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 behaviors and clothing of a woman.
Early Spanish and French explorers and colonizers in North America applied these terms as a means of making sense of the relationships, anatomical sex, sexual behavior, 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 honored 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 groupes, 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 extintion. Even if they are geographically isolated and profoundly adapted to an intrincate river net that conforms what is known as the Orinoco Delta the Warao indians are extremely sensitive to the outdoor influence. There are two fundamental facts that are strongly complicating their survival. A few independant investigations indicate that a range in between 40% and 80% of the Warao tribe are infected with HIV, whereas Venezuelan government does not support oficial numbers. On the other side, the high levels of infantile mortality are extreme. One out of two newly born does not reach the age of three. The lack of a united educational and reproductive sexual responsability plus the peculiarities of their cosmology, where illness representates the evil spirits, contributes to the creation of a potencially fatal scenario to the Warao tribe and the dissappearance of those old traditions and knowledge mentioned above.
The existance of transgender people among the warao society could be the last remains of those old pre-Columbian traditions, never photographied before.