Álvaro Laiz (b.1981) is a Spanish photographer and artist whose work deals with narratives where traditional culture, nature and industrial development converge. ____ "For Álvaro, the artistic practice and way of living resemble...
Focus:Photographer, Photography, Portraiture, Conceptual, Art, Author, Arts & Culture
Delta of Amacuro, eastern Venezuela, is one of the most inhospitable places in the world. Since 8.500 years ago Warao indians have turned its 20.000 km² of water canals and swamps into their home. Despite the strong acculturation they have suffered because of colonialism Warao people have managed to keep their culture and way of life deeply rooted into this environment.
According to warao myths Kuai-mare was the name of a powerful spirit. It used to walk amongst Warao people with its face covered. Once a year it shows it, causing hurricanes and floodings all over the Delta. The wisiratu or shaman of each community is the responsible of keeping Kuai-Mare calmed. Many ancient cultures such us Warao consider shamans to be the intermediaries among nature powers and humans. In pre-Columbian societies from South America it was quite common to find out the most powerful shamans behave as if they had a dual identity or Two-spirits, and even adopted their opposite gender role.
The acculturation many waraos have suffered since Conquerors arrived has brought a certain notion of progress (tv, engines, metals...) but it has brought as well diseases like TB and HIV and alcoholism.
Illness like HIV and TB have increased dramatically during the last years. Despite venezuelan government refuses to inform about the situation, independent NGO´s estimate that between 40 and 80% of warao population is infected with HIV.
Although the mouth of the Orinoco in the Atlantic Ocean was discovered by Columbus in 1498 the swamp forests of the Orinoco Delta have remained unexplored for centuries. Much of this region is still intact due to its inaccessibility, however oil exploration and extraction projects have encroached into these once pristine forest.
The acculturation is decreasing the acceptance amongst Warao of Tida Wenas. In some places like Kobueruna, heavily influenced by western culture and its set of values, some of them do not wear women clothes anymore to avoid being harrassed.
"Most venezuelan has this romantic view of Delta Amacuro. They believe here man and nature walk together in balance, but when I arrived here the only thing I found was people struggling to survive" Luis Ernesto de Mendoza, rural doctor.
The Warao indians consider they are connected to the Nature, so traditional palafites or hanokos are built without walls as part of the jungle. The changes in the traditional warao architecture are just the most visible example of the acculturation and lost of identity process the indians are suffering.
Andres, 39 years old Tida Wena in a traditional warao dress beside his home. Ironically the origin of this dresses is owing to capuchin monks who designed and spread them among the indians who were used to be half-naked.
A view of an empty classroom of Barakataina´s school. The lack of teachers and the fact that many of them are urged to help their family in the field are a huge handicap for the school attendance among warao children.
Many warao consider the spirits or "jebus" who live in the forest are the cause of their fate. Despite the strong influence of missions among them their ancient beliefs still rule their world view on a very primary level. A transgender jumps over a puddle held to a vine.
Identity is not a static concept, but a fluent mixture of influences, both internal and externals, which conforms the way we face the world and how the world reflects this image to others. For Tida-Wena, the warao word for transgender, the identity is a matter of gender but also a cultural and ethnic issue. Sanse watches his reflection on an old mirror while combs his hair in Murako village. Only women and transgender/homosexual wear long hair among warao people.
The Delta of Amacuro, eastern Venezuela,is one of the most inhospitable places in the world. For the past 8.500 years ago Warao indians have turned its 20.000 km² of water canals and swamps into their home. Despite the strong acculturation they have suffered because of colonialism Warao people have managed to keep their culture and way of life deeply rooted into this environment.
Before the late 20th century, the term berdache was widely used by anthropologists as a generic term to indicate “two-spirit” or transgender individuals. In Native American societies, berdaches played an important role both religiously and economically. They were given specific roles in their religion and were not expected to support their family like a male would, but rather they were required to do some of the women’s work and portray the behaviors and clothing of a woman.
Early Spanish and French explorers and colonizers in North America applied these terms as a means of making sense of the relationships, anatomical sex, sexual behavior, and social gender role of those individuals they encountered who fell outside their own conceptual frameworks.
Historically, two-spirit people typically have been well integrated into the life of their tribes, and have often held revered and honored positions within them. Members of native cultures are often quite reluctant to discuss two-spirit traditions with outsiders, who they feel may misunderstand them or appropriate them for their own agendas.
The Warao, as it happens in other ethnic groupes, considers certain people are not man neither woman. They are called Tida Wena. Their inclusion in warao society goes back to the pre- Columbian traditions mentioned above. Most of these beliefs were common only half a century ago but now due to the growing acculturation they are facing extintion.
The existance of transgender people among the warao society could be the last remains of those old pre-Columbian traditions, never photographied before.