Religious Beliefs. Although Catholicism and, in some areas of the western delta, evangelical Christianity, have made some inroads into Warao religious attitudes in recent decades, the vast majority of the indigenous population continues to adhere to traditional beliefs and values. The Warao possess a well-developed ancestor cult. Important spiritual beings are the life forces of great deceased wisiratu shamans ( hebu araobo ), who occupy the cardinal points of the edge of the world ( aitona ). Their subordinates are materialized in sacred ancestor stones ( kanohotuma , "our old ones"), which are cared for locally in ritual huts by their "guardians" ( kanobo arima ), a task carried out by experienced wisiratu shamans. Trees and other plants and natural phenomena are animated, and hebu spirits roam the forests and rivers. Mythical nabarao, "people of the river depths" in a mirror image of human life, mate with Warao women to engender monsters (at times justifying infanticide). Metamorphoses ( anamonina ) are frequent, transforming "forest people" (plants and animals) and men into jaguars. The Warao worldview is an immanent one, and the concept of kanonatu, "our creator," seems of recent origin.
Principal spiritual beings, hebu aidamo or hebu araobo, together with their principal wives and a coterie of subordinates, occupy the edge of the Warao world, especially whatever higher elevations there are in Trinidad and south of the Orinoco, such as Naparima in the former area and Karosima in the latter. Each religious practitioner looks to a particular hebu spirit and its location as a destination for his life force ( mehokohi ) after death. Hebu spirits may be beneficial or malevolent and are mediated by wisiratu shamans. Especially feared are the hebu masisikiri, known among Carib speakers as kanaima, and the kanobo himabaka.
Religious Practitioners. Virtually all Warao adults exercise a religious function or are tied into one as craft experts, but the three basic religious offices are those of bahanarotu, who controls bahana or hatabu (arrows); the hoarotu, who kills by means of hoa sickness for the voracious Hoebo spirits on the western world edge but also can counteract hostile hoarotu; and the wisiratu shaman, who mediates between the Warao and their ancestor spirits (hebu) and cares for the sacred rock, their material expression ( kanobo ). Women may become shamans after menopause.
Ceremonies. Of vital economic and religious importance is the moriche ritual (nahanamu), which stretches over some six months from the collection of palm starch to its distribution. The habi sanuka dance, which takes different forms throughout the Guiana region, is a fertility ritual that formerly included sexual activities with an amuse, the wife of a close associate.
Medicine. Women are familiar with a number of curative herbs, but all sickness is considered to have a supernatural origin. Shamans both inflict and cure illnesses. Western medicine is available to a limited degree.
Death and Afterlife. When a Warao dies the life force leaves his or her body and returns symbolically to the maternal womb, and the person thus becomes a hebu spirit. Sometimes tarrying around its former dwelling place, the life force ultimately moves to the abode of the Supreme Kanobo corresponding to the magico-religious specialty or craft that he or she exercised in life. Hence the Warao look to the end of their lives with a certain tranquility. Men are buried in their dugouts.