Sitting Room

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Aché of the Mbaracayu Forest Reserve in Paraguay

I was born in Northeastern Brazil, in the State of Alagoas to be exact and stayed there till I was 20. Then after having spent some months in São Paulo and worked in odd jobs, including digging holes to install telephone and electricity lines in a multinational Swedish factory, I decidied I had had it and then moved on to Paraguay. My purpose when I arrived in this landlocked, South American neighboring country was to serve God - or then I thought - where the need for workers was greater. So I saw myself living with a nice Paraguayan family in the outskirts of Asunción and listening to Paraguayan stories and history.

It was then that I learned about the existence of the Guayaki Indians a word modern-day Paraguayans pronounced with a mix of admiration, hatred and fear. Admiration because the Guayaki were somehow envied for their fierceness and warring spirit. They were seen as the undisputed owners of the Eastern Paraguayan then dense jungles. Hatred because, as they said, the Guayakies were said to kill Paraguayans indiscriminately and for that same reason they were spoken about with fear as if they might jump up from nowhere and slit our throats open.

The year was 1975 / 1976. Paraguayans lived under a brutal dictatorship that I, thanks to the comfort of my ignorance hardly ever noticed, at the time. During the time I was in Asunción, Paraguay found itself in one of its greatest national mission, the march Eastward in order to conquer the empty spaces between Asunción and the International Friendship Bridge that linked Paraguay to Brazil and the Seaport city of Paranaguá. The vast expanse of dense jungle was empty except for trees, swamps, mosquitoes and the Guayaki Indians.

What I did not know was that the Guayakies were beeing killed, wiped out, exterminated, hunted, imprisioned, detained, enslaved and survivors were being separated from their families in order to be taught "integration". As late as 1975, Guayaki Indians were being mudered and bodies were left to float in jungle creeks and rivers. The land taken from the Guayaki was immediately awarded to Paraguayan and foreign speculators who organized huge land companies and sold the land to foreigners mostly Brazilian Gauchos, and Paraná State farmers both big and small including, how-could-I-know, the man who would be my father-in-law as early as 1977.

The brave Guayakies were swept out of their land in order to open Paraguay up for "Progress" in the form of huge land properties soon to be dedicated to cash crops like mint, corn, cotton, violence and as of lately soy beans. The Guayakies saw their land beeing taken away by a people now being called "Braziguayans".

Guayaki is bad word. That is what the modern-day Paraguayans called them and it is a word closely related to garbage. The Guayaki call themselves "Aché" that means "man". The photograph above shows Achés living in the Mbaracayu Forest Reserve in Eastern Paraguay. I also posted the picture of the Norther reaches of Guayaki land, savanna-type land that brings to my mind the Guairá - which is far more that the name of a State (department in Paraguay), but of a lifestyle lone gone that culminated on the Guairá Falls now also long flooded thanks to Brazilian Progress in the form of the Itaipu Dam.

Photo credit to Martin Travel Staff

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