Foto: Paula Morgado, 1989


  • Autodenominação
  • Where they are How many

    PA466 (Siasi/Sesai, 2012)
    Guiana Francesa40 (Eliane Camargo, 2011)
    Suriname10 (Eliane Camargo, 2011)
  • Linguistic family

Social organization


Like most of the indigenous groups of the Guiana region, the social structure of the Aparai and Wayana is characterized by the absence of permanent social units (clans, lineages, age classes, etc.), by the distribution of the population in small villages (which customarily do not have a population of more than two digits), dispersed and politically autonomous, but interconnected in different degrees by kinship ties, marital exchanges, rituals and trade.

In Brazilian territory, the Aparai and Wayana – with a population of approximately 415 individuals – are distributed in 15 villages along the East Paru River. The villages reproduce a formal pattern of organization, composition and size which is widespread among the indigenous groups of the region (Tiriyó, Kaxuyana, Wajãpi, Waiwai etc.), that is, relatively small and dispersed, with around 7 to 30 individuals each, organized around kindreds of about to four generations. Formally, the villages are comprised of a married couple, their single sons and daughters, their married daughters, daughters’ husbands and grandchildren (at times, married sons and sons’ wives), coinciding with a domestic group.

Uxorilocality – the rule by which the married couple goes to live with the girl’s family after the marriage – is not, among the Aparai and Wayana (as well as for all of Amazônia) a categorical rule, but rather a tendency, subject to negotiation among the kin of the spouses and factors such as prestige and political power, social distance, pre-existence of affinal ties, etc.

There is no one term in the Aparai language nor in Wayana to designate the domestic group, although this constitutes the nucleus of social organization. Domestic groups establish themselves in large clearings near the riverbanks. Their members can share the same port on the riverbank (where people take care of their personal hygiene), as well as a house for manioc processing and the same “fire for cooking foods” apoto. A set of residences, tapyi (where nuclear families live: a married couple and their single children), corresponds to a domestic group, the houses being arranged around a small plaza.



The residences, tapyi, consist of several ‘houses': a sleeping house, tapyi; a kitchen or "house of the cooking fire", apoto tapyiny; a house for the production of manioc bread and flour; in several cases, separate from the latter, an “oven house", orinató tapyiny; a house for doing domestic services, such as the making of baskets erohtopo tapyiny; a house for the dogs. In general, the residence tapyi corresponds to a nuclear family, but it can also be the shelter for a widowed grandmother, accompanied or not by one of her grandchildren, or it can even be shared – especially, the kitchen – by part of the domestic group (serving two married brothers or the father-in-law and son-in-law, for example).



There are three types of traditional houses:

  • tahkuekemy – a one-story house of oval structure with floorboards and walls of paxiúba or slats of wood, semi-open or closed, with roof covered by ubim and bacaba leaves.
  • tyrakamano – a groundfloor house of oval structure with no floorboards, closed from the roof to the ground with walls of paxiúba or slats of wood, and roof covered by ubim and bacaba leaves.
  • tymanakemy – two-storied house of oval structure with floorboards of paxiúba, semi-open or closed and roof covered by ubim and bacaba leaves.

With the moving of the settlements to the banks of the Paru river, besides the reduction in the size of the houses and the change in style of construction, the settlement pattern in the territory was altered, as well as various forms of social relations. Besides that, today there are houses the architectonic pattern of which is modeled on the houses of the caboclos and riverine settlers, rectangular in shape, with floorboards and walls of wood, roofs of zinc, with doors and locks.

Besides the fixed residences, temporary houses can be built in the gardens when the gardens are far from the villages. It is up to the chief of the village to choose the place for building of the houses as well as to give consent for clearing of the gardens.

In most of the villages, there is a meeting house or “prefecture”, poro'topo (aparai) /or tukusipan (wayana), which stands out from the others in its form and location. Placed in the ‘centre’ of the village, it is visible to all, making it possible to know who has arrived, what he/she is doing, etc. However, if it is a place where all can be seen, its form prevents those who are inside from seeing the others. Such constructions are intended in the first place to receive visitors (from other villages, other Indians and non-Indians) and the holding of festivals (where the adornments are kept). Less than a generation ago, it came to be a place for other “community” activities, such as political meetings and Christian services.


If the villages formally tend to coincide with a domestic group, in practice, several villages are made up of more than one group, which are united by kinship ties. In any case, the great majority reproduces the pattern described above. The only exception is the village Apalaí (also known as Bona), which has more than 150 inhabitants, distributed among four principal domestic groups. Founded in the beginning of the 1960s with the clearing of the airstrip by the Brazilian Air Force (1969), the installation of a small detachment (from 1973 to 1976) and of a Funai Post (in 1973), the village incorporates a policy of the assistance agencies to concentrate the Indians in a single village, in such a way as to facilitate assistance, among other things. Shortly after its creation, this village actually concentrated 60% of the total Aparai and Wayana population in Brazil.


However, the location of Apalaí village does not correspond to indigenous cultural criteria – nearness to clean rivers abounding in fish, lands which are proper for gardening (fertile soil and with no ants), raw materials and fuel (lumber, firewood, vines, etc.), distance from the old longhouses (above all those that were abandoned after the death of the chief), wells and deep waters —, but rather it serves the interests and convenience of the employees who work there. Consequently, after the first years of population concentration and sedentarism around the Funai post in Apalaí village, demographic growth was then accompanied by a gradual revival of the traditional pattern of dispersed habitation and decentralization of the territory. New villages were founded, although on the East Paru river and near the existing assistance posts, in such a way as to conciliate the traditional pattern of village composition and size with access to assistance, communication, consumer goods and salaried work.

Aparai and Wayana villages are intrinsically connected to their respective founders and chiefs. In general, the one who founded a village is its chief, pata esemy or tamuxi. The existence of the village is subordinate to the life of its chief, to the extent that his death tends to result in the dispersion of its inhabitants who found new villages or migrate to already existing villages. Nevertheless, to understand the existence and reproduction of the Wayana and Apalai villages, it is necessary not only to consider the relations formed inside the villages (by its chief with the other members), but also those which connect the villages amongst each other.

Aparai and Wayana villages are interconnected through ties of consanguinety and/or affinity (intermarrriages), networks of cooperation and solidarity (services rendered and mutual aid), exchanges of goods, rituals etc. Ideally, the spatial distance among the domestic groups and villages tends to coincide with the social distance among the same. That is, co-resident domestic groups, as well as neighboring villages, are nearer and their relations more intense than with more distant domestic groups or villages. Villages that are spatially closer to each other and hence, more intensely related, make up a larger social unit, which can be called a local group. The local group is not, by any means permanent nor can it be summed up in terms of territory or kinship. To the contrary, it has a transitory nature.

The network of sociability that connects one domestic group to another is not so small that it is limited to the population of a small village, nor is it so broad as to include the whole Aparai and Wayana population with the same degree and intensity of relations. That is, the local groups are agglomerations where there is a greater density of relations, where a certain endogamy predominates, although within the local groups, the domestic groups seek to diversify and expand their alliances to beyond the local group. The local group can be identified through genealogies that reveal the existence of consanguineal and/or affinal kinship ties, for more than two generations, between two or more villages. It corresponds to a group of two or more villages connected amongst themselves through ties of consanguinety (particularly, filiation or brotherhood) or through the repeating of affinal ties for more than one generation. It is very probable that the category aparai –ekyry, translated as "kin", designates the members of the same local group.

Amongst themselves and amongst others

Generally speaking, the Aparai and Wayana kinship terms, like other systems in a large part of Amazonia, are characterized by the absence of groups and rules of descent and rest on the basic dichotomy between consanguineal and affinal relatives, which is expressed by marriage among bilateral cross-cousins (preferentially, the young man marries the mother’s brother’s daughter and the young woman the father’s sister’s son).

On a level restricted to intra- and inter-village relations, there is the category of -ekyry, translated by the Indians themselves as "kin", encompassing several consanguineal and affinal positions, co-residents and non-co-residents. The use of expressions such as -ekyry manory or –ekyry poto rokene ("false kin", "not very kin" or "a little kin") indicates the existence of classificatory gradations in the use of this category, which denote degree of proximity/distance in genealogical and/or geographic terms. To a certain degree, one is dealing here with a classification in terms of degree and intensity (“more” or “less” kin) and not in terms of nature, referring to a gradient of sociological proximity, which is not reducible to a simple diametrical opposition between “kin” and “non-kin”.


Other categories which have an important social role are -poetory (in Aparai) and peito (in Wayana), which are applied to the co-residents and subordinates of a village chief, being translated as "kin", "people" and even "employee". In the first place, one is dealing with the generic form for referring to all those who inhabit the same village, and are thus subordinate to a common chief. In the second place, this category represents an ‘institution-relation’ widespread among Karib language-speaking peoples of the Guiana region. Generally speaking, these cognates highlight the incorporation of someone to the village or to the local group as a potential ally, whether as a son-in-law (daughter’s husband) or brother-in-law (sister’s husband), who has been brought into the group through uxorilocality or as a war captive.

Opposed to the groups of "kin" -ekyry and "co-residents" -poetory, is the category of alterity pãna (or pawana, in Wayana). Both for the Aparai and the Wayana, these categories designate 'outsider', 'non-kin', someone who is not yet known and/or members of other ethnic groups, Indians and non-Indians (note that on the upper Maroni, tourists are called pawana). They belong to a wide array of cognates in Karib languages, which have slightly different meanings in each place. For most of the Karib groups, including the Wayana, pawana and its cognates denote the ‘formal trade partnership', established with unrelated individuals. However, among the Aparai, pãna refers only to unrelated and socially distant individuals, and another term is used to designate the ‘formal trade partnership', -epe.

In any case, the 'formal trade partnership (or "friendship"), -epe (pawana, in Wayana), is established withsomeone to whom one does not have a relevant kinship tie, nor geographical proximity – generally, with a member of another ethnic group, Indian or non-Indian (Tiriyó, Wayana of Surinam or French Guiana, Black Maroons or Meikoro and Brazilians). One is dealing here with a specific dyadic relation involving the offer of presents, exchange of goods and hospitality, which is marked by exclusiveness and loyalty. Among such trade partners, a request can never be refused, a commitment can never be forgotten, even if it is only honored years later. Conceived as a symmetric and lasting relation, it rests on a form of deferred reciprocity, over the long run, based on mutual advance payments and debt-making.


The Aparai and Wayana designate the other indigenous groups of the region (Wajãpi, Tiriyó, Akurió, Hixkariyana, Galibi and Palikur, among others) by these same ethnonyms, without integrating them into an overall category. This, however, does not exclude the phenomenon of ‘Aparai-zation’ or ´Wayan-ization´, that is, all the nearby indigenous groups are assimilated to their ethnic group. A common trait of the groups of the Guianas is to conceive of their more narrow relations with other groups as a process of “acculturation” and “socialization”: each group sees itself as an agent of “socialization' (according to its own patterns) of the other to whom it is related. The Wayana 'wayanize', os Aparai 'apara-ize', the Waiwai 'waiwa-ize' and so on. This 'socialization' takes place by means of trade and intermarriage, resulting, in the last analysis, in fusions like those which occurred in the past, and which gave rise to the present-day Aparai and Wayana. By 'socialize' is meant teaching the ethos of the group to others (its values, norms of conduct, etc.).


Nevertheless, the term ‘aparai ituakyry’, literally translated as “inhabitant (or people) of the forest", designates for the Aparai and Wayana all the isolated and hostile uncontacted indigenous groups, who inhabit the interior of the forest. Such "wild Indians" are opposed to the “domesticated” indigenous groups, which presently inhabit the banks of the rivers (among which are the Aparai and Wayana). With the intensification of relations with the surrounding society and, consequently, of the dichotomy between Indians/non-Indians, the word ituakyry has acquired a new, more inclusive, meaning, designating generically all indigenous groups, isolated or not, "of the forest” or "of the rivers", "wild" or "domesticated", including the Aparai and Wayana themselves.

Among the non-indigenous groups and other social groups with whom they relate, the Aparai and Wayana differentiate the Boni, Djuka, Saramaká (descendants of Black slaves from Surinam), to whom they attribute the generic category of meikoro. Brazilians are called karaiwá, which includes without distinction the old rubber-gatherers, cat-hunters, prospectors, officials of the FAB, employees of the Funai, researchers, etc. The terms parassissi and urantê refer to the non-Indians of French Guiana and Surinam, respectively.