5809 - Cultural Construction, Interculturality, Multiethnicity, and Survival Strategies among Native Americans in the Guiana Highlands

Some years ago the village of Shefariymo, located near the headwaters of the Essequibo River in southern Guyana, was reported to be a village of Waiwai Indians. Ethnographically, the Waiwai were known to be Carib speakers, linguistically and culturally related to a variety of past and current groups in the region. When we conducted fieldwork in this “Waiwai” village in 1985, not only did we discover two different ethnic groups residing there but they were from two distinct language families: Carib (Waiwai) and Arawak (Wapishana). Within the village, Wapishana households for the most part clearly were spatially segregated from the more numerous Waiwai households. At the time of fieldwork, I hypothesized that the next major settlement change would be an out-migration of the numerically inferior Wapishana, resulting in two distinct villages, each of which would be more ethnically homogeneous than was Shefariymo prior to the split. This hypothesis was based on the reasonable assumption that degree of social distance between ethnic groups co-occupying a village is an important factor in delineating cleavage lines, along which fissioning will occur. My prediction was wrong. In this paper, I address issues of cultural identification and construction through time in the context of available choices and cultural survival. Taking a multi-scalar diachronic perspective (decades to centuries) helps to illuminate processes of social and cultural change and articulates with issues addressed by archaeologists dealing with cultural identification.

Keywords: Waiwai, Wapishana, cultural identification, multiethnicity, village re-location

Author: Siegel, Peter (Montclair State University, Ud States of Am / USA)


University of Vienna | Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring 1 | 1010 Vienna | T +43 1 4277 17575