Wonderland The Delta of Amacuro in eastern Venezuela is one of the most inhospitable places in the world. For the last 8500 years ago the 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.
Wonderland © Alvaro Laiz
As a documentary photographer I have spent the last two years photographing the unstoppable process of acculturation experienced by Warao people. I have documented these process by portraying the survivors of that lost world such as wisiratus (shamans) and Tidawenas (transgender). My goal was to capture the last remnants of a culture that has survived in the depths of Delta since Neolithic times and which has not pre-twentieth century visual documentation.
But during my stay there I discovered a parallel path: the story of one man, born on September 19, 1831, who have had traveled the same places I was travelling 150 years before me…
In 1863, a german ethnobiologist called Albrecht Stift stepped into the swamps of the Orinoco Delta for the last time. He arrived two years earlier to pursue his electrobiology studies with electric eels. He was also assigned by the German Geographical Society to develop a photographic record of the Orinoco basin. Only one of his manuscripts survived.
Stift drew on it a totally unknown place by that time, illustrating it with the ambrotypes he took. Unfortunately, Stift died dissapearing after navigating into the mouth of the Orinoco Delta on his own in 1863. With him the manuscripts and pictures he took of that lost world vanished forever…