The Wapichan territory: Life in South Rupununi

By Rupa Seenaraine

Tranquility in Marurunau Village

A dive into villages of the South Rupununi, Region Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo) reflects a rich culture and way of life that has been carefully preserved throughout the decades.
Through the South Rupununi District Council (SRDC), Guyana Times was afforded a glimpse of the 21 villages in the Wapichan territory, sporting tribes of Wapichan, Macushi and Wai Wai people.
To this present day, many villagers in the communities still construct their houses from natural materials, with woods tied together using a natural rope called ‘wataba’. Small windows are added so that the wind can enter and smoke from cooking can exit. The floors naturally harden after continuous wetting, and leaves of the eta palm are bundled to make a roof. This will last some time before it needs to be changed, sparing the chances of a leaking roof. Given the peculiarities of the weather, the houses allow cool breeze to flow during the long dry spells, and warmth to be retained in the rainy season.
The diet of these villagers is interesting, with specific elements stored in their kitchens to accompany meals. Dried peppers are dried or made into a powder or pepper sauce, while cassava is processed into cassareep, farine, or a drink called shapara. Tasso, or dried meat, is hung in the houses, where it can be accessed easily. Calabash is dug out and made into dishes, with special utensils in a Wapichan’s kitchen depending on the meal being prepared.
In this South Rupununi territory are 21 villages: Parikwarinau, Baitoon, Shiriri, Katuur, Potarinau, Quaiko, Shulinab, Meriwau, Sand Creek, Rupunau, Katoonarib, Sawariau, Shea, Maruranau, Awarewaunau, Churikidnao, Aishalton, Karaudarnau, Achawain, Bashaizon and Parabara.

Lush greenery and plains at Achawib Village

Baitoon Village
Baitoon village, a satellite of Potarinau Village, lies in close proximity to the Brazilian border. It is said that, years ago, there was a large lake in that area in which hundreds of Moscovy ducks fed. They would use the bush islands for roosting, and the name “Baitoon” later emerged, bearing the legend of it.
Baitoon is very different from the other villages of the South Rupununi. Here, bicycles are used as the main mode of transportation. In fact, if one were to spend some time in Baitoon village, one would very likely see someone repairing or otherwise caring for their bicycle.
During the day, farmers tend to their peanut and cassava crops. Livestock is reared and sold, sometimes even across the border. Then women would be seen spinning and weaving fabric to create hammocks, which are later sold to earn a living.
Evenings are spent connecting to a privately owned internet, through which the world would pour into the devices at Baitoon.

A Wapichan kitchen (SRDC photo)

Marurunau Village
Marurunau Village, or Marora Nao, is named after the Giant Armadillo Hill. It is a Wapichan community, with a few remaining families of the Taruma people located on the forest edge. First settlements were located at Shaoramniz, Maratino and Tooronau long before the missionaries arrived, over 100 years ago.
Presently, there are over 812 persons living in the village. One-third of these residents work or live away from the village temporarily, but return during holidays to visit family.
Villagers are mainly involved in farming, ranching, craft, hunting, fishing, part-time mining, trapping and trading wild life, or extracting timber. Some of the main balata camps are used even today during hunting, fishing and gathering trips.

Potarinao Village
Potarinao got its name from a giant stingray that is said to have once lived in a deep pool found in the Sawariwau river, located in the South Central Rupununi. This pool was a sensitive site, with a spirit keeper, but from stories related, the early settlers had to close it down and kill the giant stingray, which was called Potarudu.
About 600 villagers reside in Potarinao, which is blessed with open savannahs, rolling hills and mountains, swamps and wild animals. Hunting and gathering, and making medicines are highly practised here, while the village is maintained by subsistence farming of crops such as cassava, peanuts, bananas and corn. Peanuts and farine are sold at Lethem, along with meat from cattle reared.

Rupunau Village
A tranquil place, Rupunau Village derives its name from a word which means Plum hill. Situated on the right bank of Sand Creek, this village is bordered to the north by the Kanuku Mountains, and is blessed with rock mountains, forests, the savannah, numerous water bodies, and small savannah hills.
Rupunau is sustained by farming, ranching, hunting, fishing and labour activities. Wildlife interest and rock climbing are two of its tourist attractions, and jaguars, deer, and cock of the rock birds are regularly spotted there.

Sand Creek Village
In the South-Central area of the South Rupununi is the village of Sand Creek, right next to a valley that is bordered by the grand Kanuku Mountains. Here can be found
a hospital, churches, a secondary school, dormitory, a community centre, and a meeting hall, among other important buildings.
While hunting, farming, gathering and fishing are the main economic activities, people also work in the public sector; and Sand Creek also hosts an annual Rupununi Rodeo which attracts scores of tourists who normally leave the festivities in awe.

Achawib Village
Achwaib got its name from a wild garlic named ‘Achawi’, found abundantly along the village creek and on the Achawib Mountains.
The first set of people who settled in Achawib were the Atorads and their subtribes the Dawodais and the Romidins. They later intermingled with the Macushi and Wapichan people, having found that the land was good for farming.

Awarewaunau Village
Awarewaunau means Windy Creek Hill; and with a rich heritage of rock carvings, caves, and historical finds such as axes, beads and other articles, permission is required to visit this village.
A lucky visitor can spot rare birds and animals here, such as the majestic harpy eagle and the bush dog.