Wayana-Aparai Indians

The Wayana-Aparai Indians are a group that was formed by two distinct tribes that were brought together both culturally and geographically. They are of the same language root and the two dialects are very similar. The fusion took place due to intermarriage and geographical proximity beginning around the 18th century.

Each village consists of several houses that are common to the villagers. There is the sleeping house, where everyone sleeps. A kitchen house, or tapyi, which is also called the house of the cooking fire, a manioc bread house, an oven house, a domestic services house, and even a doghouse are a part of the village.

While not by rule, most married couples reside with the female’s family. This is by choice and tends to occur in most situations. Each marriage makes their own decision on what is best through guidance from their kin.

The Wayana-Aparai Indians hold many festivals throughout their lives. One of the most important is called the Morake. Each villager will normally experience around eight of these festivals in their lifetime. They each wear tall masks that represent the mystical bird Orok that is in their version of the creation story.

The ceremony finishes with the application of the “kunana”, three mystical figures filled with Tucandeira ants and placed on the chest of the boy or girl entering adulthood. The participants are stung by as many as fifty ants at once but must remain rigid. These Tucandeira ants are aggressive and their sting is excruciatingly painful. This clearly severs the bond of childhood and from then on they live only in the world of the adult responsibility.

The Wayana-Aparai Indians live off the land by hunting, fishing, gathering, and gardening. They grow manioc, cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, sugar cane, bananas, watermelons, pumpkins, and cotton. They also hunt deer, rodents, monkeys, wild pigs, birds, alligator, and lizards.

The men often form groups several times a year and leave for a few weeks at a time to go on hunting expeditions to gather food for the village. While the Wayana-Aparai do not raise animals for food, they do raise dogs for hunting and ducks and chickens as well. They sometimes use the eggs for food, but the animals are never eaten.

As they adapted towards a more cash economy in the 20th century, they began creating crafts to sell, barter, and trade. Through intricate designs, pottery, carvings, and basketry, they are able to show the world their skills in the arts along with providing for their village.

While this blended society did not start off together, they have since blended into a tribe that works well together and is able to survive off the land and the creations that they make. As farming lands become stripped, they often travel to other areas so that their sustenance from the land does not run out.

The Wayana-Aparai are a proud people who continue to hold onto their beloved culture. Founded very much on mystical beliefs, they respect the world around them and make sure to take only what they need to survive, rarely producing more than they need. It is through this system that they are able to thrive in such a dangerous area of the world

Additional Information

Yale Bulletin Calendar – News Stories – Amongst the Wayana-Aparai peoples of Brazil, when a boy reaches puberty, he must demonstrate his readiness to assume adult status at the Tocandira ceremony.
Wayana photos
Apalai: a language of Brazil
Language Museum – Wayana
Ethnologue report for language code: WAY – Ethnologue and bibliography information on Wayana.
Les Amerindiens
Guggenheim Museum – Brazil Body & Soul
Renzo Duin
Gallery 11, Spirit of Place Mask, Wayana, Brazil
A grammar of Wayana
Wayana Words

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