Waura Indians

With a tribe that surrounds the Piyulaga Lake area of Brazil, the Waura Indians have a long history that has been marked by harmony and peace with those around them. Originally founded in 1884 by German ethnologist Karl von den Steinen, the Waura tribe was first spotted on a tip from the SuyÁ tribe who gave von den Steinen a map of the region and location of their homeland. As Aruak speakers, this particular tribe has formed a strong relationship with other similar speaking tribes in the area and the result has been a multi-ethnic region that has been marked by relative peace since the 18th century.

In the past century, many Roman Catholic missionaries have made trips to visit the Waura people with intent on bringing some form of Christianity into their lives and speaking about religion in general. Many of the Waura have accepted Christianity; however, others have found that the transition and acceptance of the missionaries has not always been easy. As the missionaries began to assimilate into native culture, they also began to bring disease with them over time and in the process, wound up killing some of the same people they were trying to help.

The typical diet of a Waura native is similar to other tribes, with a heavy focus on fish, beans and various fruits in particular. Fishing takes place at all times of the day, with the men sometimes going out with torches at night to catch and then broil fish for dinner the next day. Because of the lack of storage and freezers, some food items (such as ears of maize) are left dangling from the side of house roofs, while other families simply keep their food stored in the same pots they are cooked in.

When it comes to work, pottery and ceramic goods are the major means of production among the natives. In particular, there are 45 different designs that are generally used to decorate materials that are important to their culture. Though many tribes view these creations as a means of making a living (which the Waura do as well), these products also serve as a reminder of their cultural ethnicity. In recent years, these artisans have made products that have been deemed worthy enough to trade for industrialized goods.

One interesting fact that separates the Waura from other tribes in their region is a system of rules that cater only to fathers in the tribe. Studies have found that the tallest and wealthiest men in the tribe typically can have up to seven or eight extra-marital affairs at one time. In addition, these men were the ones called upon when it came time to lead important rituals or choose a chief. In comparison, the lower strata of the tribe found men who worked as simple trash yard collectors. Seen as inferior, these men were significantly shorter and had less extra-marital affairs compared to their more fortunate counterparts. Despite a relative lack of social interaction, this system of social balances mirrors those held in the outside world.

Additional Information

Waura – SIL International
Vocabulário uaurá/vaurá (Waura/Waurá)
BARCELOS NETO, Aristóteles / Arte, Estética e Cosmologia entre os Índios Waurá da Amazônia Meridional.
The Rankin Museum – photos
Coelho, Vera Penteado – 1983 Un Eclipse do Sol na Aldeia Waura. Journal de la Societe des Americanistes 69:149-67.
Schultz, Harald – 1965 Lendas Waura. Revista do Museu Paulista 16:21-149.

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