Waimiri-Atroari Indians

The Waimiri-Atroari Indian tribe is indigenous to northern Brazil. Their territory lies in the states of Roraima and Amazonas, deep within the Amazon rainforest. Farming is their main means of subsistence.

The tribe made contact with the outside world for the first time in 1732; at that point in history, Waimiri-Atroari territory was the most feared by the Europeans in the area seeking spices for export. This was due to the warlike nature of the inhabitants. For over 300 years they survived in a state of war with the government, and only fairly recently, in 1977, did they finally surrender to the government and its pacification efforts. The surrender was effected during the construction of the Pan American Highway which extends from Alaska to the southern portion of South America. The construction of the Balbina dam hydroelectric project was another reason for the tribe’s pacification by the government. Both of these governmental developments occupy Waimiri-Atroari territory.

When the Waimiri-Atroari surrendered in 1977, the tribe’s population numbered 3000 members. In the most recent count, which took place in 2001, their numbers had dwindled to a mere 931. Along with the pacification efforts, a part of the reason for the decrease is attributed to the death of a Catholic priest and seven nuns which took place on the tribe’s land in 1968. A large but unknown number of Waimiri-Atroari were killed in reprisal for those deaths.

The Balbina Dam that required Waimiri-Atroari’s pacification by the government also resulted in 250,000 hectares of their lands being flooded. In the effort to secure compensation for the lost land, the tribe embarked on a major legal effort in 1992.

In 1999, the government instituted Programa Atroari, which is considered an example of how problems with indigenous tribes should be handled in the Amazon basin. The program includes such efforts as demarcation of the tribe’s territory, education for its members along with various healthcare measures. The healthcare services provided by the government dealt with the epidemics of measles, malaria and influenza. Programa Atroari has also rescued the tribe’s cultural practices from extinction. The recent population estimate of 931 actually represents an increase as prior to Programa Atroari, the number of Waimiri-Atroari had declined to 374. The program has increased literacy to almost 64 percent with the rest of the tribe in the process of being educated.

Among the books that serve as a resource on the Waimiri-Atroari Indians is the Ethnobotany of the Waimiri-Atroari Indians of Brazil. The book was written by W Millen, RP Miller, SR Pollard and EV Wandelli and published by the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, in 1992. The book charts the destruction of the Brazilian forests and the fact that indigenous people are being absorbed into modern society. The Ethnobotany of the Waimiri-Atroari Indians of Brazil also points out that both of these factors have resulted in lost knowledge regarding traditional plants and their uses. The book lists the various plants found in the territory of the Waimiri-Atroari Indians and their terms for those plants as well as how they are used. The introduction to the book covers the history of the Waimiri-Atroari tribe.

Waimair-Atroari Backpacks

The Waimiri-Atroari are also known for weaving baskets and backpacks from aruma fiber. These craft items are typically woven with geometric patterns and are used to carry agricultural produce, a hunter’s or fisherman’s catch or other heavy items.

Back pack Back pack
Back pack Back pack

Additional Information

Waimiri-Atroari – web page
Waimiri-Atroari – search for “waimiri” to get an index of articles
Waimiri-Atroari – fight Paranapanema for their rights
Adote Um Povo Waimiri-Atroari Perfil
Governo do Estado do Acre
Government Agrees with Waimiri-Atroari Indians to Pave Road
The Rankin Museum – photos
Ethnobotany of the Waimiri Atroari Indians of Brazil. by W. Milliken, R.P. Miller, S.R. Pollard & E.V. Wandelli. Kew: Royal Botanic Gardens, 1992. ix + 146 pp. Four colour plates, and other illustrations. Soft Cover. ISBN 0 947643 50 8

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