Baniwa-Curripaco-Wakuenai - Orientation

Identification. The name "Baniwa" is a lingua geral (the old trade language of Jesuit missionaries spoken throughout the northwestern Amazon) term used since early colonial times to refer to the Arawak speakers of the Rio Içana and its tributaries in northwestern Amazon, Brazil "Curripaco" refers to one of five dialect groups (which include the Baniwa of Brazil) inhabiting the upper Içana and Guainía rivers of Brazil, Venezuela, and Colombia. "Wakuenai" ("people of our language") is an ethnonym used for all five dialect groups inhabiting the upper Guainía of Venezuela. To simplify this discussion, the term "Wakuenai" will be used throughout. Although each of these names is used regionally, the Wakuenai often refer to themselves by phratric names ("Hohodene," "Partridge children"; "Oalipere Dakenai," "Descendants of the Pleiades"; "Dzauinai," "Jaguar people").

Location. Since aboriginal times, the Wakuenai have inhabited the northwestern Amazon region, between approximately 0° and 3° N and 66°50′ and 69°50′ W, on the present-day borders of Brazil (Estado de Amazonas), Venezuela (Território Federal Amazonas), and Colombia (Comissarías del Guainía/Vaupés). In these three countries, their communities are distributed along the Içana and its tributaries, the upper Negro-Guarnía and its tributaries, and the lower Xié and Uaupés, Inírida, Casiquiare, and middle Orinoco rivers.

Demography. In 1985 the Wakuenai population in Brazil and Venezuela was calculated at 5,373 people living in 133 communities; in Colombia, their population is estimated to be about 400. There are also uncounted numbers living in or near urban centers (Manaus, Puerto Ayacucho). No figures are available for early postcontact times.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Wakuenai belong to the Northern Maipure Language Family and speak five mutually intelligible dialects named in accordance with the linguistic forms of affirmation or negation, or in accordance with the names of descent units to which their speakers belong. Aboriginally, dialects were probably associated with distinct territories; today, although dialects may predominate in a given region, speakers of all five dialects are commonly found together. Língua Geral has completely replaced the Arawak language in a number of communities.

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