The Wayana are a Carib-speaking people located in the south-eastern part of the Guiana highlands, a region divided between Brazil, Surinam, and French Guiana. In 1980, when the last census took place, the Wayana numbered some 1,500 individuals, of which 150 in Brazil, among the Apalai, 400 in Surinam, and 1,000 in French Guiana, along the Maroni River. About half of them still speak their original language.
The Wayana are animists. In their worldview, everything in nature, whether living or not, has a soul. Wayana tribes are headed by shamans, who are thought to be able to communicate with the souls of things in the world. Among the Wayana, shamans are also responsible for healing the sick and communicating with vanished tribal ancestors.
The Wayana are traditionally great consumers of fish. Aged 5 or 6, children learn to use various methods to catch whichever fish are in season: hooks, bows, nets, harpoons or plant-based poisons.Hunting is traditionally carried out with bows, though many now use guns.
Gold-extraction camps in their territory have posed a significant threat to the Wayana, as to many other tribes in the area. Many now suffer from mercury poisoning. Mercury is used to extract gold from rocks or soil, but it is highly toxic to humans and animals and enters the food chain through groundwater. The use of mercury was banned by the government in 2006, but many illegal gold camps still exist in this remote region. And for many Wayana, the neurological and physical damage is already done.