The Wajapi of the Tupi-guarani cultural-linguistic group are indigenous to the northern Amazonian region. Some 580 Wajapi live in 40 small villages on a specially designated territory in the state of Amapá. The Wajapi have a long history of using vegetable dyes to adorn their bodies and objects with geometric motifs. Over the centuries, they have developed a unique communication system – a rich blend of graphic and verbal components – that reflects their world-view and enables them to hand down knowledge about community life.
This graphic art is known as kusiwa and its designs are applied with red vegetable dyes extracted from the roucou plant mixed with scented resins. The Wajapi consider that the technical and artistic proficiency required to master the drawing technique and the preparation of the dye cannot be attained before the age of forty. Commonly recurring motifs include the jaguar, anaconda, butterfly and fish. Kusiwa designs refer to the creation of humankind and come alive through a rich corpus of myths. For them, the colours and graphic patterns originate with the first peoples, since before then there was no colour and everyone in the world was equal.This body art, closely linked to Amerindian oral traditions, possesses multiple meanings on socio-cultural, aesthetic, religious and metaphysical levels. Indeed, kusiwa constitutes the very framework of Wajapi society and is endowed with significance extending far beyond its role as a graphic art form. This coded repertory of traditional knowledge is perpetually evolving as indigenous artists are constantly reconfiguring the motifs and inventing new patterns.