Architecture and culture in Venezuela: Three habitats of the Pemon culture

IntermittentCity is pleased to host a collaboration from Victoria Lopez Carmona, who just finalised her four-year M.A. in Sociology with Honours at the University of Edinburgh. This post is about her explorations in Venezuela. The following text and images are part of her findings:

On May 2015 I travelled to one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, the Canaima National Park, Venezuela, to conduct a fieldwork related to my sociology undergraduate dissertation. The Canaima National Park is home to the highest waterfall in the world, Angel Falls. I conducted an ethnographic analysis with the aim to understand and interpret how the Pemon indigenous peoples living in Kanaimö Indigenous Community adapt to on-going cultural changes in the context of illegal mining practices.

Canaima National Park, Venezuela
Canaima National Park, Venezuela

I explored systems of representation that the Pemón indigenous peoples use to resist further cultural change. I found that architecture is one of them. There are three types of housing styles present in Kanaimö Indigenous Community:

Churuata or traditional indigenous style: Made out of mud, wood, and dry palm trees in the form of a circle. This style creates one big communal space important for cultural rituals such as the eating of the tuma.

Churuata or traditional indigenous style, Victoria Lopez Carmona
Churuata or traditional indigenous style, Victoria Lopez Carmona

Modern style: Represents urban housing as it is constructed with brick, cement, and zinc. The TV cable antenna on the roof suggests the implementation of modern technology in their everyday life.

Modern style, Victoria Lopez Carmona
Modern style, Victoria Lopez Carmona

Mixed style: The third housing style is a mixture of both traditional and modern styles. The high school seen in the photograph was built with urban-style appliances but in a traditional churuata style.

Mixed style, Victoria Lopez Carmona
Mixed style, Victoria Lopez Carmona

Research participants argued for the importance of building traditional houses, claiming that the divided spaces in modern houses disintegrate family gatherings. For an interviewee architecture is a representation of the Pemón culture, as she says in the following quote, “If we want to preserve our culture, I think it is valid that we impose indigenous architecture over the other styles”.

The implication for choosing a different housing style is not necessarily a lack of indigenous culture, but a change in the representation of the Pemón culture. For instance, the use of mixed housing styles demonstrates how the Pemón peoples adapt to change and the way they express cultural resistance to mediate between the traditional and the new.

Victoria Lopez Carmona, May 2016.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Elena says:

    Great post on a very interesting research project, well done Vic!


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