Internship fall 2020 Retracing the footsteps of the last Taruma by their crop names

Indigenous woman processing cassava roots in Guyana

The indigenous Taruma people of Guyana have dwindled from ca. 500 people to a handful today, but their Amazonian origin is unclear. The Taruma names for their crops may give a clue on where they come from.

Background and context

The last Taruma live in Wapichan and Waiwai communities on the border between Guyana and Brazil. Today, there remain 2 remembers and 1 fluent speaker, living in Maruranau. The existing materials on the language are limited to 200 words and even less is known about Taruma culture. A language called “Taruma” was once spoken on the Negro River in Brazil and the Taruma in Guyana may descend from Rio Negro migrants. A linguist from Leiden University now documents Taruma language, and needs an ethnobotany student to study Taruma terms for crops.

Prof. dr. Tinde van Andel

Senior Researcher / ethnobotanist
Biodiversity Dynamics

Dr. Konrad Rybka (linguist)
Leiden University Centre for Linguistics

Objectives and goals

The goal of this project is to identify lexical borrowings into Taruma from other languages ⁠- both its immediate neighbors and the languages of the Rio Negro - to test the hypothesis that Taruma was once spoken closer to those languages. To providing linguistic evidence of possible past migration, we will document Taruma vocabulary and compare it with the other Amazonian languages.


Interviews, plant identification, documenting traditional language and crop knowledge. This internship is 36 ECTS and interest in tropical plants is required. Recommended courses are Plant Families of the Tropics (UL) and Ethnobotany (WUR).

Your internship

Interested in Amazonian cultures, plants, and history? We are looking for an MSc student in Biology / Ethnobotany or a MA in Anthropology, who will document Taruma plant vocabulary, especially the names of crops: cassava, banana, taro, beans, vegetables, etc. and compare these to other indigenous languages in the Amazon. The student will be supervised by a linguist and an ethnobotanist. A one-month fieldwork is planned for the fall of 2020 in Guyana. We work with the Wapichan community and the Taruma family in a co-creative way. We expect the student to co-produce together with the community members output useful for the community (e.g. a poster with indigenous names of selected plants for the local school). The student will also write a thesis on the topic and contribute to the larger research project.