The Warao are an indigenous Amerindian people inhabiting northeastern Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Suriname. Alternate common spellings of Warao are Waroa, Guarauno, Guarao, and Warrau. The term Warao translates as "the boat people," after the Warao's lifelong and intimate connection to the water. Most of the approximately 20000 Warao inhabit Venezuela's Orinoco Delta region, with smaller numbers in neighboring Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Suriname. They speak an agglutinative language, Warao.
A Warao family in their canoe.
|Regions with significant populations|
Trinidad and Tobago
|Warao, Spanish, English, Guyanese Creole, Dutch, Sranan Tongo|
|Traditional beliefs, Christianity|
Warao use canoes as their main form of transportation. Other modes, such as walking, are hampered by the hundreds of streams, rivulets, marshes, and high waters created by the Orinoco. Warao babies, toddlers, and small children are famed for their ability to hold tight to their mothers' necks, as well as to paddle. They often learn to swim before they learn to walk.
The Warao use two types of canoes. Bongos, which carry up to 5 people, are built in an arduous process that starts with the search for large trees. When an old bongo is no longer usable, a consensus is reached by the male leaders of each household on which tree is best. At the start of the dry season, they find the tree and kill it. At the end of the dry season, they return to cut it down. It is then hollowed out and flattened with fire and stone tools traded from the mountains (or local shell tools).
The other type of canoe is a small, seating only three people, and is used for daily travel to and from food sources.
The Warao diet is varied with an emphasis on the products of the delta, mostly fish. By 1500 they had acquired basic horticulture, although many of their daily fruits and vegetables come from the wild orchards of the delta. In July and August, Warao feast on crabs when they come to the delta from the beach. Hunting is generally avoided due to cultural taboos. They occasionally also eat grubs found in the moriche palm tree. Pith of the palm was also eaten, but contemporary consumption is more likely to have it added as an additional ingredient for cassava bread.
The Warao are, according to their own reports, descended from an adventurous heavenly figure — the primordial hunter. This man originally dwelt in a sky world which had men, but was completely devoid of all animals except birds. Hunting these heavenly birds, the founding man used his bow and arrow to strike a bird in mid-air. The bird fell from the sky and eventually hit the heavenly floor. The birds burst through the floor and proceeded through the clouds and towards terrestrial land (Earth) below. The hunter went to the hole in the floor made by the bird and looked through. He saw lush and fertile land (Earth) and resolved to descend to it to partake of its pleasures: beauty, abundant game, fruit, et cetera. The hunter took a long rope of heavenly cotton, tied it to a tree, and threw it through the hole and lowered himself through the clouds to what is now Earth, forsaking his sky world.
The Warao have shamans, who perform music such as rain dances and songs.
The Warao have been considered to be the first inhabitants of Guyana, predating the arrival of Arawak and Caribs.
The Warao of eastern Venezuela's Orinoco first had contact with Europeans when, soon after Christopher Columbus reached the Orinoco river delta, Alonso de Ojeda decided to navigate the river upstream. There, in the delta, Ojeda saw the distinctively stilted Warao huts, balanced over the water. Similar architecture in Sinamaica far to the west had been likened to Venice, with its famous canals below and buildings above; this new encounter propagated the name of Venezuela ("little Venice") for the whole land.
HIV was first detected in 2007 in the Warao communities of the lower Orinoco Delta region of Venezuela. Sex between men is a common practice among young Warao, especially before they are married, and, is thought to be a major factor in the rapid spread of the disease. In some communities already 35% test positive for the HIV virus. With Venezuela's failing health care system, there is an absence of prevention programs; this, together, with severe language barriers — many Warao are illiterate and do not speak fluent Spanish — have allowed ignorance about the disease to flourish. The culture is felt to be severely threatened.
In the summer of 2008, indigenous leaders and researchers from the University of California, Berkeley issued a report detailing the deaths of 38 Warao in the Delta Amacuro state from a mysterious illness. The disease, which causes "partial paralysis, convulsions and an extreme fear of water" is believed to be a form of rabies transmitted by bats. Upon reaching Caracas to inform the government of the outbreak and request assistance, the leaders and researchers were "met with disrespect on every level, as if the deaths of indigenous people are not even worth anything."
In April 2017, The Museum of Modern Art in New York presented a film by Cuban-Venezuelan director Mario Crespo with a cast of nonprofessional actors. The film presents the difficulty of choosing to stay with the Warao traditions and life or to leave to gain an education among the "Creoles". The film includes a detailed look at Warao culture and life along the river. The film is: "Dauna. Lo que lleva el río (Gone with the River). 2015, Venezuela, in the Spanish and Warao languages.
Tourism has come to the Warao which brings relative wealth for some. Several individuals have set up rough and ready tourist accommodation in their own homes. They offer canoe trips (hand and power) to see the wild life of the delta, also a chance to experience their traditional life and culture. These visits can be arranged in the state capital town of Tucupita through one of many travel agents.
There is little local crime in the area. Nevertheless, drugs are smuggled down the Orinoco river into the delta for transshipment to the USA. The Venezuelan Navy patrols the main river branches and the river police have stations at key points. The traffic movements of everyone are monitored and recorded. However, they are tourist friendly.
- "Warao". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-03-20.
- Edwards, W.; Gibson, K. (1979). "An Ethnohistory of Amerindians in Guyana". Ethnohistory. 26 (2): 163–164. doi:10.2307/481091. ISSN 0014-1801.
- Dale Alan Olsen Music of the Warao of Venezuela: Song People of the Rain Forest 1996- Page 253 "By contrast, his elderly friend Jaime Zapata, who sang several songs with him during our recording sessions, studied hoarotu shamanism for only three days."
- Mendoza, Servelion Victor (2002). "The Orinoco Delta Warao Indians". warao.org. Retrieved 2008-08-07.
- Semple, Kirk (2018-05-07). "AIDS Runs Rampant in Venezuela, Putting an Ancient Culture at Risk". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-05-07.
- Romero, Simon (2008-08-06). "Mystery Disease Kills Dozens in Venezuela". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-07.
- Warao Indians
- Mendoza, Servelion Victor (2002). "The Orinoco Delta Warao Indians". warao.org. Archived from the original on 2007-07-20. Retrieved 2008-08-07.
- America in 1492: The World of the Indian Peoples Before the Arrival of Columbus. Edited by Alvin M. Josephy Jr. (Knopf 1992).
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