The indians that call themselves and are known as Waiwai are to be found scattered over large parts of the region of the Guianas. In the main they are members of the Karib language family. The group was constituted through historical processes of exchange and networks of relationships in the region. Within these networks they have traditionally been recognized as specialists in the supply of sophisticated manioc graters, talking parrots and hunting dogs. They are famous to today as great travellers for their expeditions in search of the ‘unseen peoples’ (enîhnî komo).

The officially recognized territory consists of the following three Terras Indígenas, covering parts of the states of Amazonas, Pará and Roraima:

Nhamundá-Mapuera (Pará), totalling 1,049,520 hectares and 2,218 pessoas in 2005;
Trombetas/Mapuera (Amazonas/Roraima/Pará), totalling 3,970,420 hectares and 500 people in 2005;

Wai-Wai (Roraima), totalling 405,698 hectares and 196 people in 2005.



Village Life

Waiwai kinship is closely connected to the socio-political organization. This is based on complementarities between the sexes, cooperation among neighbours, the obligations of a son-in-law to his father-in-law, and the acknowledgement of some men as particularly influential.

Each ‘Waiwai community’ constitutes a unit of political organization. There is no ‘ethnic’, ‘tribal’ or regional organization, despite the fact that relations between the different ‘Waiwai communities’ are complex and important and the fact that associations have been created (for example, AITA TROMA in Mapuera) as a response to new demands arising from the equally complex contact with non-indians.

Agriculture & Subsistance

The Waiwai annual cycle alternates between the dry season and the rainy season. In the former, food is plentiful and collective life intense. The latter is however characterized by scarcer resources, forcing Waiwai families to disperse to their more isolated swidden gardens.

The gardens are prepared (cleared, felled, burned and tidied) from August to September, when the rains cease. Planting occurs between January and March and is a collective task. The main species grown are cotton, pineapple, different varieties of banana, sugarcane, papaya, root vegetables such as yams and different types of potatoes and, above all, bitter manioc. From this, once the toxin is extracted, they make beiju [unleavened bread], farinha [manioc flour] and tapioca [starch] drinks.

As well as slash-and-burn agriculture, subsistence activities are based around hunting, fishing and gathering wild products. The main animals hunted are tapir, deer, wild pig, monkey (spider, howler and capuchin), curassow, trumpeter, agouti, cavy, armadillo, turtle, toucan, macaw etc. Birds are also hunted for their plumage and the feathers used in handicrafts.

The Spirit World

Prior to the arrival of the missionaries, the two great communal festivities among the Waiwai were the shodewika festivities (where one village would visit another) and the yamo rituals (when fertility spirits invoked by masked dancers would come to live in the village for several months). At these festivities there would always be large quantities of fermented drinks, dancing and games. Following several years of missionary presence and insistence, the Waiwai gradually agreed to exchange fermented drinks for drinks made of the burity palm. This was one of the changes introduced by the charismatic leader Ewka during the time when they lived on the upper Essequibo in Guyana.

Each in their own manner, these dances, games and jokes make up rituals by which the Waiwai accommodate outside forces and resources. This can include, for example: their relations with animals and their powers (in accordance with the different cosmological qualities of these) by means of the dances of the animals; celestial powers by means of feather work; spiritual powers (indigenous and Christian) by means of music and invocations; and, amongst other things, their relations with other indians and with non-indians by means of the ritual for visitors known as pawana.


Information Referenced from the Instituto Socioambiental | Povos Indígenas no Brasil

Date accessed 01.04.15

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