Where They Stand (a report on the Wapichan efforts to assert land rights)

This is an eloquent and engaging narrative of the efforts of the Wapichan people of Rupununi, Guyana, to obtain title over their traditional lands, beyond the area they already own. A major element of their work to justify their land claim has been extensive mapping, combining GPS and modern technology with the knowledge of elders about the uses and significance of every creek and mountain. Regular patrols to monitor land invasions along their borders have had a deterrent effect, as illegal gold miners and cattle rustlers fear 'monitors with smartphones'.

The document explains: "The mapping has always been about more than maps. It is about the Wapichan’s sense of themselves, and their traditions of collective ownership of the land. 'Mapping awakened the struggle for land among our people,' says Johnny. 'It brought people together.' Along with the cartography, the Wapichan documented their lives, culture and traditions. This too they regard as part of justifying their land claim."

The years of work resulted in a series of agreements and proposals, brought together in this plan for the Wapichan land. The mapping project aimed to show the government how the Wapichan use the land that they claim, but so far there has been no response, and frustration is increasing. The document explains that logging and mining concessions create an urgent need for effective conservation, and bring social problems. There is a clash of cultures within villages, and a sense of flux as people leave to find work.

However, the report concludes that there is the potential find the best of both worlds. The Wapichan work hard to preserve their language, and many young people remain determined to master traditional skills. The mapping and moitoring have played a role in bringing together technology and traditons, providing an opportunity for young people to learn from the elders.

Fred Pearce
Resource type 
Project reports
International Forest Agenda/s