Pume Case Study

Study Population

The Savanna Pume live in a remote area of south-central Venezuela on a low-lying plain (llanos) drained by tributaries of the Orinoco River. They have no access to modern amenities such as well water, electricity, health clinics or schools. None of the study communities can be reached by permanent road or has access to market goods. Nonlocal goods (cloth, metal pots, machetes) are obtained through trade with the River Pume, a related group who live along the major rivers and transportation routes into the region. The Savanna Pume exchange arrow cane and other raw materials for these goods, which are well worn by the time they reach the interior. Savanna Pume women do not have access to market foods, health care, or prenatal intervention. Although the Pume are food limited, adult height falls within the normal range for other native South American populations (Holmes 1995; Salzano and Callegari-Jacques 1988).

The Savanna Pume move their camps 5-6 times throughout the year in response to seasonal changes in rainfall patterns. During the 6-month dry season, related nuclear families live in ephemeral brush-shade camps adjacent to streams and lagoons to be close to water and fish. During the wet season when the llanos flood, camps are moved to higher ground and families aggregate in more substantial thatch houses. Fish become dispersed and are difficult to locate, and the subsistence base shifts to small game, wild roots, and a small amount of cultivated bitter manioc (Greaves and Kramer 2013). The nutritional ecology of the Savanna Pume is described at length elsewhere (Kramer and Greaves 2007). Nutritional and epidemiological stress, extreme in some years, is most pronounced during the wet season when relatively low food returns are exacerbated by increased exposure to mosquitoes and infectious disease (Barreto and Rivas 2007). The most prevalent epidemiological risks include malaria, respiratory infections, tuberculosis, giardia, amoebiasis, and parasitic infections. Although some older individuals have been immunized, primarily for small pox, very few Savanna Pume children have been vaccinated in the last 15 years.

Serial monogamy is the predominant marriage pattern for the Pume, although 20 % of adults have been polygynously married at some point during their lives. If an extramarital affair occurs, it usually results in divorce and remarriage. Women generally enjoy friendly and supportive marriages and have autonomy in decisionmaking, including when and whom they marry. Although marriage is often arranged by parents, young women are not obliged to accept these matches. Young couples often live with the wife’s family for some years, and either partner can instigate divorce. Although Pume girls may marry and reside with a spouse before menarche, coital relations are not initiated until later, usually shortly after menarche when girls are ready. No evidence exists of coercive marriage or sexual activity, an important consideration given the early age of marriage.

Savanna Pume girls grow up in a high-mortality environment, marked by distinct seasonal fluctuations in food availability and harsh epidemiological conditions, with no access to health care, immunization, or supplemental food programs. Both childhood and adult morality are high (see fertility and mortality section below) and life expectancy at birth is low (eo = 27). This affects the age structure of the population. The average age of the population is 24.01 years, and 39 % of the population is under the age of 15. While this indicates that the Pume are a relatively young population, the age structure also reflects the high child mortality (Kramer and Greaves 2007).

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