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A former important group of tribes on the Upper Orinoco River, from above the Meta to the entrance of the Cassiquiare, in Venezuela and Columbia, speaking dialects of the Arawakan stock. The tribes were the Maipure proper; Meepure; Cavare, or Cabre; Avane, or Abani; Pareni; Guipuñave, or Guaypunave, and Chirupa or Quirupa. The Achagua, on the Middle Meta, Columbia, were sometimes regarded as belonging to the same group. The Maipure tribes remained practically unknown up to the middle of the eighteenth century. Their chief and constant enemies were the cannibal Caribs of the Lower Orinoco. In the early part of the seventeenth century the Portuguese slave hunters of Brazil (see MAMELUCO) extended their inroads into the upper Orinoco region through the assistance of the Guipuñave on the Inirida, who, though ferocious, were superior to the surrounding tribes, having clothes and palisaded forts with stores for extra weapons. These incursions at last became so threatening that Father Roman, superior of the Jesuit missions of the Lower Orinoco, took the desperate resolution of ascending the river, without an escort of soldiers to try and arrange terms with the Guipuñave. Taking a few Indians, with a crucifix erected at the bow of his boat, he advanced to the Atabapo and then to Brazil by the Negro, returning to the Carichana mission after seven month's travel. He was thus the first to discover the connection of the Amazon and the Orinoco by means of the rivers Cassiquiare and Negro. As a result the Guipuñave ceased their inroads, and some of the tribe settled at the cataract of M aipures, in 1744, the new mission being called San José de Maipures. It included Guipuñave and Pareni, with some remotely cognate Guariquena from the Cassiquiare. In 1748 the Jesuit Francisco Gonzales established the mission of San Juan Nepomuceno de los Atures, now Atures, Venezuela, gathering into it Ature (Salavan stock), Maipure proper, Meepure, Abani, and Quirupa. In 1749 arrived Father Gilii, the historian of the Jesuit missions of the Orinoco, to whom, according to Hervás, is due the conversion of the Maipure tribes.
When the Guipuñave ceased their warfare on the missions, another neighbouring cannibal tribe, the Manitivitano, continued the work of destruction for the rewards held out by the Portuguese and Dutch. When in 1756 Solano, commander of the boundary expedition, reached the confluence of the Atabapo with the Orinoco he found there a settlement of Guipuñave, whose chief, won over by Roman years before, not only assented to the establishment of a garrison and mission, San Fernando de Atabapo, but also promised to enter the mission with all his people. This mission, practically of government origin, was placed in charge of the Observatines. About the same time the mission at Atures had 320 Indians, and that at Maipures 600, where Humboldt in 1800 found only 47 and 60 respectively. Besides religion, the Fathers taught their neophytes habits of regularity and industry, suppressed the more barbarous practices and, the Jesuits especially, introduced cattle, goats, and European fruits and vegetables. But notwithstanding the greater security and plenty of the mission, the Venezuelan savage preferred the life of the forest. His superstition also made him fear to stay near the spot where one of his friends had died. Unsanitary habits, secret abortion, and frequent fever epidemics from periodical river floods made a high death rate, especially among children.
The expulsion of Jesuits from Spanish America in 1767 meant the ruin of most of the missions on the Orinoco. The Jesuit establishments were placed under officers who appropriated all movable property, leaving the rest to decay and destruction. In 1785 the missions were placed in the charge of the Observantines. It was too late, however, to repair the ruin. Of the Indians, only a small fraction remained, the rest having return to the forest or perished from disease or starvation. The missionaries themselves were no longer free, but constantly subject to the annoying interference of government officials. In 1800 hardly a hundred Indians were left in the two principal Maipure missions. By the shifting of tribes, the Atures mission was then occupied, not by the descendants of its original inhabitants, but by Guahibo and Maco, of entirely alien stocks. San Fernando de Atabapo had suffered lest that the rest and was still a station of importance with its Indian fields and neat priest's house, although the former herds of cattle had disappeared. To-day the missions are extinct. Of the Maipure proper only a few half-breeds keep the name.
Except for a scant breech cloth, the Maipure went entirely naked, but painted their whole bodies, usually with a bright red obtained from vegetable dyes. Their chief diet was cassava bread, banana, and fish. They used very little meat which they seasoned with a few drops of mineral solution which took the place of salt. Their favorite exhilarant was the chica, or chiza, fermented from corn or bananas. Their huts were open structures roofed with palm or banana leaves, with simple furniture of reed mats, earthen pots, fishing nets and sleeping hammocks. Their weapons were the bow and arrow, and the blowgun with arrows tipped with the deadly curare poison. The men were expert canoeists. All the Maipure tribes were especially noted for the pottery manufactured by their women, which excelled in execution and colour, artistic design and glazing. They were all cannibals. Their government was rather patriarchal than tribal, eight or ten families usually living together, and combining in larger numbers only for war purposes. Polygamy was the rule, and polyandry among brothers was common with the Maipure. They believed in nature gods and ridiculed the idea of churches, saying their gods would not be confined in houses. The missionaries met this by holding services in the open air. Their cult centered around a sacred earthenware trumpet, called botuto, which was periodically sounded in elaborate ceremonial processions under the palm trees to insure abundant fruit, was consulted as an oracle, and for a woman to approach within sight of it, the penalty was death.