Yekuana Indians

The Yekuana (Yeh-qua-nah) Indians are a very traditional tribe living along the riverbanks in the Amazon rain forest in Venezuela that speaks the Carib language. While the name Maquitare was given to them by the Spaniards who migrated and travelled among them, most of the traditional Yekuana Indians prefer their original name.

The Yekuana are the tribe described by South Americans as “finished,” meaning that they have an advanced culture. The Yekuana Indians are a very advanced culture and are considered to be both intelligent and kind. They are best known for the bongos they create. The Indians take large trees and burn the centers out of them to create bongos or canoes. These are used for travel and are also made for their own village and even for surrounding villages.

The Yekuana Indians are involved in making beautifully intricate basket weavings. In an ancient Yekuana legend, the story goes that a group of Yekuana Indians stole the precious box of a very mean and large monkey. Once they looked inside the box, they found the origins of their animal designs, which they use today in their basketry.

Basket making is very special to both the men and women in the Yekuana tribe. Baskets are created in a way so as to suit the gender of those that they are made for and by. Men make Wajas, which are flat baskets that often contain a family crest or special types of woven designs. Women create Wuwas, which are curved wicker baskets. Baskets play a significant role in the lives of the Yekuana and each stage of their lifecycle is honored with an exchange of baskets that occurs between the sexes.

In the village, men must prove themselves before they are able to marry. They must design a family crest for their proposed family and they must prove to their wife’s family that they are capable of producing all of the baskets that she will need to take care of the home.

Along with these special baskets, there are sculptures that are created by the villagers. These are normally carved from wood and then hand painted with bright paints. The Yekuana also create beautiful beaded works that are crafted into jewelry and worn by the villagers or are used for trade or income.

The Yekuana also make their own weapons, some of them very ornate in nature. They make woven blowguns and hand carved clubs that are used in their hunting practices. These beautiful pieces tell the story of their village and are very symbolic to the tribe.

The Yekuana Indians grow crops that mainly consist of bitter manioc as the staple crop, and also sweet manioc, maize, bananas, squashes, sweet potatoes, peppers and tobacco. Through their crops and their hunting skills, they are able to live off the land. This has helped them to hold a very strong connection between themselves and the earth beneath them as they go through their lives

Eating Utensils

These eating utensils are made of calabash gourds very finely smoothed and coated on the inside with a water resistant covering.

Calabash bowl Lg. Calabash bowl, approx. from 6 1/2″ to 7 1/2″ in diameter.
Calabash bowl Sm. Calabash bowl, approx. from 4 1/2″ to 5 1/2″ in diameter.
Calabash scoop Calabash scooper, approx. 6 ” x 4 3/4.

Basket Making

Their basket making also is very advanced, reminiscent of the Cherokee’s basketry. They weave intricate geometric designs and animals into their baskets and use a variety of natural dyes to create color and contrast. They have a legend similar to Pandora’s box in which the Indians steal a box from a huge ferocious monkey. When the box is opened, they find many drawings of animals which are the origin of the animal designs used in their basketry. There is evidence that the Yekuana flat serving baskets, made by men, are the “cosmograms” of their universe, not only models of the flat hemisphere of the dome of the heavens, but also circular fields filled with complex designs representing atmospheric elements and animal symbols associated with various aspects of the world. In addition, baskets are associated with the respective sexes by their actual form and fabrication technology: straight, twill-weave decorated baskets are male, curved, wicker-weave baskets are female; and each stage of the life cycle is marked by a reciprocal exchange of baskets between the sexes.


Yekuana Indians
Maria Louisa and her daughter. Maria Louisa is a master Yekuana basket weaver from the village of Nichare.


Yekuana Indians
Yekuana making bowls from gourds. Unfinished basket on the table.

Yekuana Wuwas (Wiwa)
Wuwas are the vase or bell shaped baskets made by the women of the tribe. They use natural dyes creating wonderfully intricate designs. The shape of the basket follows the general shape of a woman’s body. This design was first used in burden baskets which were curved to fit snugly into the small of the woman’s back. The women still make utilitarian burden baskets, but the wuwa has evolved into a more artistic basket used in the home as containers while retaining the basic burden basket shape.

Yekuana Wuwas baskets Yekuana Wuwas baskets
14″ x 14″ 9 1/2″ x 9 1/2″
Yekuana Wuwas baskets Yekuana Wuwas baskets
10″ x 11″ with decorative seed strap 9 1/2″ x 10″ by Marciela
Yekuana Wuwas baskets

Yekuana Round Baskets
Round baskets are also made by the women of the Yekuana tribe. They are very sturdy with a wonderfully symmetrical shape. They are used as containers in the home and are decorated with geometrical and animal symbols.

Round baskets are also made by the women of the Yekuana tribe. Round baskets are also made by the women of the Yekuana tribe.
7″ x 6″ by Patricia 12″ x 9″ by Marciela
Round baskets are also made by the women of the Yekuana tribe. Round baskets are also made by the women of the Yekuana tribe.
12″ x 11 1/2″ by Julia 10″ x 10 1/2″ by Juanita Castro
Round baskets are also made by the women of the Yekuana tribe. Round baskets are also made by the women of the Yekuana tribe.
Round baskets are also made by the women of the Yekuana tribe. Round baskets are also made by the women of the Yekuana tribe.
Round baskets are also made by the women of the Yekuana tribe. Round baskets are also made by the women of the Yekuana tribe.
baskets come from the Yekuana tribe Yekuana Women's Baskets or Wuwas
15 1/2″ x 10 1/4″ by Kamawa- Sumi 6″x 5 1/4″ by Elisa
Yekuana Women's Baskets or Wuwas Yekuana Women's Baskets or Wuwas
10 1/2″ x 11″

Yekuana Men’s Baskets or “Wajas”
Flat or tray baskets are made by the men of the Yekuana tribe. Men must design a “family crest” and produce a number of baskets and present them to the woman that they are interested in. Before marriage they must show that they are capable of producing various baskets that a woman will need to use in running a house hold. Next to the monkey, the sleeping and leaping frog rank among the most popular basket [patterns.


Yekuana Men's Baskets or Wajas
Frog Motif 12″ in diameter

Yekuana Men's Baskets or Wajas Yekuana Men's Baskets or Wajas Yekuana Men's Baskets or Wajas
15″ in diameter 18 1/4″ in diameter by Leco
Yekuana Men's Baskets or Wajas Yekuana Men's Baskets or Wajas Yekuana Men's Baskets or Wajas
15″ in diameter by Justino 14 1/4″ in diameter
Yekuana Men's Baskets or Wajas Yekuana Men's Baskets or Wajas Yekuana Men's Baskets or Wajas
9″ in diameter 15 1/2″ in diameter
Yekuana Men's Baskets or Wajas Yekuana Men's Baskets or Wajas Yekuana Men's Baskets or Wajas
16 1/2″ in diameter 16 1/4″ in diameter by Raphael
Yekuana Men's Baskets or Wajas Yekuana Men's Baskets or Wajas Yekuana Men's Baskets or Wajas
13 1/2″ in diameter 18 1/4″ in diameter by Leco

Box Basket

The box basket is also made by the Yekuana men. These are difficult to weave and rarely for sale. This box basket is made by German, the chief of the Yekuana village of  Nichare.


box basket
9″ x 7″ x 4 1/2″

German, chief of the Yekuana village of Nichare – 2006

shaman shaman shaman

Sculpture

The Yekuana Indians are among the most artistically talented of the Amazon rainforest. This is reflected in their sculpture as well as their basketry. Although some Yekuana have lost some of their traditional skills, the Yekuana of the Caura river still create their wood carvings as generations before them did.

The men also carve benches and ritual weapons. The ritual weapons were once used in warfare but now are used only for ceremonies. They are carved from wadimaichu wood and smoothed with a rough leaf that works like sand paper. They are often further decorated with basket-like weavings on the handle or perhaps colorful feathers. Benches and sculptures are carved into likenesses of jungle animals, with the jaguar is often used since it is the symbol of the seat of power. The “thinker” which symbolizes God is another design often used, especially in shamanic items such as ceremonial rattles.

weapon spear This huge weapon, seven feet tall, was hand-carved from one piece of wood. Red and black seeds are imbedded in the handle for added decoration.
sacred Shaman's rattle This sacred Shaman’s rattle is made from a gourd with a hand carved handle. The handle shows back-to-back figurines which represent a great mythical medicine man and his wife who also had shamanistic power. The handle is carved from the heart of the Brazil wood tree. 14″ long with a 4″ wide handle.
wood sculpture This is a very traditional sculpture.
Anteater Anteater with seed eyes by Darwin, grandson of the chief of Nichare village. 11 1/2″ long.
indian art Among the Yekuana, the shaman’s seat are always carved in the shape of animals.
Jaguar sculpture The Jaguar sculpture is a very traditional art form and a sacred symbol of power for the Yekuana Indians. The sculpture is rubbed with a black paste made of charcoal, then the spots are gouged back out to make the light spots. This is a very collectible art form that is on the verge of extinction.22″ long by Simon Caura.

wood carvings
Monkey measures 17 1/2″ long and 9″ tall with red and black seeds for eyes.

Mask

This large and unusual Yekuana mask is made of a large gourd or calabash. The nose is made of pounded bark cloth from the inner bark of the palm tree. A headdress is beaded with seeds and continues across the back. There is also a strip of fiber in the back as a means of hanging the mask. It measures 15″ tall x 10″ wide.

Yekuana mask

This mask is hand carved of hard wood by the German, chief of the Yekuana village of Nichare. Superb craftsmanship in the traditional Yekuana style, it measures 11″ tall x 9″ wide.

mask is hand carved of hard wood

Feather crown made of parrot feathers.

yekuana headress

Blowguns

These blowguns are hand made by the Yekuana Indians. They are traditionally made to hunt birds and small mammals, particularly tree dwelling mammals such as sloths or monkeys. These are especially nice traditional blowguns, the darts themselves are works of art. Blowguns approximately 42 1/2″ long.

yekuana blowguns yekuana blowguns
yekuana blowguns yekuana blowguns

Blowgun Quivers

These exceptionally nice quivers are are used with the largest full length blowguns. The darts themselves are works of art, the darts are approximately 16 1/2″ long. The end of the dart is balance with Kapok fiber that is attached by a finely woven piece of fiber – really beautifully detailed work!

yekuana quivers yekuana quivers yekuana quivers

Clubs

These clubs for ritual use were hand carved from one piece of wood by the Yekuana Indians. During dance ceremonies, men carry these miniature copies of the former large battle clubs made of hard palm wood. They are finely carved, finished, and decorated with a hand woven cover.

weapons weapons
weapons weapons
weapons37″ long. weapons
weapons weapons
46″ tall. 43″ tall.

Beadwork

The Yekuana Indians create beautifully complex beadwork. The necklaces below are hand beaded and also trimmed with native seeds.

beaded pendant beaded pendant
Necklace length 14″,beaded pendant portion 1 1/4″ x 2″. Necklace length 18″,beaded pendant portion 5″ x 2″.

beaded pendant
Necklace of seeds, beads, and tapir teeth. Necklace length 14″, teetu  pendant portion 2″ x 3″.

yekuana jewelry art

Vocabulário maquiritare/iecuana/maiongongue

echime facão / machete, peinilla / large knife
ghamu sol / sol / sun
imanate mama / mama / mamma
wahato cozinha / cocina / kitchen

Yekuana – photos by Mary Lou Walbergh – 2006

Yekuana in face paint and traditional dress – 2006

rainforest rainforest rainforest
amazon river amazon river amazon river
amazonian amazonian amazonian
ceremonial dress ceremonial dress ceremonial dress
ceremonial dress ceremonial dress

Photos property of Hands Around the World. except as noted.

Additional Information

Information sources
Orinoco Online
Yekuana
Kanarakuni – Amazonair
Aprendo poesía English version

4 thoughts on “Yekuana Indians”

  1. I read a really interesting book about this tribe by a woman who lived with this tribe for several years. It’s called the Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff.

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