MAIN AMERINDIAN GROUPS UP TO THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
By the nineteenth century, the principal Amerindian tribes inhabiting Guyana were the Caribs, the Akawois or Waikas, the Arawaks and the Warrous or Guaraunos. Interestingly, the Arawaks, Caribs and Akawois called themselves "Lokono", "Carinya" and "Kapohn", respectively - all meaning "the people" in their respective languages.
Among other tribes of less importance were the so-called Arawak-Akawois, or Wauwejans, who were considered descendants of both the former tribes, though distinct from each of them; the Magariouts, or Manoas, a powerful and warlike tribe dwelling in the region watered by the upper Essequibo and the Mazaruni; the Wai-Wais residing near the source of the Essequibo; the Patamonas (Paramonas) occupying the area of the Pakaraimas and Potaro River; and the Macushis and Wapisianas of the Rupununi area.
The Caribs and Akawois constantly raided the Wapisiana settlements, seizing many of these people to use as poitos (slaves). What precise localities the Wapisianas occupied is difficult to trace, but in the year 1833, when their numbers has become greatly reduced, they were found at the headwaters of the Essequibo.
Mention must also be made of the Arecunas and the Pancays who lived in the upper Cuyuni, and of the Pariacots who also possibly inhabited the same district.
1. The Caribs
Of all the tribes, by far the most numerous and powerful throughout the whole period of Dutch occupation of Guyana was the Carib nation, known as the warriors among the native inhabitants. In the later period, during the British occupation, though still claiming and receiving precedence among the Amerindians of British Guiana, their numbers had become greatly reduced and they were in some instances industrious cultivators of the soil. But in the early days of the colony, the Caribs, surpassing as they did all other tribes in personal bravery, were the great freebooters on the coast from Trinidad to the mouth of the Amazon. They were strong enough to control the waterway of the Orinoco, and they permanently occupied the lower portion of the right bank of the Orinoco as far as Barima. In the interior Guyana, they were found on the upper Essequibo, the Mazaruni, the upper Cuyuni, the Pomeroon and the Barima, and they moved freely through the forest region.
2. The Akawois
Next in importance to the Caribs were the Akawois. The tribe was found in the lower Essequibo, the upper Cuyuni, the Demerara and the Pomeroon. It is probable that this tribe, like the Caribs, was nomadic in its habits, and was to be found scattered throughout the Dutch colonies of Essequibo, Berbice and Surinam.
In the early years of British occupation, the Akawois were described as the most pugnacious of the Amerindian tribes, the Caribs having to a large extent lost their ascendancy and being greatly reduced in numbers. The Akawois were at that period occupying the area between the upper Demerara River, the Mazaruni and the upper Pomeroon.
3. The Arawaks
Following the Akawois in importance were the Arawaks, described by Major John Scott in 1665 as being "the best humoured Indians of America, being both very just and generous-minded people", and as inhabiting the region between the Corentyne and the Waini Rivers. Nearly two hundred years later they were described by another English writer as "of all the tribes the most docile, cleanly, and of the best stature and personal appearance", but at the same time as being "immoral, fickle and inconstant, and possessing none of the warlike spirit of the Caribs and Akawois".
The Dutch employed them at the Post of Moruka, for the fishery in the Orinoco and the salting industry generally, and also for recapturing fugitive slaves. In 1771, Centurion, the Spanish Governor of Guayana (east of Orinoco), reported to the Court of Spain that the Arawaks had for many years been united to the Dutch and incorporated in their colonies both in relationships and other ties. After the British took possession of the Dutch colonies, the Arawaks readily sought employment as labourers, especially in the plantations up the rivers, but they were reluctant to work among the African slaves on the coast.
The Arawaks were regarded as the aristocracy of the Amerindian tribes and superior to all of them in the scale of civilization.
4. The Warrous
The Warrous originally inhabited the swampy morasses and islands in the mouth of the Orinoco, as well as the lower reaches of the Barima. Owing to ill-treatment by the Spaniards in 1767, they migrated in great numbers to the Barima district which they, as well as the other Amerindian tribes, regarded as Dutch territory. In this locality they still remained after the British had taken over the Dutch colonies.
The Warrous had none of the warlike characteristics of the Caribs and Akawois. They were mainly boat-builders, owing to the skill with which they hollowed out - without any instrument but the adze - the canoes used by the Amerindian tribes of Guiana. Almost amphibious in their mode of life, they were expert fishermen who kept up a noted fishery of the lower Orinoco. The women were skilful in the manufacture of baskets and of the hammocks known as the sarow hammocks which they made from the eetay palm. This pith of this palm also provided an excellent type of bread which was the Warrous' principal means of subsistence. Under the British Government, these people became more industrious and contributed more labour to the sugar plantation than any other Amerindian tribe in British Guiana.
5. The Macushis and Wapisianas
The Macushis and Wapisianas drifted from Brazil into Guyana from the beginning of the eighteenth century. Most likely, they crossed in the area of the Ireng River and began settling in the north part of the Rupununi savannahs. Later, the Wapisianas began to migrate to the south of the Kanuku Mountains. Some historians believe that they did so to avoid the slave-raiding Amerindian tribes who came from the Rio Negro and Rio Branco regions of Brazil. There is evidence that during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries both the Macushi and Wapisiana villages erected defences against these raids. It is possible, too, that the Wapisianas moved away from the north savannahs because they and the Macushis had become enemies.
In the 1780s, more Macushis and Wapisianas who were living in the Rio Branco region of Brazil fled to Guyana to escape from the Portuguese who were forcibly attempting to place them in mission settlements. Smaller groups from decimated tribes from the same region of Brazil also moved into Guyana and joined up with either the Macushis and Wapisianas after this period.
6. The Arecunas
The Arecunas originally lived in upper regions of the Caroni and Paragua Rivers of Venezuela. After 1770, the Spanish Capuchin missions, with the support of the Spanish colonial authorities, began to forcibly resettle them from those areas in missions located on the Orinoco. Groups of these people escaped to Guyana to avoid this forced resettlement and established villages in the upper areas of the Mazaruni and Cuyuni Rivers.
7. The Patamonas
Very little is known of the history of the Patamonas who have probably resided in parts of the Pakaraima mountain region for a very long time. An early contact between them and Europeans was made in the early nineteenth century when they were described as mountaineers.
8. The Wai-Wais
The Wai-Wais were first found in a village located in the Acarai Mountains around 1837 and their presence was noted by Robert Schomburgk in 1843. They gradually moved to settle in the extreme south of the Rupununi savannahs. There is still some doubt as to when they first arrived on Guyanese territory, but it is felt that their arrival was due either to pressure from the Portuguese in the Rio Branco region or from another more powerful Amerindian tribe.