National Geographic : 1955 Mar
346 Lacking the Potter's Wheel, Indians of the Americas Make Vessels from Coils of Clay Essequibo clay, rolled between the hands and coiled in layers, is shaped with the fingers and scraped smooth with a piece of gourd. Baked in an open fire, it makes serviceable pottery. Scraps of such vessels uncovered by the authors provide chief evidence of the Wai Wai's predecessors. Hardly anyone stirred out of his hammock the second day; the night's exertion had been too much. But by dark the dance resumed, and again the third day from noon to dusk. As the Shoreweko came to a close, so too did our life with the Wai Wai. It was time for us to return to Georgetown, the capital of British Guiana. We had come to the upper Essequibo by air, in an hour and a half. We returned afoot and by dugout, enduring eight days of exhausting travel before the tropical forest gave way to the savanna and contact with civilization. As we ended our excursion into the past, we had ample time to reflect on the life of these simple and friendly folk. We can stoutly echo the words of an early English explorer, Robert Harcourt, whose book, A Relation of a Voyage to Guiana, described in 1613 this re gion and its people: "The naturall inhabitants of that Countrey are a loving, tractable, and gentle people... with those barbarous people we may live in safety, without suspicion of trechery, or dread of danger..." What of the future of the Wai Wai? An epidemic of smallpox or measles could wipe them out, as it did their predecessors, the Taruma. And even though they maintain their slim numbers, they can scarcely avoid powerful influences from the outside world, far away as it is. Already the pottery vessel is giving way to the white man's enamelware, and an oil tin takes the place of the time honored earthenware griddle. In any case, few men in years ahead may see the Wai Wai as we saw them.