Foto: Wilson Dias/ABr, 2011

Guarani Kaiowá

  • Other names
    Pai-Tavyterã, Tembekuára
  • Where they are How many

    MS31.000 (Funasa, Funai, 2008)
    Paraguai12.964 (II Censo Nacional Indígena, 2002)
  • Linguistic family


The Guarani have never organized themselves in territorial space in a homogeneous way, structured in circular or semicircular “villages”, or in rows of houses as Western man has imagined them to be. The contemporary ava are, as they always have been, settled in community nuclei comprised ideally of 3-5 macro-family groupings which constitute autonomous divisions that they call today, tekoha. There are in Brazil nearly 85 officially recognized Guarani areas, outside of scores of others about whom we have greater or lesser information. The Guarani in Brazil, as we shall se later on, face serious landholding problems.

Among these tekoha and throughout Guarani territory, the most diverse forms of spatial movements guided by family relations occur. This constant traveling (oguata) can represent visits, moves, passing through, marriages, etc., and because of its continuous nature and dynamics, it greatly increases the difficulty of doing a census applied with a non-specific methodology, and which can provide effectively reliable data on the number of the Guarani population (which would be a major task). Thus, totals on the Guarani population will always be approximate. This movement, however, should not be confused with migration or “nomadism”.

Despite the lack of more accurate demographic research or new censuses, there are indications, from samples of areas where it was possible to do a well-applied census, that the Guarani have high fertility rates and population growth. In Brazil, taking as a base, as always, approximate calculations, there are approximately 51.000 individuals, of whom 31.000 are Kaiowa, 13.000 Ñandeva and 7.000 Mbya, located principally in Mato Grosso do Sul. In Argentina the Guarani population is almost exclusively Mbya and is concentrated in the province of Misiones with a total of around 5.500 people. The present-day Mbya population, according to this projection, would be around 27.380 people. Each subgroup and each region within the Guarani territories nevertheless presents specificities in terms of their demographic situation or in the relation between the space available for a given community and the extent of existing land.

Most of the eight Guarani Indigenous Posts in Mato Grosso do Sul, which correspond to a set of eight areas that were demarcated between 1915 and 1928 by the Indian Protection Service (SPI, official indigenist agency, which functioned from 1910 to 1967), present very high indices of demographic density, which ostensively characterize situations of overpopulation which have disastrous consequences for the Indians. The significant population increase – not growth relative to births – observed in these areas is due fundamentally to the systematic territorial restrictions practiced by the colonial fronts with the acquiescence of an official indigenist policy marked by the “integration of the Indians to Brazilian society” (in this regard, see the item “territory”).

Between 1910 and 2000 intervention by the Brazilian State revolved around the creation of “village settlements” (in the image of, and similar to the missionary village settlements of the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries) or reduced areas reserved for the Guarani population which was considered “dispersed”; with this policy the ethnic patterns of territorial occupation were completely ignored. Data from the SPI/FUNAI indicate that between 1924 and 1984 the population of these administrative units increased in spurts; at certain moments of this period, groups of families are forcibly taken to the reserves. There is evidence, at the same time, of a greater incidence of evictions and expulsions of Guarani families from their lands by White colonists who came to occupy them and to build farms. In most of these cases, however, these actions were not successful, since the Ñandeva and Kaiowa persisted in their patterns of spatial distribution and territorial mobility, even though they were obliged to consider the limits imposed by colonial intervention.