Foto: Daniel Schoepf, 1972

Wayana

  • Autodenominação
    Wayana
  • Where they are How many

    AP, PA304 (Funasa, 2010)
    Guiana Francesa800 (Lopes, 2002)
    Suriname500 (Lopes, 2002)
  • Linguistic family
    Karib

Productive system

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Like most of the other indigenous groups of the region of the Guianas, the Aparai and the Wayana have a subsistence economy, based on hunting, fishing, gathering and cultivation of fruits and root crops. These economic activities are defined by two seasons that divide the year throughout the northern region of the country: "summer", or the dry season, which covers approximately the period between the months of July to December; and "winter", the rainy season, between January and July. This annual cycle guides not only the calendar of activities – particularly the clearing, felling, cleaning, burning, planting and harvesting of the gardens –, but also the appearance of animal, fish, and fruits species available and, consequently, the food diet of the Aparai and Wayana.

Generally speaking, in the "winter", during the rains, the consumption of root crops is reduced so as not to produce a shortage for the rest of the year, until a new harvest is made. Fishing diminishes with the level of the rivers and streams, and, in counterpart, hunting is given greater emphasis with the emergence of small islands along the river, where animals are forced to stay. In the "summer", in turn, most of the time is used for preparing the earth to plant the gardens, this also being a period which is quite good for fishing, given the concentration of fish in the lakes and small water courses.

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The tasks are organized according to a rigid sexual division of labor. It is up to the men to hunt, fish, clear gardens (felling the trees, burning and cleaning) and make new settlements, build houses, and also produce all of the woven domestic utensils (fans, baskets and recipients, manioc squeezers, etc.). The women are responsible for fetching water and taking care of the fire, the preparation of food, the processing of root crops (producing manioc flour, bread and, above all, beverages (fermented), and all production of ceramics (pots and ovens to toast manioc bread and manioc flour) and weaving of cotton (hammocks, straps, etc.). Both sexes participate in gathering, planting and harvesting of the garden products, and the great fishing expeditions using timbó poison held during the dry season.

The basic units of production are the nuclear family and the domestic group, that is, the married couples, their single and married sons and daughters, in-laws, co-resident sons-in-law and daughters-in-law. Each married couple has between one and three gardens, in different stages of development. The gardens are located near the villages, in places that are selected or accepted by the founder or chief of the village, in accordance with such criteria as soil quality, the rains (lands that are not flooded), the occurrence of pests (leaf-cutter ants) and animals (wild pigs, etc.). When the parents of one of the spouses live in another village, often the married couple clears a second or third garden near that village, frequently visiting them. Besides that, newly-weds can share the garden of the parents of one of the spouses until they are able to make their own garden.

Gardens, Hunting, Fishing, and Gathering

In the gardens various species of root crops are cultivated (more than 30 species of manioc, cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, etc.), sugarcane, fruits (bananas, watermelons, pumpkin, mango, maracujá, cherimoya, orange and lime), cotton, urucum dye and genipap. Several types of fruits are planted around the villages.

Throughout the year, expeditions are made into the forest for hunting and gathering. Gathering is practiced with the same level of intensity, complementing the food diet. These expeditions involve the married couple or, more frequently, groups of brothers, in-laws, father and sons. The following items are obtained: wild honey, açaí and bacaba, insect larvae, turtle eggs (on the beaches, during the dry season), arumã for making baskets, plant resins, clay and argil for the production of ceramics and mineral dyes etc.

Through hunting, the Aparai and Wayana add to their diet: tapirs, deer, rodents (paca and cutia, for example), monkeys (cuatá and guariba among others), wild pigs (peccary and boar), birds (curassow, jacamim, toucan), alligator and lizards etc. The techniques used depend on the species of animal being hunted and the time of the year. In the period before the festivals, above all, groups of men make expeditions several times into the forests which can last weeks and in which large quantities of animals are killed. In the dry season, small expeditions into the forest are made on a daily basis in which the men “wait” (mutá) in the gardens or near the fruit trees; in the period of the rains, they hunt with "headlights" (animals are killed on the riverbanks at night). In any case, the Aparai and Wayana use shotguns, which have been familiar to them for more than a century. Although hunting is done throughout the year, the best time for expeditions is the rainy season, when several animals are stuck on islands due to the rise in the river levels.

Fishing is also characterized by a diversity of fish caught and techniques used: tucunaré, surubim, pacu and piranha are some of the species obtained in the region. The predominant technique is with industrialized hook and line, but also “thresher” nets are used (above all, during the time of the rains), bow and arrow and tmbó plant poison (in the dry season).

Traditionally, the Aparai and the Wayana did not raise animals for food. Besides dogs for hunting and commercializing with other indigenous groups, they raise ducks, chickens, and several forest species (curassow, jacamins, toucans and macaws, monkeys and peccary). These animals are usually not eaten, only chicken and duck eggs and, even so, only in situations of shortage. They also don’t produce surpluses to commercialize, except small quantities of manioc cereal transported on journeys, sold, in the past, to extractivist laborers who worked in the region during the decades from 1920 to 1960, and, actually, at prospecting sites near the indigenous area.

Industrialized goods

With the passing of time and the intensification of relations with the surrounding society, the quantity, assortment, and dependence on industrialized goods has become ever greater. Before, there was little diversity of these goods, comparatively speaking, being restricted to metal tools, firearms, cloths, beads, suitcases, and various trinkets. These days, besides these items, there are portable radio/tape-players, cosmetics, canned foods, motorboats and an infinite variety of other articles.

This change in access, use and dependence on industrialized goods on the part of the Aparai and Wayana has been promoted since the first half of the 20th Century by profound transformations in the relations established with certain segments of the surrounding society. As was shown above, until the end of the 19th Century, the Aparai and Wayana depended on the Meikoro as intermediaries in acquiring industrialized goods, negotiating with them through individualized and exclusive formal trade partnerships, based on ‘credit’ and advance payment in merchandise. Since that time and particularly between 1920-50, the Aparai and Wayana switched to favoring their relations with extractivist frontiers which became established in the region, providing foods and rendering services in exchange for industrialized merchandise (in quantities and assortment which were much greater than those acquired until then) and even for money. However, it was from the 1960s on, with the beginning of assistance activities by the FAB, FUNAI and the missionaries of the SIL, that the acquisition of industrialized goods went through major transformations. Such transformations occurred not only in terms of the quantity and variety of available industrialized articles, but also in relation to the modes of acquisition.

The indigenist policies that have been implemented are aimed at ‘educating’ and familiarizing the Indians with the monetary economy and the selling of salaried manual labor. Among these policies, the following are noteworthy: stimulating the production and commercialization of artwork, the installation of 'canteens' and trading posts for selling industrialized merchandise in several villages, the hiring of Indians to perform temporary or permanent services.