The Guarani were one of the first peoples contacted after Europeans arrived in South America around 500 years ago. In Brazil, there are today around 51,000 Guarani living in seven states, making them the country’s most numerous tribe. Many others live in neighboring Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina. The Guarani language is spoken by different people and in different ways.
The Guarani people in Brazil alone are divided into 3 groups; Kaiowa, Nandeva and M’bya, of which the largest is the Kaiwoa which means “forest people”. There are also sub-group differences in the customs, ritual practices, social and political organisation as well as specific forms for interpreting the reality they experience and for interacting according to situations in their history and present day circumstances.
The Guarani today call the places they inhabit “Tekoha”. Tech is the physical place - land, forest, field, waters, animals, plants, remedies etc - where the “teko” or “way of being” is realised. It encompasses social relations of family groups who live in are related in a specific physical space. Ideally this space should include the ka’aguy (forest), an element of great importance to the Indians as it is the source of gathering foods, raw materials for constructing houses, utensils, firewood, remedies etc. The ka’aguy is also an important element in the construction of cosmology, being the scene for mythological narratives and the dwelling of numerous spirits.
Agriculture & Subsistance
Traditionally, agriculture has been the principal production activity for the Guarani supported by hunting and fishing whenever possible. A substance economy, marked by the distribution of goods between causal groups / families. Gardens do not surpass 6 hectares per group and all family participate in its production. Cultivating corn, manioc, sweet potato, sugar cane and a wide array of fruits. Guarani survival has been and is guaranteed by these gardens as the basis of their economy.
However the destruction of their forest and invasion from the ranches means there is barely enough land to even plant crops. Hunting and fishing is no longer possible and malnutrition is a serious problem. Some Guarani land is worse off than others with the state of Mato Grosso do Sul being a prime example. Waves of deforestation have converted the once fertile Guarani homeland into a vast network of cattle ranches and sugar cane plantations for Brazil’s biofuels market. Many of the Guarani were herded into small reservations, which are now chronically overcrowded. In the Dourados reserve, for example, 12,000 Indians are living on little more than 3000 hectares.
Many Guarani groups have attempted to recover small parcels of their ancestral land. These “re-takings” have been violently resisted by the powerful and ruthless farmers as they employ gunmen to defend “their” properties. Fighting daily battles against the bigger powers, the Guarani are struggling and their voice needs to be heard.
The Spirit World
Three aspects of Guarani life express a specific identity among other indigenous peoples, shaping and creating a “Guarani way of being”; a) “ava” man or speech that defines identity in verbal communication b) “tamoi” grandfather or mythical ancestors c) “avo reko” a state of life / being or behaviour in society sustained through a mythological and ideological framework. The Guarani have innumerable stories and myths where animals are the heroes they have also created a mythology where the last 200 years are narrated. Ritual activities are frequent, including chanting, praying and dancing that depending on the place and situation begin at nightfall and go on or several hours. The rituals are led by the “nanderu” who are leaders and guides; they think of the ongoing necessities such as harvesting and environmental cycles.
They are deeply spiritually people and land is the origin of all life. However, since the 1920’s in Brazil the Guarani have suffered violent invasions by ranchers who have devastated their territory and nearly all their land has been stolen. Today they are squeezed onto tiny patches of land surrounded by cattle ranches and vast fields of soya and sugar cane. Some have no land at all an live camped by roadsides. Guarani children starve and their leaders have been assassinated. The Guarani suffer a wave of suicide unequalled in South America.
Information Referenced from the Instituto Socioambiental | Povos Indígenas no Brazil and Survival International
Date accessed 01.04.15
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