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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Sat Mar 25 06:10:51 2000
Date: Wed, 22 Mar 2000 23:45:26 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: VENEZUELA: Cyberspace Showcase of Native Cultures
Article: 91955
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
X-UIDL: a7573869e7559a5223c8bf1a73b5dad5

Cyberspace Showcase of Native Cultures

By Luis Cordova, IPS, 21 March 2000

CARACAS, Mar (IPS) - Twelve indigenous groups living in the depths of the Venezuelan Amazon are the protagonists of a 350-item exhibit that allows Internet users to explore the mysteries of these ancestral cultures, whose survival is threatened by the real inroads of the modern world.

Each object tells a part of our ancestral history, states the web-page presenting the virtual exhibit (www.orinoco.org), an audacious display of cultures that developed throughout the centuries in the Venezuelan Amazon.

The objects are part of the Cisneros Foundation collection, which in the real world organised the Orinoco-Parima exposition, shown in Germany and with a tour schedule that includes museums throughout Europe and the United States, ultimately returning to be shown in Maracaibo and Caracas.

The world reflected by the real and virtual components of the exhibit exists in the upper Orinoco, near the river's source in the Parima mountains, some 1,040 m above sea level. It is an isolated and difficult to penetrate region that has captivated explorers and exploiters alike for the last 500 years.

The web-site explains that the exhibit allows the viewer to know a material culture of great vitality that is rapidly disappearing. The region is currently home to legal and illegal mining operations, missionaries of various tendencies and other influences that affect the survival of indigenous cultures.

The Orinoco River, the third largest river basin in the world, cuts Venezuela in two with a route beginning in the country's southwest, in the middle of the jungle bordering Colombia, and ending in a heavy-flowing delta on the Caribbean in the extreme northeast, near the Guyana border.

Navegation - on the Internet, not the river - permits the global audience greater access to the traditions, customs and myths of a world shaped by its unique geography.

We invite you to discover the existing connections between objects, the people who made them and the belief systems they reveal, say the web-site's authors.

Fifteen of the objects are highlighted because they illustrate the wealth of the societies represented in the collection. Another 350 pieces are represented by photographs and identifying records in the site's database, available in Spanish and English.

The Foundation, sponsored by the Cisneros Organisation business group, created the collection after receiving a major endowment from Edgardo Gonzalez Nio, who began collecting objects from the Orinoco cultures in the 1950s when he sought refuge in the jungle, eluding the Marcos Pérez Jimenez dictatorship.

A virtual tour of the exhibition reveals weapons, baskets, fabrics and numerous objects that make up life in the jungles of the upper Orinoco, including mortars used to grind bones or the yopo inhaler, used by the Yanomami peoples.

A glossary of terms helps visitors enter this normally distant world. The 'yopo' is a tree whose seeds are used to prepare a hallucinogenic powder, inhaled by shamans for religious-magical and healing purposes, according to the web-site's explanation.

The glossary also has historical references about the region, such as an explanation about James Angel - popularly known as Jimmy Angel, this soldier-adventurer from North America gave world renown to the Venezuelan waterfall, today named Angel Falls, which is the highest in the world at 969 metres.

The site also explains the major traits of the upper Orinoco's 12 indigenous groups and the mythological stories of their appearance on Earth. Such as the case of the moon, which was attacked by archers and began to bleed over the Earth, and from these drops of blood the Yanomami were born.

The fate of Venezuela as a nation lies on the shoulders of our ancestors, asserted poet Santos Lopez when the web-site was launched earlier this month alongside a book on the Orinoco- Parima exhibit.

Lopez stressed that the objects and artistic creations in the collection facilitate understanding of our native peoples of the south, because their knowledge, feelings and spirituality are reflected in them.

The orinoco.org site is complemented by the German exhibit's web- page, found at www.kah-bonn.de/ausstellungen/orinoko/0e.htm. The German site affirms that the items on display allow the viewer to intuit a system of life because they represent social, magical and cosmic principles.

The web-page adds that the exhibit attempts to reflect on key issues for the upper Orinoco's different groups: existence, development, food, organisation, celebration, healing and transition.

We are talking about a philosophy of synthesis, explains Santos Lopez.