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The Wari', also known as the Pakaa Nova, are an indigenous people of Brazil, living in seven villages in the Amazon rainforest in the state of Rondônia. Their first contact with European settlers was on the shores of the Pakaa Nova River, a tributary of the Mamoré River. Many of them live within the Sagarana Indigenous Territory.
Europeans at one time used the name "Pakaa Nova" to refer to the Wari', because they encountered the indigenous people near there. The people prefer to be referred to as "Wari'", their term in their language meaning "we, people." They are also known as the Jaru, Oro Wari, Pacaas-Novos, Pacahanovo, Pakaanova, Pakaanovas, Uari, and Uomo.
Population and locations
Up until the 19th century, the Wari' were present in the Amazon's Southeast, namely the basin of the Lage river (a right-bank-tributary river of the Mamoré River), the Ouro Preto river, the Gruta and Santo André creeks, the Negro river (all tributaries of the lower and middle courses of the right bank of the Pakaa Nova river), and the Ribeirão and Novo rivers (tributaries of the left bank of the Pakaa Nova river).
In the early 20th century, continuous incursions by neo-Brazilians in search of rubber trees forced the Wari' to relocate to the less accessible headwaters of the Mamoré River. They were confined in that area until the pacification. Today, they live in seven settlements located in the state of Rondônia, Brazil.
Denomination and ethnicity
The tribe is divided into subgroups, but no word exists to define an individual that belongs to a different group, and the term usually applied is tatirim (stranger). A person from the same subgroup is referred to as "win ma" (land fellow).
Today, the Wari' subgroups are:
Some individuals still identify themselves with two other subgroups that no longer exist, the OroJowin, or the OroKaoOroWaji. Oro is a collectivizing particle that can be translated as "people" or "group".
Relations between subgroups
Present relations between subgroups are still influenced by the dynamics that existed before the pacification (see below). Each subgroup is intimately connected to a territory, a set of areas that are all identified by name, with each inhabited by a "local group".
The frontiers between territories are fluid. An area associated with one subgroup can be incorporated into the territory of another subgroup if it is occupied by a local group that belongs to another subgroup. That is made possible by the semi-nomadic characteristic of the people (see below).
Membership to any given subgroup is not defined by fixed rules. Children may be considered members of either parent's subgroup, or of the subgroup associated with the territory in which they were born. Cultural or subgroup identities are part of one's birthright, but socially constructed during a lifetime through relations with one's relatives and neighbors. The Wari' recognize that individuals have multiple identities based on their specific relations and experiences.
Every subgroup is organized around a set of brothers, each of whom is often married to women who are sisters. Polygyny, especially sororal polygyny, is the basis of Wari' family structure. Any village is made up of nuclear families and a separate house, called "the men's house." It serves as a dormitory for single adolescents and as a meeting place for adult men. A couple usually varies their place of residence, shifting between the woman's parents' and the man's parents', although no specific rule determines when the shift is made.
The Wari' are semi-nomadic, moving their villages at least every five years. They stay away from floodplains but closer to the shores of small perennial rivers.
A maize swidden, providing the staple crop, is developed around the village. Finding the ideal earth for corn growing (black earth or terra preta) plays a key role in determining where to set up a village. The importance of agricultural land is also reflected in the language, since a person from the same subgroup is called a "land fellow".
The Wari also practiced endocannibalism, specifically mortuary cannibalism. Endocannibalism is the consumption of members of one's own group. This was done as a form of utmost respect to those who had died.
Right after death, the closest relatives would hug and embrace the deceased person. The body would be left for three days, although there was no set span, and depended largely on how soon family members in other settlements could get to the funeral. As messengers and relatives had to travel by foot, the time between death and the funeral averaged about three days. By this time, the body typically had begun to decompose in the heat and humidity of the Amazon, sometimes reaching the stage where the body became bloated and discolored. When all relatives within reasonable distance had arrived, they respectfully prepared the body.
Mortuary preparation involved ritual wailing and other ceremonies, building a fire, removing the visceral organs, and finally roasting the body. The decedent's closest kin would not consume the body, but they urged the attendant relatives to eat. Consumption of the flesh would assuage the family's grief, as it meant the soul of the person was being kept in the living body of relatives, rather than being abandoned to wander the forest alone. The practice was considered an act of compassion and affinal love, as much as a gesture of grief. The relatives were encouraged to eat what they could, but this sometimes amounted to little more than small tokens of the spoiled meat. Even this consumption often caused the mourners great gastric distress. The heart and liver were eaten, but much of the body and hair was burned.
Today, Wari' do not practice any form of cannibalism. They bury their dead after two or three days of mourning.
Currently, the Wari' are peaceful, but before the pacification they warred with neighboring tribes. Their most notable victories occurred over the Karipuna, a Tupi ethnicity, and the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau. With contact with the Brazilian government in the 20th century, the focus of their warfare shifted and they lost contact with the old wijam (enemy).
The Wari' consider enemies as "former Wari'" who have distanced themselves to the point of severing cultural exchanges. In spite of that, a Wari' warrior did not distinguish between an enemy and an animal, thus felt no need to be merciful or gracious to an enemy any more than he would an animal.
Once the battles were over, the Wari' warriors would bring home the bodies of the fallen enemies whenever possible. Those bodies would be served to the women and younger men who had stayed home, to strengthen the group.
The battle warriors retreated to the men's house, where they stayed in quarantine. During this period they moved around as little as possible, staying in their hammocks for most of the day and drinking only chicha. The purpose was to "keep the enemy's blood within the warrior's body", thus giving him strength. Sex was prohibited, as they expected the blood of the enemy to "turn into semen." Sex would have allowed the strength of the enemy to pass on to the tribesmen's children. The warrior was not allowed to partake of the fallen enemies, because it was believed that he had kept the enemy's blood within himself, and such an act would be self-cannibalism, resulting in his death. Children were prohibited from eating dead enemies. The quarantine ended when the women refused to continue preparing chicha.
- Conklin, B. (2001). Consuming Grief: Compassionate Cannibalism in an Amazonian Society. Austin: University of Texas Press.
- Vilaça, Aparecida (2010). Strange Enemies: Indigenous Societies and Scenes of Encounters in Amazonia. Durham: Duke University Press.