s family and works for his Father in Law for many years before he is able to work on his own.

Through the creation of their artisans, the Piapoco people are able to take their trades to sell at a town nearby. Their greatest crafts are created from a lightweight balsa wood that grows along the banks of the river. To gather this wood, they must make a two-day journey. From it, they create stunning sculptures of animals that are sometimes left natural and sometimes dyed with vegetable dyes as paints.

Men weave large baskets that are created from wood and the fronds of palm trees. These special baskets are made to be flexible and can easily collapse so that they can be stored together. Women create the more traditional baskets that use the coil method from grass and fronds.

Once joined in with the Piarva tribe in the Amazon, this group has now begun raising cattle as a more monetary system has come into play with the villages over the years. The villages sell the cattle along with their crafts to villagers in other villages and towns.

This tribe is very much still rooted in tradition and believes in the power of the Shaman to perform miracles and heal the sick. Shamans go through a special apprenticeship that allows them to grow an organ in their throat that gives them the power of being able to grasp the disease in someone and then spit it out. The villagers seek out the help of their Shaman for both healing and for spiritual protection. Though many things have changed over the years, the tribe still believes in the traditional roots of what they were founded on. Family is of the upmost importance and each person has a role to play in the society. Though new traditions and customs are coming from the Western world, the Piapoco Indians continue to work in their artisanship and in living off and respecting the land around them.

Piapoco Baskets

The Piapoco take their art to a small nearby town that is the fartherest town into the rain forest area. There they sell their works at an Indian market. The women weave the traditional coil flat baskets of grasses and palm fronds made by several indigenous tribes in the rain forest. The men weave large baskets of wood and fronds of a local palm. The baskets are very pliable and may be collapsed down in order to pack into other baskets. The Piapocos are a branch of the larger Piaroa tribe indigenous to the Amazon rain forest.

piapoco basket

Sculptures and Carvings

The Piapoco men and sometimes women carve animals such as the eagles and armadillos from light-weight balsa wood plentiful in the rain forest. In order to gather the wood they must take a two day journey into the jungle where the trees grow on the banks of a river. They carve the sculptures with a machete and knife. They sometimes leave the wood natural or use vegetable dyes made from gathered materials to paint and decorate it. The men also carve benches out of the heavier congrio wood which is characterized by both light and dark wood together.

Piapoco woodcarver Carnelio Rodriguez is an extremely talented woodcarver, carving large tropical birds from light-weight balsa wood that is plentiful in the rain forest. Area Indians live very traditionally in villages, bringing their arts and crafts to the nearest small town on market day.
Piapoco woodcarver Raoul Cavares carves animals such as the eagles and armadillos from light-weight balsa wood. He also carves benches out of the heavier congrio wood. Raoul is shown here in front of his home which is a traditional Piapoco thatched hut.

wood sculpture This beautiful hand-carved parrot stands a colorful 20 1/2″ tall.

piapoco bird sculpture Bird approx. 7″ long.
piapoco bird sculpture Bird approx. 7″ long.

These beautiful sculptures are hand carved from a heavy two-toned hard wood called Congrio.

sculptures piapoco sculptures
shaman sculptures indian sculptures


Additional Information

The Yutaje Camp in the Amazonas State of Venezuela
Piapoco language

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