Wapisiana - Orientation

Identification. The Wapisiana offer no explanation of their name but acknowledge that, in some pronunciations, it contains their word for people, pidyan.

Location. Many Wapisiana believe that they came from the upper Rio Negro and occupied an area extending north from the Rio Branco Basin into areas now occupied by the Makushi, who drove them south under pressure from European colonizers on the Caribbean coast. Presently, the Wapisiana are located in the Federal Territory of Roraima, Brazil, northern and eastern Boa Vista, as well as in the southern Rupununi savannas of Guyana. Their villages are insulated by the ranches, settlements, small towns, and commercial developments of Brazilians.

Demography. In 1984 the Brazilian National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio, FUNAI) estimated that there were 2,995 Wapisiana in twenty Brazilian villages. According to a 1981 survey in Guyana, there were approximately 5,000 Wapisiana in the southern Rupununi. There are no estimates of the number of Wapisiana who live outside of the villages.

Linguistic Affiliation. Wapisiana is the only remaining Arawakan language in the circum-Roraima area. The Wapisiana have incorporated speakers of Atorai and Taruma into their group within the last several generations. Most Brazilian Wapisiana speak Portuguese, often instead of Wapisiana, and many Guyanese Wapisiana speak English in addition to Wapisiana.

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