A Study of the Saliba Language


This 1790 manuscript contains a grammar and partial glossary of the Saliba language, compiled by an unknown writer in San Miguel del Macuco (present-day Orocué, Colombia), and used by Jesuit missionaries. A note on the manuscript reads: “Under the Royal Order of our Catholic Monarch Charles IV, God preserve him, for demanding the greater learning and intelligence of the dictionary." The manuscript also includes a letter addressed to Charles IV by Friar Clement of Saint Xavier, in which the friar states that he has requested the Saliba language dictionary recommended by Father Gumilla in his El Orinoco Ilustrado for use by the religious missionaries of the plains. The reference is to the Jesuit José Gumilla, whose El Orinoco Ilustrado (Orinoco illustrated) was written in 1731 and subsequently published in Madrid. The extended title of the present work makes clear that it draws on an earlier dictionary, much revised and corrected here. Saliba was spoken by an ethnic group that lived along the central reaches of the Orinoco River in New Granada (the Spanish viceroyalty that comprised all or parts of present-day Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Venezuela).

Last updated: March 19, 2013