THE STRANGE INHABITANTS OF DELTA AMACURO

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 behaviours and clothing of a woman.

Early Spanish and French explorers and colonizers in North America applied the- se terms as a means of making sense of the relationships, anatomical sex, sexual behaviour, 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 honoured 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 groups, 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 extinction.

Deep in the swamps of Delta of Orinoco it is still possible to make out their world as it was hundred years ago. Small and isolated native communities struggle to survive there. The existence of transgender people among the warao society could be the last remains of those old pre-Columbian traditions, never photographed before.

click to view the complete set of images in the archive