The Aparai and the Wayana are indigenous groups of people who live across the frontier between
Brazil (state of Parà, near the Paru river, and state of Amapà), Suriname, and French Guyana
(near the Maroni river). In Brazil, they have lived together for at least a century. References to
this population as a single group are scarce, and the internal differences may be attested on the
basis of distinct cultural traits.
According to Funasa, there were a total of 317 people in the group as of 2006.
Today, the composition of the Aparai and Wayana is the result of the integration of several other
indigenous groups, starting from the 18th Century. The Wayana assimilated the Upurui, Kukuyana,
Opagwana and Kumarawana, among others; the Aparai incorporated the Apama, Pirixiyana and Arakaju
tribes. They recognize this ancestral diversity and consider certain individuals to be of "pure"
heritage, but in general the Aparai and Wayana emphasize the fact that their tribe is completely
"mixed". These people are also called Apalai, Apalay, Appirois, Aparathy, and Apareilles.
People near the Paru river speak different languages, and every adult person speaks at least two
or three languages, mostly Aparai, Wayana, Tiriyó and in some cases Wajãpi and Aluku. Portuguese is
also spoken since it is the official national language. The distribution of speakers and the usage of
each language are uneven.
The Aparai language is preferred to others in a discussion between individuals belonging to distinct
groups. Literacy teaching of this population is done in Portuguese and Aparai, the latter being used
for books and religious services. While the Aparai language is predominant in these communities, over
the last decade the Wayana language has gained prestige among the younger generations, because it is
used in communication with Wayana and Tiriyó peoples who live past the borders with Suriname and
Location and history
According to historical sources and their reports, the Aparai and Wayana people have different
origins. The Aparai originally lived near the south bank of the Amazon River, and then migrated to
the region of the lower and middle courses of the Curuá, Maicuru, Jari and East Paru rivers,
and from there to the area they presently inhabit. The Wayana have lived for a long time near the
upper and middle course of the East Paru River, its tributary, the Citaré, the upper Jarí River,
Paloemeu rivers and various tributaries.
In the 16th Century, the Aparai lived near the right bank of the Amazon River, to the south, and,
to the southwest, the region where the cities of Macapá and Belém are located today. Other
groups, which were later assimilated, lived not very far from the Amazon River, in the region of the
lower East Paru and Jarí rivers.
At the end of the 17th Century, the Aparai were supposed to have relations with the Apama and
Aracaju, who possibly spoke a Tupi language. A small Apama group is supposed to have remained
isolated in the region of Maicuru, until the 1960s, and maintained relations of trade and
inter-marriage with the Aparai.
In the 1950s the Aparai were still found on the East Paru, Jari, Maicuru and upper Curuá rivers
of Alenquer, and the Wayana lived in the middle and upper courses of the East Paru and Jarí rivers,
beyond the Litani river in French Guyana, and the Paloemeu river in Suriname. In 1984 there was only
one Aparai village which was situated near the confluence of the Jari and Ipitinga rivers.
Today, the Aparai and Wayana live in in three territorial groups defined by the coordinates of the
East Paru River in Brazil; the Maroni River in French Guyana; and the Tapanahoni River in Suriname.
The majority of the Aparai lives in Brazilian territory, while a good portion of the Wayana also live
in various villages in Suriname and French Guyana. The distribution into three distinct
territorial groups is the result of their contact with non-Indians and other indigenous people.
In Brazil they live in about sixteen villages, and all of them are situated on the East Paru River,
inside the Tumucumaque Indigenous Park and East Paru Indigenous Land. These two contiguous indigenous
areas cover about 4,266,852 hectares in norther Pará, comprising the homelands of various ethnic
groups, such as Tiriyó, Kaxuyana, Akuriyó and Wajãpi, among others. The Tumucumaque
Indigenous Park and the East Paru Indigenous Land were demarcated and homologated on 4 November 1997,
by a decree published in the Official Diary of the Union.
*Aparai on socioambiental.org, in English