The E’ñepa came from a mountain from which the Cuchivero river also came, located in the northern region of Venezuela, in the Amazon jungle. One day, this mountain opened and they came out of it, the E’ñepa, as well as ‘creoles,’ as the mixed Latin Americans in Venezuela who are descended from Europeans are called.
“From E’ñepas only two came, no more; this is why there are few E’ñepas. But all the creoles came,” says Alberto, as he explained the origin of the myth of the tribe: knowledge transmitted by an elder of his land, far from there. Today, the E’ñepa, also known in the scientific world as Panare, include 3 to 4 thousand people.
Alberto is part of the group of around 30 natives of that tribe that travelled almost 600 miles from the northern region of Venezuela to the State of Roraima, in Brazil.
Together with the Warao, they were received and welcomed into the shelter of Pintolândia, in Boa Vista, by Welcome Operation of the Federal Government of 2016.
The area is maintained by the Fraternidade – International Humanitarian Federation (FIHF) with the support of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The E’ñepas share the housing with close to 500 Warao refugees and other Venezuelans.
Same Language, Other Lands
“We were not able to get wood for making bows and arrows up river.
We were not able to get any.
Downriver we did get it.
The children bathed on the beach.
We, the E’ñepa, have no way of working.”
These are verses translated from a song sung in the Panare language, the tongue of the tribe. Few speak Spanish.
They keep their original culture, but this is not the first time that they have moved. Centuries ago, when spreading throughout the regions of the Orinoco and Amazonas in Venezuela, occupying spaces of extinct tribes, they were expelled from those lands by the pressure of cattle ranchers or miners. In Venezuela, there is no demarcation of indigenous lands.
The communities that remained in the forest survive through agriculture, fishing and hunting, but many went to cities such as Bolivar and Caiçara and made a living from selling handicrafts in the cities to the creoles, with whom they keep strictly commercial relations. They are known for resisting mixed marriages.
With the Venezuelan crisis, since 2014 they have no longer been able to sell their handicrafts. In a vulnerable position, they are in the group of people who first suffered the consequences of the political, social, and economic crisis of the neighboring country.
Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) register more than a hundred native deaths in the regions of the Orinoco Delta and Amazonas. The majority are members of indigenous communities such as the Warao and Lanomâmi.
With care and zeal, the E’ñepas of the Pintolândia shelter work by hand with seeds in the manufacture of necklaces and bracelets, carve graphics and paint the treated wood that give rise to decorative bows and arrows.
From the fibers of trees and palms such as the Tirite, in Venezuela, they also make baskets, nets, and various artifacts, but did not find the raw material in Brazil.
They are silent, peaceful, and try to keep their traditions and essence: from colorful clothing to festivals, such as the one that marks the initiation of the children into adult life, around ten to twelve years old, when they receive a new name.
“The Fraternidade manages the shelter that provides access to services and works in the educational insertion of children, youths and adults with training, courses, native languages, and Portuguese, and also the placement of adults into the labor market,” explains Imer, a missionary of the organization.
Threats and Guidelines
After the stories of xenophobia and threats described by natives in Roraima, the International Organization for Migrations (IOM) from the Unites Nations (UN), in June of 2019, published the document ‘Legal Aspects of the care of indigenous migrants from Venezuela to Brazil’, which has 35 recommendations for the legal protection of the indigenous immigrants coming from Venezuela, taking three areas into consideration: universal rights, those of immigrants, and those specific to indigenous peoples, constitutionally guaranteed and in international regulations.