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The Warao

The Warao


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By Heryck R. Rangel Hernández

The Warao people live on the banks of the streams or arms that form the Orinoco Delta, on the islands built with the sediments washed away by this mighty river. The use of the Warao as a working labor force, the introduction of Creole wages and principles, cause a kind of cultural disintegration in their functioning and both social and labor organization.


The Warao people live on the banks of the streams or arms that form the Orinoco Delta, on the islands built with the sediments dragged by this mighty river, when deposited due to the brake exerted by currents and tides on river waters. The oldest toponym of the Orinoco River would be Wirinoko or Uorinoko, which means "the place where you row", from "wiri", which means "where we row" and "noko", place. Regarding this indigenous group, Álvaro A. García-Castro points out: "Few peoples have a history as closely linked to a river habitat as the Warao people. In their traditions it is said that they were already there when the island of Trinidad was connected to the mainland. , that is, approximately between 8,500 and 9,000 years ago (remember that during the last glacial period, due to the accumulation of large amounts of ice in the continental territories of the Northern Hemisphere, the sea level had dropped about 100 meters and the depth of the Mouth of the Serpent and even the Gulf of Paria, is much less than that number) ". And the name of the waraos is translated as "inhabitants of the water", from waha (low shore, flooded area) and arao (people, inhabitants), and also "men of the boats, from" wa "(canoe) and" arao "(people). The surprising and long adaptation of the Waraos to this fluvial habitat is easily explained when we take into account the extraordinary stability of an ecosystem like the deltaic one at the mouth of the Orinoco: neither the climate, nor the hydrography, nor the extraordinary lush vegetation, neither the hydraulic mechanisms of currents (fluvial and marine) nor the tides, nor the abundance of fish species, both fluvial and marine, have changed significantly in the last tens of thousands of years. The tides and the penetration of marine waters in the delta pipes during high tide, produces the phenomenon known as Macareo that brings varieties of fish from the sea, thus enriching the diversity in the fishing tasks of the w guillemots.

In the 2001 National Census, 36,027 individuals were registered as indigenous Warao; of these, 28,066 said they were Warao-speakers, while 3,189 said they speak only Spanish and 872 did not declare. This language is also spoken by many Creoles from Venezuela and Guyana in that area, as well as by indigenous Lokono (Arawak / Arauacos).

The Warao language

The Warao language is an agglutinating language spoken by about 50,000 people (the Warao) in the Orinoco Delta, in Venezuela.

An attempt has been made to establish a kinship between this language and others without any success.

Some expressions:

Katuketi ?: How are you?

Possible answers:

Bajukaya: I have health
Bajuka sabuka: Regular
Ajuka yana: I'm not fine
Asida: Bad
Yakera: Good
Yakera sabuka: Regular
Omi: Bye
Yakera Guito: Very good

A warao cannot be without his curiara. We can find her in their mythology appearing with the first haburí ancestor who, after his trip in the Delta, transforms into the goddess of the rising sun, the serpent Daurani. These boats are made from a single log dug and burned inside in order to open it and stretch its sides.


The Warao are of medium height, robust and generally hairless. Since they live on water, they do not give much importance to their clothing.That is why they previously used guayuco, made with fibers from the curagua palm (Bromelia fastuosa) or with a piece of cloth between 12 and 15 cm. which pass between her legs and drop to the front like an apron. Women generally decorate them with pearls and bright colored feathers and with curagua fibers, arms and legs are adorned with tightly fitting bracelets.

The Warao economy is based on hunting, fishing, and gathering wild fruits and crabs in the dry season. Despite being the Delta rich in these resources, the Warao people are sedentary people, who also live from the exploitation of wood and the handicraft trade. Agriculture, although it seems strange, is practiced in the form of a conuco. There they harvest the yucca with which they prepare different foods including cassava and a very particular drink fermented by saliva, paiwari.

In the marshy areas, scattered in the salty water, large palms grow: the moriche (Mauritia Flexulosa) which is essential for the subsistence of the indigenous people. From the center of its trunk, they extract the yurima flour with which they prepare a bread that they use to offer in certain rituals. With its leaves they make the roofs of their houses, their utensils, work tools and crafts. They also feed on the fruit of these palms and the larvae that inhabit them.

The Warao are grouped into endogamous subtribes. These small towns are led by an old man, the "governor", accompanied by a "captain" and a "prosecutor" (denominations inherited from the Creoles) whose main roles are the organization of both communal work and cultural and traditional events. . These titles are essentially assigned to men while within the home, authority and organization is matriarchal.

The family nucleus continues to be the socioeconomic unit and revolves around the oldest woman in the house. Generally, it is the woman, in the couple, who manages the household economy, appropriating and redistributing the hunting and harvesting of her husband and sons-in-law, who live and work for his wife's family until they form their own home.

Education is done in a subtle and natural way, without obligations or reprimands. The youngest learn by observing and imitating adults according to sex in their different daily tasks, and they assimilate the moral and social rules by listening to the stories and myths of the oldest, whose sanctions are shame and rejection by the community.

Near the houses, it is common to discover small temples or kuaijanokos built to venerate the great Jaburi (maximum spirit). There the sacred maracas and the moriche starch are deposited as an offering that will become yuruma for the ritual festivals of Najanamu. The Warao give great importance to the sacred. Like most ethnic groups in America, the most important and most respected person in the community is the shaman or piache. He is both the healer and the mediator between the real and the spiritual world. His initiation is hard and his knowledge is immense, as well as his talents as a conjurer. It can be a man but also sometimes a woman.

The Warao have a reputation for being a happy and festive people. Their unique dances, their songs and their musical culture make up a great repertoire. Its main instruments are the reed wind instruments, the dau-kojo (made from the yagrumo tree), the najsemoi (from the moriche palm), the kariso (a kind of pan flute) and the mujúsemoi (made from bone from the tibia of a deer). Other instruments are the maracas, the araguato skin drum (howler monkey or alouatta seniculus) and the violin of European origin.

But the Warao are also a people in danger, whose ethics and traditions are threatened by massive exploitation, politicians, administrative corruption and a host of incompetent officials. The use of the Warao as a working labor force, the introduction of Creole wages and principles, cause a kind of cultural disintegration in their functioning and both social and labor organization.

The Warao are still a unique people.


Video: The Warao (May 2022).