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The Waiwai and First Contact with the Missionaries

Rodrigo Waiwai, from the indigenous village Mapuera, in the northern part of the Brazilian Amazon, is in London to research the collections of Waiwai objects at the British Museum, and will give a talk on the history of the Waiwai taking as a departure point the first contact with the missionaries that settled in the area in the late 1940s. Rodrigo will discuss the impact of the arrival of the missionaries to their ways of life, from the translation of the New Testament to Waiwai to drastic social-organisational changes that led them to abandon small villages near the headwaters of rivers to settle in bigger and more densely populated ‘mission-villages’, as well as the gradual process of de-signification of shamanistic knowledge and discontinuation of several rituals and parties.

Some anthropologists have defined the Waiwai as actually a language and a territory, as most of its original population were severely reduced from contact with colonial and national fronts. As a strategy of survival, they started intermarrying with neighboring groups, which also adopted Waiwai as a language. This process was intensified with the arrival of the missionaries and today Waiwai is a lingua franca amongst several other groups in the area, including the Xerew, Tunayana, Kaxuyana, Hixkaryana and others.

Professor David Treece will be a discussant to Rodrigo’s presentation. The talk has been organised by Cinthya Lana who is a PhD candidate at King’s College of London, with a thesis on the representation of Amazonian indigenous peoples in art and anthropological exhibitions.

This project is part-funded by the Language Acts and Worldmaking Small Grants Scheme.

This seminar is part of the Spanish, Portuguese & Latin American Studies research seminar series 2017/18, King's College London. Please click here for more details of this seminar series.