Amerindian Tribes of Guyana

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Today in Guyana there are, correctly speaking, four main tribes, namely the Warraus, Arawaks, Wapisianas and the Caribs, which include several sub tribes, Arrecunas, Akawaios, Patamonas, and the Macusis.  The Wai-wais are also included in the Carib-speaking group. The name Indios, given to the indigenous peoples by Columbus, was not at all accurate as he thought he had found the Indies, making the people there Indians.
In order to show the difference between East Indians and these indigenous Indians, as well as to indicate their homeland, the word Amerindian, a blend of American and Indian, was later coined.
Waraus:
Believed by many scholars to be the oldest known inhabitants of Guyana, this tribe is known archaeologically from the shell mounds of the North West and Pomeroon, some dating back to 7,000 years ago.
Living in the low-lying coastlands between the Barima and the Pomeroon Rivers and their tributaries, these people were called the ‘water people’ because they built their houses on stilts over or close to the water.
Being inhabitants of the swampy district, the Waraus are excellent fishermen and boat builders; they are also inventors of the dugout canoe, which was the earliest sea worthy vessel some 5000 years ago.
To them, the palm tree is considered the tree of life, providing them with flour, juice, fruit and branches for thatching and hammock-making.
The Waraus, who believe that their ancestors live in the sky land, are unique in that they are the only representatives of the Warauan linguistic group in South America and Venezuela and, as a result their language is known as an ‘isolate’.
Wapishanas:
The Wapishanas are recent migrants to Guyana, who are known to have arrived early in the 18th Century from the Rio Negro area in Brazil.
Located in the Rupununi, they are described as the most reliable and industrious of all the Guyana tribes.
Described as more agriculturists than hunters and fishers , they were once noted for being the major traders and canoe makers of the region.  They also excel in the making of cotton hammocks, a skill they are supposed to have learned from the Makusi.
The Wapishana piaiman (shaman) is called ‘marinau’ and he has power over evil spirits, sickness and disease, the tribe’s religious beliefs are centered on the spirits they call ‘Durimas’.
Arawaks (Lokono)
The Arawaks, who were pioneer horticulturists, settled at Hosororo creek on the Aruka River around 3,500 years ago.
They also occupied the Corentyne River around 2000 years ago, leaving their unique type of rock engraving, Timehri. Because of the rich supply of protein found along the coastal swamps, they moved hundreds of tons of earth with wooden shovels, to build habitation mounds and raised fields for farming, on the hilltops they planted manioc, which they baked into bread on ceramic griddles.
The Arawaks hunted a lot during the rainy season when animals migrated from the lowlands in search of high grounds. Among the game commonly hunted were the deer, labba, tapir, peccary or wild hog, agouti, birds, turtles and parrots.
Caribs (Karinya)
One of the better-known tribes, the people settled in villages near streams, rivers or creeks, the earliest of these inhabited the upper Pomeroon River about 3000 years ago.
This tribe was unique in their mastery of painted ceramics and their pottery is distributed as far as the mouth of the Amazon.
The Caribs are the people who gave the Caribbean area its name and the word ‘Carib’ is used to refer to many Amerindian groups scattered throughout the Caribbean islands and South American mainland, north of the Amazon.
Their language can be classified together as the Cariban language family, though certain traits of their material culture seem to suggest an association with Colombia.
In Guyana, Carib groups are found in the Essequibo Lake District, in the Pomeroon and North-West Districts, along the Cuyuni, Barama and Barima Rivers and on the Demerara and Mahaicony Rivers.
Sub-Tribes
Patamona
Referred to by the Makushi as ‘Ingarikok, (people of the cool wet place) the Patamonas living in Guyana are mainly located in the North Pakaraimas.
They are known archaeologically from pottery collections in the Yawong valley and the upper Siparuni River. The Patamona nation is the one to which the mystical figure ‘Old Kaie’ belonged. Old Kaie is the Amerindian Chief in the legend which explains how the magnificent Kaieteur Falls got its name.
The Makusi
This nation was described as one of the most beautiful ones in Guyana; they were uniquely skilled in the preparation of the deadly ‘curare’ poison. They live in the Northern Rupununi Savannahs, and were especially noted for their love of order.
Arekunas
This nation is archaeologically unknown in Guyana. They once occupied the upper and central Kamarang River at least 1839 and are currently concentrated at Paruima.
Their outstanding contribution to Guyanese culture is the blowpipe, described as the most ‘mysterious and awe inspiring weapon in the world’.
They were a powerful tribe who were the growers and suppliers of cotton to the other tribes, especially with the Makusi.
Wai wais
They seemed to have moved into Guyana from Brazil during the early 19th century and occupied the Upper Essequibo River. They are one of the few nations that still use their traditional dress of loincloths and aprons or ‘Keweyeu’.
The Wai Wais were skilled weavers and bead workers and the traditional Wai Wai architecture, exemplified in the Umana Yana, is considered by many Guyanese as the embodiment of Amerindian architecture.
‘A glorious sight to behold, a Wai Wai man decked out in full sartorial regalia, he imposes an impression of fowl and flight, and distances himself from the dowdy attire of women, for the Wai Wai men rule the universe, and women contain men.’ (George Mentore 1993).
Akawaios
The peddlers and news carriers along the coast, this nation was warlike and aggressive and was also noted for their blowpipes.
They are thought to be the linguistic descendants of the Karinya and line today mainly in the Upper Mazaruni area, Barama, Upper Pomeroon, Demerara, Wenamu and Upper Cuyuni Rivers.
The Akawaios pioneered the occupation of the hinterland forests around the beginning of the Christian era around 80 B.C.
Once an Akawaio is a friend he remains that way, but once an enemy he is an enemy for life. They were so dreaded that the other nations left them alone and they became very independent.
No matter the nation of Amerindians, they are all renowned for their pride and sensitivity, hospitality, courage, intrepid spirit, dexterity and tracking ability. These proud nations loved liberty and had no desire for material prosperity.