The Wayana Indigenous People of Suriname

We are the Wayana Indigenous peoples of Suriname. We are the traditional custodians of this land and we pay our respects to Elders, both past and present. We acknowledge and respect our continuing culture and the contribution we make in our territory.

The Wayana occupy a large area in the northern Amazon Region, which now covers Suriname, French Guiana and Brazil. In Suriname, the Wayana live and lived on the shores of the Lawa, Litani, Oelemari, and upperTapanahoni Rivers. They arrived here from Brazil around the mid-18th century and only settled in Apetina (Puleowime), Palumeu and Kawemhakan (Anapaike) at a time that the Ndyuka and Aluku Maroons had already settled along respectively the Tapanahoni and Lawa Rivers.

Relatives of the Wayana who are living in Kawemhakan nowadays, were threatened by the Kari’na and the Wayãpí Indigenous tribes in the mid-18th century. A subgroup of Wayana traveled north, led by the legendary Yapoto Kailawa, who is still perceived as the father and founder of the Wayana nation. Kailawa led his multiethnic Wayana-group along the Jari and Paru Rivers in North-East Brazil and across the Tumucumaque mountains.

After a series of wars, the Wayana, decimated in numbers, settled in the area of the Litani, Lawa and Palumeu Rivers. The Wayana group emphasized its new identity with oral histories about a shared past and ritual fests to strengthen a shared present and future. By the first half of the 20th century, introduced diseases led to rapid decreases in population numbers. In the 1960s the lives and culture of the Suriname Wayana were affected by governmental efforts to open up the interior and Baptist missionary activity.

As the Wayana went to live in larger population centers, they experienced better health care, higher life expectancy, western education, and literacy. On the down-side, however, acculturation has caused dependency on outside manufactured goods, the loss of traditional cultural and ecological knowledge, and the over-extraction of selected natural resources.

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“In Wayana legend, a great spirit of the forest is known as Meliimë, the jaguar. It is used by the Wayana as a sign for unity and for being invincible, in other words: together we stand strong.

The Wayana People nowadays

Suriname is the home of an estimated 800 people of Wayana descent, in the three countries there is an estimated population of 2500 people. There are elementary schools in Palumeu and Puleowime (Apetina). Most children from Kawemhakan (Anapaike) go to elementary school in French Guiana, but few of them are allowed to attend high-school there.

Wayana children have virtually no options for continuing education at a Suriname highschool or technical training center. Opportunities for adult education, skills training or alternative forms of educations are practically nonexistent. The children grow up with one language, Wayana and may learn Dutch or French when and if they go to school. Few Wayana speak any Dutch, the national language, and men are more likely to do so than women. Also, relatively more men speak the lingua franca Sranantongo.

In addition, some ceremonial and opportunistic languages are spoken. Even though educational achievement is generally low, the majority of Wayana men and women are literate. Wayana men and women from the Lawa region have, on average, received more years of formal education than Wayana from the Tapanahoni region. Today, almost all Wayana are Baptist and this religion dominates social and cultural life. As a result, traditional dances, songs, stories, cosmology, and other cultural expressions are rarely practiced and unknown by Wayana children. Some shamans are still active as healers but no longer publicly perform rituals involving association with the spirit world.

The French and Brazilian government have had some cultural preservation projects in the Wayana villages, but nothing sustainable. The elders still have the knowledge, but this knowledge is fading quickly. Because of the possibility that we are losing this knowledge, it’s very important that we document and describe this now, so that we have it for the next generations to come. In recent years we have become more aware of the value of our cultural heritages.

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The name: Wayana

In the literature of the last 150 years the Wayana have had many names. These names refer to different Families within the Wayana Indigenous Peoples. the Wayana are known in the literature as: Ojana, Ajana, Aiana, Ouyana, Uajana, Upurui, Oepoeroei, Roucouyen, Oreocoyana, Orkokoyana, Urucuiana, Urukuyana, Alucuyana and Wayana. The etymology of the word Wayana, the present-day selfdesignation of this population, is unknown. It is only known that it is a Carib word, as the suffix – yana, which means "people" in many languages of this family, shows.


Protect our territory

  • demarcation/mapping of the Wayana territory 
  • land use management planning/system; Determine how to use the various areas (hunting, agriculture or keep it pristine)
  • sustainable use of the area
  • area protection plan
  • an inventory of the existing biodiversity

Sustainable environment

  • a safe and clean territory to live in [land rights] 
  • 24/7 renewable energy for all villages and camps
  • clean drinking water for all villages and camps
  • sustainable land use and preserving eco systems
  • improved farming methods (less “slash and burn”

Social healthcare

Social disruption that needs to be addressed/solved …

  • high suicide rate
  • domestic violence
  • sexual abuse
  • teenage pregnancy and teenage parents/mothers
  • alcohol abuse
  • expel the illegal Brazilians from the territory 
  • mercury poisoning


  • Learning Wayana
  • Learning Dutch 
  • Learning English
  • Training in everything a Wayana needs in daily life (repairing outboard motor, chainsaw, woodworking, electricity etc.)
  • Courses about Wayana culture, traditions and customs 
  • Leadership development
  • Training in Western thinking
  • Training for outsiders about the Wayana customs and habits
  • Capacity building foundations, youngsters and traditional leaders and self-determined development


  • Close cooperation between the Wayana in Suriname based on their shared vision
  • Close cooperation between the Wayana people of Suriname, French Guiana and Brazil
  • Regular consultations between the Wayana representatives of the three countries
  • Making the paths between Suriname, French Guiana and Brazil passable
  • Revival of culture, traditions and habits
  • Recording of the Wayana language o Creating a shared vision
  • Wayana radio (podcast)

Environmental issues

Environmental issues that needs to be solved 

  • Mercury-free mining
  • Clean river and creeks
  • Waste management
  • Land rehabilitation of old goldmine sites


The origin of the world

The origin of the world For the Wayana the relations established with the inhabitants of the forest or the rivers are very close to those forged with the beings of the sky and the subterranean world. The earth is conceived as a kind of round island, surrounded by water, which ends where the sun sets, in a place inhabited by several entities that hold up the sky on their backs. In the past, the sky and the earth were connected by a mountain or by a vine. The origin of all peoples is a certain place, to the north of the East Paru River, in the region near the Tumucumaque mountain and which, curiously, geographically separates the three present-day territorial groups. Between the headwaters of this river and the feeder rivers of the Palumeu, a branch of the Tapanahoni River, Surinam (where up until a short while ago they had kin), the Wayana elders mention the existence of a mountain that separates the two rivers and which seems to correspond to the mountain that connects the two skies.

Gardens, Hunting, Fishing, and Gathering

In the gardens (‘kostgrond’) of the Wayana various species of root crops are cultivated (more than 30 species of manioc, cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, etc.), sugarcane, fruits (bananas, watermelons, pumpkin, mango, maracujá, cherimoya, orange and lime), cotton, urucum dye and genipap. Several types of fruits are planted around the villages. Throughout the year, expeditions are made into the forest for hunting and gathering. Gathering is practiced with the same level of intensity, complementing the food diet. These expeditions involve the married couple or, more frequently, groups of brothers, in-laws, father and sons. The following items are obtained: wild honey, açaí and bacaba, insect larvae, arumã for making baskets, plant resins, clay and argil for the production of ceramics and mineral dyes etc. By hunting, the Wayana add to their diet: tapirs, deer, rodents (paca and cutia, for example), monkeys (cuatá and guariba among others), wild pigs (peccary and boar), birds (curassow, Our Community Profile The Wayana Indigenous territory has a resident population of approximately 800 In Suriname and is located on the shores of the Lawa and upperTapanahoni Rivers in the South- East of the country. Worldwide there are only approximately 2500 Wayana left. The Wayana Indigenous live in an area of almost 31.000sq kms and is home to a passionate, diverse community who reside across the six small villages/kamps; Apetina (500), Kawemhakan (85), Kumakupan (35), Lensi dede (40), Palumeu (200, Wayana/Trio community) and Tutu Kampu (50). 8 jacamim, toucan), alligator and lizards etc. The techniques used depend on the species of animal being hunted and the time of the year. In the period before the festivals, above all, groups of men make expeditions several times into the forests which can last weeks and in which large quantities of animals are hunted