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Native Wareo Indians: Primitive and Friendly (Web Extra)


In the July/August issue, contributor CHUCK SHIPLEY writes that many insurance companies force Caribbean cruisers go south of 10 degress 50 minutes during hurricane season. This leaves cruisers with the limited selection on Trinidad, a places with few gunkholes, and Venezuela, a place ravaged by crime. As a solution, Shipley chooses to cruise the Rio Macareo leading up the Orinoco Delta; a place primative, yet welcoming. In this month's web extra, Shipley writes about the original inhabitants of the Orinoco Delta-The Wareo Indians and shares images of his travels aboard his Krogen 48.

a map of the Orinoco Delta.

A map of the Orinoco Delta. (Click to enlarge)

In Venezuela there are five Indian tribes—each with their own language—but the Wareo of the Orinoco Delta consider themselves Venezuela's original inhabitants.

Traders arrive by canoe.

Traders arrive by canoe to interact with visiting crusiers.

The name Wareo means "canoe people". In the first 75 to 80 miles of the river thesegentle, short, fine featured, reddish-skinned people live along the river bank pretty much as they have always done in small open-plan huts built of mangrove wood on piles by the river bank. Four or five of these huts, called "palofitos," linked by walkways, make a village. Palofitos have thatched roofs and open sides with the families' possessions hanging from the eaves. Space is divided by social distinctions. Furniture is rudimentary or non-existent.

Theirs is a typical forest culture combining hunting, fishing, gathering, and upstream from the estuary, a little agriculture. Until the arrival of Europeans they had no domestic animals except dogs. They did not form states or central political organizations and did not have castes of warriors or priests but lived as one large extended family in their communal houses.

Local paddle maker.

a Wareo man fashions a paddle.

They have their own language, Wareo, which is taught in the school at Macareo Village and most appear to have some knowledge of Spanish. It is only recently that they have started to give their children names. Previously, they were "named" by describing their family relationships. For example: aunt, wife of her mother's oldest brother.

When a girl first menstruates her hair is cut short to indicate that she is ready to marry. When she does marry, her husband comes and lives in her village and works for her father. If her father dies then the son-in-law works for the widow. They bury their dead in the jungle under a small hut in a wooden coffin covered with mud. After a year the wisiatu, or shaman, goes back to the grave, uncovers the bones and studies them to decide who is guilty of the death and how much they have to pay. Each village may have several wisiatus.

Children are well accustomed to river life.

Children are well accustomed to live on Rio Macareo and spend most of their day on the water.

They are semi-nomadic people who rely upon the river for their water supply. In the dry season when salt water comes upriver the Wareo migrate following the fresh water and then come downstream again in the wet season.

Wareo claim to be the original inhabitants of the river.

Wareo claim to be the original inhabitants of the river and ive in dwelling such as this one.

When surveying this area for oil (they found none) AMACO agreed to fund an aid project for the Wareo for three years. One of the bases was established at Macareo Village. Late Venezuelan President Chavez continued to support the original foundation. This changed the semi-nomadic lifestyle of the Wareo in Macareo Village and nearby settlements.

Instead of following the fresh water upstream during the dry season they are staying at the river mouth taking advantage of the school and the hospital and fishing for salt water instead of fresh water fish. But when the waters have receded enough to expose occasional high spots along the riversides, the men still create camps upstream for extended hunting trips.

Mother and daughter hoping to catch some fish to bring home for dinner.

Mother and daughter hoping to catch some fish to bring back to their family.

Besides the humans, there are more than a thousand species of birds in the Orinoco River Basin, freshwater dolphins in the waters, and howler and capuchin monkeys in the trees.

This is a Web Extra that accompanies the July/August 2013 article "Orinoco Flow."