The Wai-Wai (or Waiwai) reside in the north central area of the Brazilian Amazon close to the border of Venezuela and also in Guyana. River rapids and waterfalls help to stem the invasion of farming and logging industries. The Wai-Wai are among the smallest of the Amerindian groups of Guyana, and are a nomadic society that depends on hunting and gathering practices. The Wai-Wai form bands or tribes and their technology is characterized by lightweight, flexible basketry. Their background is part of the Cariban Indian linguistic group.
The Wai-Wai live in the interior of the rain forest. They use an agricultural slash-and-burn technique known as swidden to create small areas which they use for planting crops. This involves cutting or burning down patches of forest to create space for fields, and is typically used by people who practice subsistence farming. This sort of farming is known as shifting cultivation, as the land is often allowed to regenerate after it loses fertility, or if fewer crops are needed. Farming decisions are made on the basis of the needs of the family or tribe, not on market needs.
Light, thin soil and an annual rainfall of four meters can make it very challenging for the Wai-Wai to produce enough food, so they also hunt local fauna such as monkeys and birds. The Curare poison is still used on their arrow tips when hunting in the rain forest canopy. Their traditional dances are known for imitating the movements and calls of various forest animals and birds.
However, the remoteness and traditional way of life of the Wai-Wai does not mean that they are outside of Western influence. Western influence is severely corrupting the traditional tribal culture. They have converted to Christianity with their own native pastors. During the 1940s, a large portion of the Wai-Wai tribe migrated to Brazil following the path of the Christian missionaries who were forced to leave the area. Now most of the tribe is situated in Brazil, with a small number of tribal members still residing in Guyana. The religion of the Wai-Wai people, however, still contains traditional tribal elements, with medicine men or shamans who are believed to possess special spiritual abilities.
The Wai-Wai people have a culture that places a high value on female labor and productivity. It is this that determines success. The political clout and riches of a certain family or village is reliant on the abilities of the women of the family or community. Marriage is also important to the Wai-Wai. Most Wai-Wai woman are married by the age of seventeen.
The Wai-Wai tribe has a culture rich in artistic artifacts, and they are especially well-known for their woven baskets and hammocks. They also create pottery, woven combs, bone flutes, bows and arrows, blowguns, graters, beaded aprons, necklaces, and other crafts. They are very good working with feathers and usually decorate whatever they produce with small tufts of feathers.
They do amazing work with seeds, covering lion cloths, rattles and jewelry with elaborately woven cloth made of tiny seeds. The seeds they use to weave are called Tururri seeds, though they also sometimes use Job’s Tears seeds cut in half. The loin clothes of the Wai-Wai are made from minuscule tururri seeds, strung and woven together in a painstaking process, in order to produce an intricate and textured garment. It is strung around the waist and decorated with tufts of feathers.
Loin Cloths are made of tiny tururri seeds painstakingly strung and woven together to produce a beautifully textured garment. It is worn around the waist, ties in the back and is trimmed with feather danglers.
Wai Wai Basket
Baskets are especially important to Wai-Wai men.The men weave vanity baskets, which are traditionally used to hold feathers and face paint, the sacred accoutrements of their religious rituals. Wai-Wai shamans also use these baskets to store rattles and hallucinogenic drugs. They are small woven squares and cylinders, generally decorated with a simple repeating pattern.
|Wai Wai hand woven men’s vanity basket – used to store feathers and face paint or by shamen to store ritualistic paraphernalia such as rattles and hallucinogenic drugs – 9 1/2″ square|
The Shamanic rituals of the Wai-Wai feature rattles. These are often beaded and decorated with tufts of feathers. They are made from twill, a diagonally woven material.
Wai Wai Necklaces
Wai-Wai necklaces are beaded and often follow the same form, a square intricately beaded pendant dangling from a beaded string. They feature simple geometric designs and are adorned with brightly-colored feathers which offset the plain string and beads.
Wai Wai Combs
Combs play an important role in the life of the Amazon Indian. Combs are not only used as grooming tools, but are used to comb out evil spirits or negative energy. Combs are always an important item in a shaman’s basket so that the negative energy may be removed after a ceremony. These Wai-wai combs are hand made of natural reeds and fibers and trimmed with colorful feathers.
Sling-type baby carrier is made of bark cloth and decorated with natural pigment and a feather danglers, 47″ long and 4″ wide.
Wai Wai Flute
Power stools carved out of a single piece of wood by the Wai Wai Indians of Brazil and British Guyana. These seats for the shaman or headman are painted with the reddish paint derived from the Urucu pod. The black designs are masticated charcoal, approx. 19 inches long.
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