History of the Amerindian Canoe and Building Rituals
The Warao still live in the Delta of the Orinoco. According to history, the first canoe and paddle were made by culture hero Haburi whose spirit still lives in exile on the Naparima Hill in South Trinidad. This hill represents the sacred mountain at the northern edge of the world of the Warao. Our Amerindians have named it Ana-Parima, meaning ‘single hill’
Making a canoe requires close collaboration with the spirits especially with Daurani, Mother of the forests and the Reincarnation of the first and all subsequent canoes. The approval of the ancestral canoe builders, descendents of the first paddle is also needed. This entails a great deal of chanting, smoking of tobacco and vision sighting by the master canoe builder. He must have no communication with women during the 3 – 4 months of work or else the jealousy of Daurani will cause the canoe to fail.
Up until the 1930s small groups of Warao from Venezuela embarked on pre-dawn pilgrimages to the Naparima Hill now called San Fernando Hill in Trinidad presumably to maintain contact with Haburi. This custom was arrested when immigration laws stopped free passage of visitors between Trinidad and Venezuela.
Historically, the main mode of transport used by our Amerindians has been the canoe. This way of life still exists to date in many Central and South American countries where large rivers represent ‘highways’ to natives. The canoe transports people, garden produce, household possessions and trade goods.
The technique of constructing a canoe is simple. A tree is selected, felled and hollowed out. The hull is then overturned above a fire to expand it and cross pieces are inserted. The hollow is charred slightly to set the wood and reduce its weight. This technique was fully developed by the year BC 7800.
Canoes were also used in war. Huge war canoes have been described as accommodating as many as 80 warriors. The first Europeans reported an extensive trade network in the Trinidad area controlled by the Lord of Araucay, an Amerindian town in the neck of the Orinoco Delta. Our term ‘Arawak’ is probably derived from this town.