National Geographic : 1983 Jan
What Future for the Wayana Indians? Article and photographs by CAROLE DEVILLERS SPOTTING the silvery gleam of a fish, Koyoweman slowly bends his bow and takes careful aim. Motionless, he awaits the proper moment. Suddenly his arrow comes to life, impales the prey, and drives it struggling to the bottom of the river. Dropping his bow, the young boy dives and returns seconds later with the fish in his hand and a victorious grin on his face. As I watch, impressed by Koyoweman's skill, I wonder what future lies in store for him. By such means his people, the Wayana Indians, have survived for centuries in the remote rain forest of the Amazon region. Now, however, the Wayanas' distinctive culture is threatened with change and possi ble destruction by increasing pressure from the outside world. Very likely Koyoweman is practicing a dying art. The Wayanas are a group of Indians of Carib stock numbering fewer than 1,000. Most of them live in scattered communities along the Maroni and Itany Rivers, between Suriname and the French overseas depart ment of Guiana on the northern coast of South America (map, page 70). The Indians share the region peacefully with a tribe of Bush Negroes known as the Bonis, descen dants of runaway African slaves from Suri name in the days when that country was a Dutch colony. The Wayanas inhabit a shadowy world so dominated by rain forest that little of it is ever touched by sunlight. Canoes are virtu ally the only means of transportation in the network of rivers. To record the Wayanas' colorful way of life while it still survives, I have made my way to their home. My introduction to the Wayanas came about through their adopted son, a 44-year old Frenchman named Andre Cognat. In 1961, at the age of 23, Cognat quit his job as a steelworker in Lyon and set off to explore South America on foot and by canoe. He got as far as the Maroni River, where he cap sized in treacherous rapids. He pulled him self half-drowned from the river and was later adopted by a Wayana couple. From that moment Cognat devoted him self to the Indians. He was given a Wayana name-Antecume-and eventually mar ried a Wayana woman and had a son named Lanaki. He established a small settlement known as Antecume Pata, or "Antecume's village," and began studying basic medical and dental techniques for the benefit of his adopted people. Over the years Cognat has served the Wayanas as housebuilder, nurse, medical adviser, tooth extractor, and Free-lance photographer and writer Carole De villers was born and raised in France. She has made her home since in the United States, the Ivory Coast, Upper Volta, and, most recently, French Guiana. Plastic brainteaser joins the invasionof machine-ageproducts into the rain forest home of South America's Wayana Indians.Here on the borderof the nation of Suriname and FrenchGuiana,a department of France,these Carib-speaking people cling to traditionalways, even as the 20th century brings change and threatensthe survival of theirculture.