Wapisiana - History and Cultural Relations

The Wapisiana were integrated through marriage and other forms of exchange within a regional sociocultural system that comprised the numerous Carib-speaking groups of the Guianas. The groups in this region, including the Pemon, Kapon, and Wáiwai, share a material inventory (such as hammocks, basketry for the preparation of cassava bread and drink, and stone grating boards); hunting, gardening, and food-preparation technologies; myths and cosmologies; and kinship, social, and political organizations. Indirect contact with Europeans dates from Columbus's third voyage, in 1498, which reached the Caribbean coast of South America at the mouth of the Río Orinoco. For the next two centuries, information and objects spread rapidly through established indigenous networks of exchange. By the late 1700s the Wapisiana were brought to work at the Portuguese fort on the Rio Branco and mission settlements that protected international borders and secured the area for commercial development. With the establishment of ranching and other commercial enterprises by the Portuguese and later by Brazilians in the nineteenth century, the Wapisiana came into closer and more intense contact with non-Indians, and by the beginning of the twentieth century, contact was extensive and permanent. As non-Indians have entered the region, relations among the indigenous groups have been reduced and transformed. Now the Wapisiana engage in direct relations only with the Makushi and, to a much lesser extent, the Wáiwai. Most other intergroup relations are mediated or occasioned by the presence of non-Indians.

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