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Encyclopedia of World Cultures: South America

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This volume addresses the cultures of South America south of Panama. As the fourth-largest continent and the southernmost part of the New World land masses, South America encompasses 17,814,435 square kilometers. The continent is politically divided into twelve sovereign republics-Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, Venezuela-and two dependencies-Britain's Falkland Islands (claimed by Argentina as the Islas Malvinas) and French Guiana (Guyane Francaise) (map 1). The estimated population of South America (1991) is 302,561,000 (United Nations 1992, 129). Three countries on the continent (French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname) have populations numbering less than 1 million each; three (Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay) each account for between 1 and 9 million; each of six countries (Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela) has 10 to 49 million; and one (Brazil) has more than 100 million (World Bank 1989, 4).

The present-day cultures of South America fall into three general categories: (1) American Indian cultures of the descendants of the continent's original settlers; (2) African-American cultures of the descendants of African slaves; and (3) ethnic-group cultures of postindependence immigrants from Europe and Asia. The latter's descendants have maintained a sense of ethnic identity while living among the dominant earlier post-Columbian majority of Iberian (Spanish and Portuguese) origin. Although concentrating primarily on American Indian cultures, the articles in this volume also consider African Americans in general and the African cultures of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela in particular. Also treated are ethnic-group cultures of Asians (Chinese, Japanese, Koreans), Jews, and Mennonites, as well as those of the dominant populations of colonial and postindependence Europeans.

On a continent where uncertainty about the identification of its inhabitants began with the basic misnomer "Indians," it is perhaps not surprising to find the problem of ethnic and cultural identity embroiled in chaotic confusion. The identity, especially of indigenous groups, is bedeviled by widespread ethnonymic and cultural clutter. Irrespective of the inconsistencies this policy entails, we retain, for purposes of primary ethnic and cultural identification, the names (autochthonous or given) suggested by the authors of the long summaries. For short cultural summaries, the most commonly used nomenclature is employed, and for brief mentions we utilize Lizarralde's (1993) designations. Ethnonyms and alternate names are provided in the articles in the main body of the volume, in the ethnonym index, and in the appendix of Indian groups not covered in the main body of the encyclopedia. For special terms not defined in the text, the reader is referred to the glossary.
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