The Ecology of the Barí

[ Latin American Studies ]

The Ecology of the Barí

Rainforest Horticulturalists of South America

By Stephen Beckerman and Roberto Lizarralde

The first book-length study of the human ecology of the Barí, drawing on more than forty years of field research to examine relations with natural and social environments, reactions to depredations and warfare, and belief in the possibility that a child can have dual paternity.

November 2013


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6 x 9 | 291 pp. | 4 b&w photos, 8 maps, 9 charts

ISBN: 978-1-4773-0207-1

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 Barí showcases 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.


Chapter 1. Introduction

Chapter 2. Physical Environment

Chapter 3. Social Environment and Ethnohistory

Chapter 4. Production

Chapter 5. Protection

Chapter 6. Reproduction

Chapter 7. Conclusions

Appendix. Additional Data on Barí Horticulture



Stephen Beckerman is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Penn State University. He is coeditor of Revenge in the Cultures of Lowland South America and Cultures of Multiple Fathers: The Theory and Practice of Partible Paternity in South America.

The late Roberto Lizarralde was Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the Universidad Central de Venezuela.

“A significant contribution to the fields of ecological anthropology and lowland South American studies [featuring] a highly detailed and fine-grained description and analysis of Barí human ecology.”
—William Vickers, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Florida International University