From Indigenous Peoples in Brazil
Photo: Wilson Dias/ABr, 2011

Guarani Kaiowá

Where they are How many
MS 31000 (Funasa, Funai, 2008)
Paraguai 15097 (II Censo Nacional de Poblacion y Viviendas, 2012)
Linguistic family

Three aspects of Guarani life express an identity that gives them a specificity among other indigenous peoples, shaping and creating a “Guarani way of being": a) the ava ñe'ë (ava: Guarani person, man; ñe'ë: a word that is confused with "soul") or speech, language, that defines identity in verbal communication; b) the tamõi (grandfather) or common mythical ancestors and c) the ava reko (teko: "being/essence, state of life, condition, custom, law, habit") or behavior in society, which is sustained through a mythological and ideological framework. These aspects inform the ava (Guarani Man) how to understand experienced situations and the world that surrounds him/her, providing guidelines and reference points for his/her social conduct (Susnik, 1980:12).

There are, however, differences among the Guarani subgroups living in Brazil – the Ñandeva, Kaiowa and Mbya, differences in the linguistic forms, customs, ritual practices, social and political organization, religious orientation, as well as specific forms for interpreting the reality they experience and for interacting according to situations in their history and their present-day circumstances. This entry provides information specifically on the Ñandeva and Kaiowa groups. There is a specific entry on the Mbya Guarani.

Direct contact

Guarani campaign Povo Guarani, Grande Povo - Terra, Vida e Futuro Aty Guasu's Blog Aty Guasu's page on Facebook

Collaborative and bilingual website Teko Arandu -  

Associação de Jovens Indígenas de Dourados (Association of the Indigenous Youth of Dourados)   [in portuguese]

History of contact

Família guarani kaiowa. Foto: acervo Museu do Índio, 1943.
Família guarani kaiowa. Foto: acervo Museu do Índio, 1943.

Archaeological investigations show that Guarani culture originated in the tropical forests of the Upper Paraná and Upper Uruguay basins and the extremities of the southern Brazilian plateau (Schmitz: 1979,57). In the Vth Century (400 years B.C.) this culture is supposed to already have become differentiated from Tupi and was structured with observable characteristics in the 16th Century, much like those of the present day. The same archaeologists suggest that the formation of this culture would have taken approximately a thousand years. The "proto-guarani" populations, which gave rise to the Guarani at the time of the Conquest (1500) and those of the present day (Susnik: 1975), are marked by a history of intense movements within the spaces that they consider appropriate as territories for occupation.

At the time of the arrival of the Europeans, the populations that became known as Guarani occupied a vast region of the coast that extended from Cananéia (São Paulo) to Rio Grande do Sul, penetrating to the interior of the Paraná, Uruguay and Paraguay River basins. From the junction of the Paraná and Paraguay rivers they were spread out along the eastern bank of the Paraguay ando n both banks of the Paraná. The Tietê river, to the north, and the Paraguay to the west, formed the limits of their territories.

Archaeological studies indicate that in the years 1000/1200 A.D., groups of Guarani expanded to the south from regions located in the Brazilian west (headwaters of the Araguaia, Xingu, Arinos, Paraguay river), and occupied territories covering the present-day south of Brazil, north of Argentina and the eastern region of Paraguay (Cf. Smith, 1978; 1975; 1979-80).

After the arrival of the Portuguese and Spaniards in the 16th and until the 18th century, the history of the Guarani was marked by the presence of Jesuit missionaries who sought to catechize them and by the insistence of the "encomenderos" – the “encomienda”, in the Spanish colonial system, allowed the colonizers to enslave the Indians under the official disguise of protection– Spaniards and Portuguese bandeirantes who intended to enslave them.

With the European presence, the Guarani territories were the stage of disputes; the region was strategically important and relevant geopolitically in that historical moment. For the Spaniards, the territories of the Guarani were an access route between Assunción (Paraguay) and Europe; besides that, control over them would facilitate defense against the advance of the Paulistas. For the Portuguese, it represented an area of expansion to the interior of the colony and access to supposed mineral wealth. It was delimited by the vague Treaty of Tordesilhas, which allowed for varying interpretations on the locations of the border. It is worth noting, on the other hand, that the space between Assunción and São Paulo/São Vicente did not afford the mineral wealth idealized by the Iberians in the myth of Eldorado; the only wealth in this part of América was to be had from the Guarani labor force.

In 1603 the governor of Paraguay requested the presence of Jesuit priests for the work of catechizing the indigenous population. Thus, part of the Guarani population was “reduced” (forcibly concentrated) into the "settlements" or missions implanted and administered by the Jesuits. The initiative of “reducing” the Indians sought to submit them to a certain regime, according to a colonial model, in specific spaces known as “reductions” or “missions”, Christianize them and thus facilitate Access to the indigenous labor force for the encomenderos of Assunción. The Jesuit Fathers, however, were against this economic model, for they did not allow their neophytes to be enslaved on the encomiendas, thus undermining “the basis on which the colonial economy was structured and [ placing] in risk the future of the colonists". (cf. Thomaz de Almeida, 1991; Gadelha, 1980; MCA, 1951). From 1608 to 1768 scores of “Jesuit reductions” were formed in the then Paraguayan provinces of Guairá (part of present-day Paraguay, São Paulo and Paraná), Itatin (part of present-day Mato Grosso do Sul and eastern Paraguay), Paraná (part of Paraná and Santa Catarina) and Tapes (part of Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul, Paraguay, north of Argentina).

By the second quarter of the 17th Century, the Paulistas "fretted over the encomenderos who who were approaching the town of São Paulo in order to take Indians" (Belmonte, 1948: 151), and thus they organized themselves into expeditions – the bandeiras – for the purpose of advancing to the west in search of Indians on whom they could prey, a business in which they were unwittingly helped by the Jesuit reductions which served as depositories of Indians, which facilitated their work.

The data on the number of Indians taken prisoner by the bandeiras present widely differing totals, but they reveal considerably high quantities. In 1557 there were approximately "40 thousand hearths" or nearly 200 thousand individuals just in the Paraguayan province of Guairá (cf. Perasso, 16:1987); the reductions of San Ignacio and Nossa Senhora de Loreto on the banks of the Paranapanema and Tibagi rivers, also in Guairá, together provided shelter for nearly 10 thousand ava in 1614 (cf. Gadelha, 1980). Ellis Jr. (1946: 60-70) calculates that 356.720 Indians were taken in slavery in the 16th and 17th centuries. He calculated the total on the basis of the need for slaves in the Northeast, relating this to the utilization of Africans as slaves. For Simonsen (1937), approximately 520 thousand slaves were utilized in sugar production during the 17th century; of these, 350 thousand were Black slaves and 170 thousand Indian slaves. In the 18th Century, reasoning on sugar production data by arrobas, Simonsen concludes that the total number of slaves was on the order of 1,300,000; a fourth part Indians, that is, nearly 320 thousand. For Meliá(1986: 61-2), in the colonial period, there were an estimated 60 thousand Guarani living in the province of Tape, present-day Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and part of Paraná. On Guairá, this author divides the province’s history into three cycles: the “encomenderos”, when from 200 thousand to a million Guarani were enslaved; the “Jesuit period”, nearly 50 thousand souls; and the “bandeirante”, nearly 60 thousand. According to Gadelha (1980: 175), reporting on demographic data from Itatim, in 1688 there were 9,925 individuals left in that province after the bandeirante incursion. The Viscount of Taunay (1951: I, 61), writing on Guairá, reports that “the number if Indians enslaved by the Paulistas exceeded (...) 200,000. Just the attack in 1629 would have cost the freedom of more than 50,000 Indians”. In 1625, still according to this author, the province of Itatim had “more than 4,000 settled Indians and 150 Spanish colonists”. He highlights the fact that the term “Indian” can be uderstood as “índio de flecha”, that is, corresponding to an average family of four people, thus totaling nearly 20 thousand individuals. Sérgio Buarque de Holanda (1945: 29), also writing on Guairá, relates that “no less than seven hundred ‘rafts’, not to mention individual canoes, carrying more than 12 thousand individuals, went down the Paraná by order of Father Montoya”, in order to flee from the bandeirante attacks. Cassiano Ricardo (1970: 93-4) relates that the calculation of historians reaches the sum total of “one hundred thousand Indians from Guairá (...). Varnhagen calculates that no less than three hundred thousand Indians were taken prisoner by the bandeirantes between 1614 and 1639”.

Priests and “reduced” Indians tried in vain to resist the onslaught of the bandeirantes who destroyed Paraguayan villages and ferociously attacked the “Guarani reductions” which had been established in the Paranapanema, Tibagi, Ivaí, Piquiri and Iguaçu basins. Coming from São Paulo via the Tietê and Paranapanema rivers, the bandeirantes continued on, from the junction with the Paraná, to the south, in search of Guarani Indians reduced in the missions of Guairá and Tapes. After seeing the missions of the Provinces of Guairá, Paraná and Tapes devastated by the bandeirantes between 1628 and 1632, the Jesuits founded the mission of Itatin, which was short-lived, located between the Mbotetey, present-day Miranda, River, and the Apa (see Melià et Alii 1976; Susnik 1979-80; Thomaz de Almeida 1991). The presence of the bandeirantes produced a reorganization of spatial occupation at the time, obliging Indians and priests to make forced moves, often fleeing from the Paulista advance to distant places. In view of the persistence of the bandeirante threat, priests and Indians from Itatin – who came to later be recognized as the present-day subroup of Kaiowa Guarani or Paĩ-Tavyterã – moved to the south, crossing, in the second half of the 17th Century the Apa (MS) River, going on to occupy the southern part of present-day Mato Grosso do Sul which they have inhabited until the present-day. The "Province of Guairá" was located between “the Paranapanema, Paraná, Iguaçu rivers and the vague demarcatory line that divided Portuguese and spanish lands, imposed by the Treaty of Tordesilhas, and corresponding in area to approximately 85% of the present territory occupied by the State of Paraná" (Blasi, 1977: 150).

The expulsion of the Jesuits from the region at the beginning of the 17th Century was an important event for the Guarani population because it mobilized the “reduced” Indians, which also had repercussions for those who had not been under the guidance of the priests, thus setting into motion a redimensioning of the colonial reality. It makes some sense to work with the hypothesis that, given their present-day territories, the ancestors of the paĩ-tavyterã or kaiowa were the ancient Guarani peoples of Itatin; the present-day ñandeva would have derived from the peoples of the provinces of Paraná and Guairá (V. Meliá: 1976; Almeida: 1991) and that, due to historical circumstances, they came to settle in the southern part of present-day from the 17th Century on.

With the signing of the Treaty of Madrid (1750) and the demarcation of the border between Brazil and Paraguay in1752, the Guarani re-emerged in a generic information found in the diaries of the demarcatory expeditions. Going up the Iguatemi (Mato Grosso do Sul) River, these diaries relate that "of the nation that is known to inhabit these regions, they are the monteces, (Hill, forest in Spanish) people on foot, who live in the forests, we do not doubt that their dwelling-place is this mountain, and thus we didn’t even suspect their existence until we entered the woods" (Fonseca, 1937: 358). These monteces or caaguá, are thus those Indians who politically were not ‘reduced’, a category referring to a specific historical situation and that serves to designate a way of life as opposed to the way of life that the colony had come to establish” (Melià et alli, 1976: 169).

From then until the end of the 19th Century, there is no information on these Indians. One may suppose that part of the population that had been reduced was incorporated into Paraguayan society and another part into the Brazilian regional population; another part of the colonial Guairá and Itatin Guarani would, with the expulsion of the Jesuits, have been reincorporated to their non-Christianized kin. It is the descendants of these Guarani that we find today and who remained deep in the forests of their territories iuntil the end of the 19th Century. Their location in the forests, and their discrete and fugacious manner kept the Guarani at a distance from the western frontiers that were expanding and that progressively became constant, greater, ande ver more threatening.

The southern part of Mato Grosso do Sul and eastern Paraguay, which are confused today with Kaiowa and Ñandeva territories, remained exempt from intense colonization processes until the beginning of the 20th Century and served as a “refuge” for the Guarani populations under discussion. From the last decade of the 19th Century to the first two decades of the 20th, a large part of the Guarani territories became the target for exploitative production of mate tea, not colonization, which was promoted by large companies which held a monopoly over this product in the region that includes present-day Paraná, Mato Grosso do Sul, the north of Argentina and eastern Paraguay. With powers to prevent the entrance and permanence of colonists or competitors (cf. Thomaz de Almeida, 1991), leasing contributed to keeping the areas under the control of these companies, free from colonists until the 1920s and ‘30s. The forests were to a large extent conserved and in them the Guarani lived.

From the 1920s and more intensely from the 1960s, systematic and effective colonization of Guarani territories began, unleashing a process of systematic expropriation of their lands by the White colonists.

During the time in which the Indian Protection Service (SPI) was active, in 1913, in the area around Bauru (the interior of São Paulo), indigenous reserves were created as a result of the attraction front led by Curt Nimuendaju to attract the Kaingang and Terena and to contain the migratory movements of the Guarani in the direction of the Atlantic coast. After a major epidemic that decimated many indigenous families in Araribá, and unable to attract the Ñandeva families already established on the coast nor to totally prevent the Guarani movements in the direction of the sea, two Indiagenous Posts were created: the Padre Anchieta Post in the village of Itariri Peruibe Post in the village of Bananal, both on the southern coast of São Paulo. In the state of Paraná Kaingang and Guarani indigenous reserves were created, on which a model of agriculture, labor and development totally alien to the indigenous way of being was imposed, based on the policy in effect at that time of integrating the Indians into the surrounding society. Presently, in the south and southeast regions, various regional administrations of the Funai include the Lands of the Guarani and other ethnic groups.


Artesã guarani kaiowa. Foto: Egon Shaden, 1949.
Artesã guarani kaiowa. Foto: Egon Shaden, 1949.

Like other aspects of their traditions of knowledge, names for Guarani subgroups is a difficult question to analyze given the variety of names they can assume. Travellers of the 16th and 17th centuries classified them in a generic way as “Indians of Guarani origin” (Cabeza de Vaca 1971; Azara 1969; MCA, 1952) and presented an enormous list of names used to designate the peoples of this “nation”, which were groups, according to the description of the first colonizers, into small groups or divisions which took on the name of the político-religious leader or even, the name of the place inhabited by the group.

Different “communities” who lived along a river or near water sources and forest could be identified by the same designation, each of them assuming a a particular designation, which is the reason why there is a very great diversity of names given to the Guarani by the colonizers, such as mbiguas, caracara, timbus, tucagues, calchaguis, quiloazaz, carios, itatines, tarcis, bombois, curupaitis, curumais, caaiguas, guaranies, tapes, ciriguanas (cf. Azara, 1969:203).

Writing at the beginning of the last century, Koenigswald (1908) corroborates from different moments and different sources with regard to their behavior of withdrawing or “hiding themselves” in the forests and places of difficult access, keeping their distance from the white man and avoiding contact. Koenigswald’s document presents interesting information with regard to the names which were then used in a generic way, without distinction of subgroups, for these Indians:

“Cayua from Caa = forest and Awa = Man. We find this name in the literature with all sorts of possible spellings, such as Cayua, Caygua, Caaygua, Cayagua, Cagoa, Cayoa, Caygoa, Cayowa, Caingua, Caa-owa, Cahahyba, Cahuahiva, Cabaiva and Ubayha. Few travelers had closer contact with the shy Cayuas. With the withdrawal of the Jesuits (...) whole peoples disappeared, thus we know little more about them than the names of the groups (...) Only in the regions situated deep in the interior, of difficult access, do we find tribes which always remained at a distance from the whites (...) following their ancient customs. (...) The hostile mode and distrust of these hordes against everything foreign has made a deeper study of their way of living more difficult (...)”. (Koenigswald, 1908: 1-2-3).

Ethnographic studies undertaken by Nimuendaju (1912/1954, 1978, 1987), Métraux (1927), Watson (1952) and Schaden (1952/1974) increased our knowledge about these peoples. The specificities of the subgroups referred, as well as linguistic peculiarities and differences in social, political, economic, and religious organization, would be identified.

The non-indigenous population of Paraguay, which speaks the Guarani language, refers to the Guarani by the term ava (Guarani man), which is also used by the Guarani subgroups who live in the country. In Brazil, the terms “paisano” ou “fellow countryman” are also used by the Indians in speaking with the whites, referring to other Guarani. In Mato Grosso do Sul and throughout the southern region of the country, these and other ethnic groups are generically and pejoratively called “bugres”, a term that should be avoided due to its racist connotation.

Guarani in America

Bolívia: guarayos, chiriguanos e izozeños

Paraguai: mbya, ñandeva, paï-tavyterã (kaiowa), ache (guayaki*), guarani-ñandeva (tapieté*)

Argentina: mbya

Brazil: mbya, ñandeva, paï-tavyetrã (kaiowa) * Derogatory designations



The guarani-kaiowa, as they are known in the Brazilian anthropological literature, according to Cadogan (1959), would readily accept the designation paĩ, a title used for the gods who inhabit paradise on speaking to them, but the name which best corresponds to them is tavyterã or paĩ-tavyterã, which mean "inhabitant of the people [village ] of the true future land " (távy-yvy-ete-rã). The ñandeva refer to these paĩ-kaiowa as tembekuára (lip orifice) due to their custom of perforating the lower lip of the younger men during the initiation ceremony when they insert a small plug made of resin in the hole.

The name KAIOWA must derive from KA’A O GUA, that is, those who belong to the high, dense forest, which is indicated by the suffix “o” (large), referring to the present-day Kaiowa Guarani or paĩ-tavyterã. In this way, there would be a difference in relation to the term KA’A GUA, those from the forest without it necessarily being dense or tall, a category in which they would include the present-day Mbya Guarani.

The Ñandeva constitute a Guarani subgroup which is also called Ava-Chiripa or Ava-Guarani (see Schaden, 1974; Nimuendaju, 1978) or even, ava-katu-ete (Bartolomé, 1991). Ñandeva is, according to Schaden:

“the self-designation of all the Guarani. They like to use expressions such as ñandevaekuere (our people), ñandeva ete (it is really our people). Txe Nhandeva ete (I am really Guarani, one of us) and other similar phrases. But it is the only self-designation used by the communities that speak the dialect recorded by Nimuendaju under the name of Apapukuva and that seems to have also been spoken by the Tañigua and several other hordes mentioned by that author. For that reason, I propose that the name Ñandeva be reserved for this subdivision” (1974: 2).

The term ñandeva means “we”, “all of us”. It is, however, the only form used by those who speak the dialect that the ethnographer Curt Nimuendaju surveyed under the name of Apapukuva (cf. Schaden, 1974, 1974:2; Chase-Sardi et alli, 1990; Nimuendaju, 1978), a designation, it seems, that would only apply to a ñandeva set of groups whom Nimuendaju researched at the beginning of the 20th Century, and about which there is no present-day information. The Ñandeva are called by the Mbya, Txiripa’i, “the little Txiripas”.

In the ethnographic literature, these Ñandeva are called Chiripa by Metraux (1948); Susnik (1961) refers to this subgroup as Chiripa Guarani or Ava-Katu-Ete (“truly authentic men”), the latter designation also being used by Bartolomé (1977); Ava Guarani (Guarani man), according to Cadogan (1959), is the self-designation used by them. In Mato Grosso do Sul, they are known as Guarani and in Paraguay as Chiripa, which refers to the garments of their ritual tradition which is typical of them. For the purposes of recognizing the specificity of this subgroup which speaks a Guarani language, it seems to be recommendable to designate them by the term ñandeva, which is what they utilize when they speak their language, allowing them also to strengthen their identity as such.


The Guarani language is spoken by different peoples and in different ways. According to the linguist Aryon Dall'Igna Rodrigues, the Ñandeva, Kaiowa and Mbya speak dialects of the Guarani language which is part of the Tupi-Guarani language family, which in turn is part of the Tupi language trunk. On this list the chiriguano, guarani-ñandeva (Paraguayan Chaco), ache, guarayos and izozeños, inhabitants of Bolívia and Paraguay would also be included. A variant of Guarani is spoken by the non-indigenous population (probably 90%) of Paraguay, a country that is bilingual in Guarani/Spanish.

Taking into account the long distances between the different Guarani subgroups, the differences between their languages are relatively small. In frontier territorial situations, where contact occurs among Guarani subgroups (as is the case of Ocoy and Tekoha Añetete, in Paraná between the Mbya and Ñandeva), or in forced situations of relations of macro-family groups (extended families) of different subgroups in the same area (such as the Kaiowa and Ñandeva of Dourados, Caarapó or Amambai in Mato Grosso do Sul; or the Chiripa and Mbya in Ocoy, PR), one observes attenuating factors in the dialect differences or the emergence of a specific lexicon.

The three subgroups reveal a vigorous energy in keeping their language alive and nothing indicates that this energy is diminishing, even in situations of a high degree of school education and interethnic relations. The language, or better, the word, for the Guarani of the present day has cosmological and religious relevance, representing an important element in the elaboration of ethnic identity.

Localition and Tekoha

Inhabiting the southern region of Mato Grosso do Sul, the Kaiowa villages are distributed over an area that extends to the Apa, Dourados and Ivinhema rivers, to the north, going in a southerly direction, to the Mbarakaju mountains and the tributaries of the Jejui River, in Paraguay, covering approximately 100 kilometeres in its east-west extension, and also about 100 kilometers on both sides of the Amambaí mountain range(which defines the Paraguay-Brazil border), including all the tributaries of the Apa, Dourados, Ivinhema, Amambai rivers and the left bank of the Iguatemi River, which forms the southern border of the Kaiowa territory and the northern border of the Ñandeva territory, besides the Aquidabán (Mberyvo), Ypane, Arroyo, Guasu, Aguaray and Itanarã rivers on the Paraguayan side, covering nearly 40 thousand Km2. The Kaiowa territory to the north borders on Terena land, and to the east and south with the Mbya Guarani and with the Ñandeva Guarani (see. Meliá, 1986: 218). Several Kaiowa families also presently live in villages near the Mbya on the coast of Espírito Santo and Rio de Janeiro.

Present-day Ñandeva territory takes up part of the states of Mato Grosso do Sul and Paraná, extending also into eastern Paraguay. Ñandeva migrations from the beginning of the 20th Century coming from Paraguay crystallized settlements in the state of São Paulo, both in the interior of the state and along the coast, as well as in Santa Catarina, in the interior of Paraná and of Rio Grande do Sul. In Paraguay, they concentrated in the region covering between the Jejui Guasu, Corrientes and Acaray rivers, their neighbors to the south being the mbya , to the north, the paï-kaiowa and to the east, the Aché. The present-day territory of the Ñandeva includes the Jejui Guasu, Corrientes and Acaray rivers, in Paraguay, and, in Brazil, the Iguatemi River and its tributaries, although they are also found in the regions near the juncture of the Iguatemi and the Paraná. Bartolomé (1977) speaks of an “historical habitat" located to the south of the Jejui Guasu, along the upper Paraná and to the south of the Iguasu. There are also Ñandeva settlements in the interior of the states of Paraná and São Paulo, and on the coast of São Paulo.

Tekoha: Guarani territoriality

The Guarani today call the places they inhabit tekoha. Tekoha is thus the physical place – land, forest, field, waters, animals, plants, remedies, etc. – where the teko, or “way of being”, the Guarani state of life, is realized. It encompasses social relations of macro-familial groups who live in and are related in a specific physical space. Ideally this space should include the ka’aguy (forest), a values element of great importance in the lives of these Indians as a source for gathering of foods, raw material for building houses, production of 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. Areas for planting family or collective gardens and the construction of their dwellings and places for religious activities are indispensable in Guarani space.

It must be a place that has the physical (geographical and ecological) and strategic conditions that allow them to create a territorial-religious-political unit on the basis of relations among extended families. Ideally a tekoha, within its limits, should be an area where there is population equilibrium, that offers a good water supply, and cultivable lands for the planting of gardens, areas for the building of houses and the raising of animals. It should contain, above all, forests (ka'aguy) and all of the ecossystem that it represents, such as game animals, rivers good for fishing, raw material for houses and artifacts, fruits for gathering, medicinal plants, etc.

It is necessary to take into account the historical conditions in which the Indians construct their categories, including that of the tekoha. The situation of the different subgroups in the last 40 years in relation to the land demonstrates the need for negotiation of spaces to be demarcated. The lands, though legalized, are reduced in size which is the result of the difficulties of overcoming obstacles created by the non-indigenous society. In comparison with the territories occupied in the past, one can verify a drastic reduction in relation to the very social morphology of the group, with scarce lands and distortions in available family/space relation. In the constitution of a tekoha and in its native conceptualization, the historical factors or neocolonial intervention have been fundamental, for they have interrupted the territorial continuity which the Indians were used to.

The historical situation imposed by contact are typical of the relations between Indians and Whites from the first decades of the 20th Century on, when the State made efforts to territorialize the Indians (Oliveira 1998), confining them to fixed spaces with fixed boundaries. The Brazilian state’s imposition of rules for access and territorial possession, foreign to the specificities of territoriality of the Indians, had important consequences for Guarani spatial organization, their cultural elaborations and on the management of policies of interethnic relations. According to Oliveira, among the most significant factors resulting from territorialization, are the establishment among the Indians of permanent formal roles of mediating with the State and the re-elaboration of the memory of the past.

In the specific case of the Guarani, the plan to settle them led to the formation of control mechanisms and exercises of power that exacerbated the importance of the mburuvixa as political leaders, over which the role of “capitão”[captain] was superimposed, an authority recognized by the tutelary agency [the SPI and Funai] as mediator between the indigenous community and the State. With these changes, the extended families of a certain territorial space, while maintaining the same mechanisms of reciprocity, found it impossible to control conflicts since they could no longer freely move throughout the territory, having become encapsulated in places which they did not consider unchangeable.

Given the conditions of occupation of their territory until then, and given their characteristic feature of referring to places by geographical particularities or by the name of those who live there, there was no need for the Guarani to reflect on exact distances and frontiers in order to delimit the place of a certain number of extended families. Until the arrival of the whites, it wasn’t necessary to formulate measurements; the Guarani lived on the basis of their own custom; they respected and reproduced the rules of the teko (Guarani way of being).

As a result of the presence of the colonizer, the Guarani began to fix their attention on the rules of the whites and to consider spaces as a defined surface, which is expressed by the category of tekoha. In effect, this native category, connoting a territorial space, appears in relatively recent times in the anthropological literature, precisely at the beginning of the 1970s in Paraguay. Since then, the category tekoha has acquired great relevance in the social organization of these Indians, such that it is currently and widely used by the subgroups. Even so, it is inappropriate and restrictive to understand this important native category as a mere projection of a politico-religious unit in a defined geographical space, or think of it as an a-historical category the “essence” of which goes back to pre-Columbian times.

The tekoha has to be considered in light of the contemporary reality that has led the Indians to value it and conceive it in the way they do, with the consciousness that the full recovery of their past territory is an unattainable goal. Thus, beyond seeing the politico-religious aspects as external to the historical conditions of their articulation, it seems appropriate to us to see the tekoha as a result and not as a determining factor, as a continuing process of situational adjustment revolving around the determination of a territorial relation between Indians and Whites. This being so, the tekoha would be a territorial, religious and political unit, that has to be defined by virtue of the effective characteristics – material and immaterial – of access to geographical space by the Guarani.

Seen in this light, the relation between the Guarani and the land takes on another meaning, inscribed in cosmological tradition and in their historicity. By emphasizing the notion of tekoha as a space that guarantees the ideal conditions for putting this relation into effect, the Indians seek to regain and reconstruct ethnically and religiously exclusive territorial spaces based on the umbilical relation they maintain with the earth, at the same time they make flexible and diversify the organization of extended families, thus being able to maintain an articulate and dynamic relation with the more broadened territory, in this case as continuous space.

It is worth highlighting the fact that the osmotic link between the Indians and the land is not generic; thus, there does not exist an abstract relation between undifferentiated Guarani and a likewise undifferentiated place; on the contrary, what is established is a relation between specific extended families that are connected historically to precise places, and that, the interruption in continuity of occupation causes heightened sense of the notion of ancient origin (ymaguare), based on the authocthenous sentiment, and the production (when conditions permit) of a circulating effect, when they seek to maintain themselves as close as possible to the places of their ancestors, moving in circular fashion around them whenever they are expelled or pestered by the whites. The circulation around the places from which for some reason they were pushed away, allows the Guarani to give continuity to the maintenance of cosmic equilibrium, although often in a fragmentary way, which minimally allows for their earthy relation to the world.

Indigenous lands

Aldeia kaiowa. Foto: Egon Shaden, 1949.
Aldeia kaiowa. Foto: Egon Shaden, 1949.

With the creation of the Indian Protection Service (SPI) in 1910, which in 1967 became the National Indian Foundation (Funai), the Brazilian State came to have an agency whose specific task was to execute its policy vis-à-vis the indigenous population of the country. One of the principal measures taken by the SPI was to transfer the 5th Regional Inspectorate, originally in Bauru, to Campo Grande (today Mato Grosso do Sul), for the purpose of assisting “an immense quantity of Caiuá individuals" (a generic term designating both the Kaiowa and the Ñandeva), who lived “scattered throughout the tea plantations, with no fixed residence”, as one employee described (Estigarribia, 1927).

Guided by the perspective of “integrating” the indigenous populations to the Western world, the SPI created eight “reserves” set aside for the Kaiowa and Ñandeva of Mato Grosso do Sul. Ñandeva reserves would also be created in São Paulo and Paraná.

The “village settlements”, already known in the 16th Century and now tempered by a positivist vision, in the 20th Century, became Indigenous Posts, the goal of which was to educate and guide the Indians to working. As was thought at that time, the Indians would progressively “evolve” until they were totally incorporated and assimilated to the Western world. The criteria and choice of the areas where the Indigenous Posts would be established for the Guarani in Mato Grosso do Sul were defined by employees of the SPI since the policy on landholding of the indigenist agency neither respected nor even considered ethnic patterns of living in the traditional habit nor even the territorial conceptions of the Indians. The “village” became an administrative unit, under the control of federal employees (Cf. Report of the Inspectorate, SPI, 1924).

The results were not long in coming. One of the first Directors of the SPI in 1913, wrote that "the prostitution that one notes in such large numbers in the villages established by us, is the consequence of forced settlement, which (brings) to sedentary life (...) men who do not have know-how necessary to live in such a condition" (Magalhães, 1913:142).

Eight areas were demarcated for the Kaiowa and Ñandeva in present-day Mato Grosso do sul. Although they had already been reduced (cf. Correia Filho, 1924), for each one of them had been decreed (between 1915 and 1928) with 3,600 hectares, they suffered further reductions during the demarcation process, several of these being drastic, as a result of agreements made between government agents and regional interests: the Guarani-ñandeva area of the Pirajuy Post, defined by Decree No. 835, of 11.14.1928 with 3,600 hectares, was demarcated, in 1930, with 2,000 hectares.; its ocation was defined by an employee of the SPI in 1927 who chose another area "in the region of Ypehü”, two or three leagues from Pirajuy, set aside for the more than 500 “caiuás, who have no dwellings or are not settled in villages” (cf. Estigarribia, 1927). The Ñandeva community of this place, who called themselves Potrero Guasu, remained there until the 1960s; they were then forced to “settle in villages” on the Pirajuy Indian Post and only regained their lands in 1998 after its identification in 1997.

Thus, since the mid-1920s, there has been a continuous process of expropriation of Guarani lands. In the following decades and up to a few years ago, the Guarani faced the cutting of the forests as the result of the establishment of cattle-ranching companies.

When communities were discovered, they were expelled either immediately or after the utilization of their labor force in the formation of the ranch. The expulsion sometimes came after a series of warnings and threats of the use of force; if these proved ineffective, sinister visits by armed men with occasional beatings and humiliations, confirmed the reality of the ranchers’ intentions. If there was resistance, the ranchers proceeded to forcibly expel them: individuals who not uncommonly were armed, constrained and forced men, women and children into the trucks that would then take them to regions nearby some Indigenous Post or just leave them on the highway.

In Mato Grosso do Sul, notwithstanding the practice of confining them in spaces established by the state, numerous macro-family groups made efforts to stay in the areas of forests – not uncommonly in areas behind the ranches, which tolerated their presence. The deforestation that took place in the 1970s forced the Indians of the reserves, considered by the government Indian agency as “unsettled Indians” to be constantly on the move, fleeing from ecologically destroyed areas and the hostility of the whites. At the end of that decade, since the forests where they could maintain themselves isolated were by then scarce, it was no longer possible to avoid direct conflicts with the whites who wanted to expel them and force them to go to the areas of the Indigenous Posts, which led Ñandeva e Kaiowa to organize themselves and make claims on the territorial spaces they had lost. All this led the Guarani of Mato Grosso do Sul to make an inevitable reflection on their territorial conditions and to dedicate themselves to culturally elaborating their conditions in the present by constructing relations with the past through the organization of the memory of various macro-family groups and the perception of the spaces which these groups had occupied over time, reinforcing their own sense of belonging to the land.

The result of that process were the land claims of the Guarani of Mato Grosso do Sul which they defended with great emphasis over the last few decades. These claims are precise in the sense of demonstrating the direct connection between extended families and specific territorial spaces. In this sense, one can say that, above all, the tekoha claimed represent the sum total of spaces of traditional occupation under the jurisdiction of given extended families where community political relations are established and based on these inter-community tiés within a wider region are established.

Thus, from 1977 until now, one can see an unyielding disposition on the part of the Paï-kaiowa and Ñandeva of Mato Grosso do Sul to guarantee their lands, not only struggling against leaving their traditional lands where they are today, but also becoming mobilized from where they are, to recover the lands from which they were forcibly expelled in the past. Not all the areas are occupied in their totality nor are all definitively legalized; there are many pending legal processes, some that have been dragging on for years. Since the late ‘70s, 16 tekoha have been recovered, totaling 24 areas occupied by Guarani, surpassing the eight Indigenous Posts which existed until then.

This has been a hotly debated process, which has demanded numerous and highly sophisticated articulations between communities, administrations, and pressures on the federal government, expulsions and regaining of lands, numerous legal processes and much perseverance, patience, political skill and diplomacy of the part of the Indians who have, however, advanced considerably in their ways of organizing themselves to guarantee the lands over which they have rights. With the opening of these new areas, one observes positive impacts, such as a decrease in the number of families on several Indigenous Posts which before were densely settled.


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.

Social organization

Liderança guarani ñandeva com Ailton Krenak na Terra Indígena Itariri (Serra do Itatins). Foto: acervo do ISA (sem autor), 1984.
Liderança guarani ñandeva com Ailton Krenak na Terra Indígena Itariri (Serra do Itatins). Foto: acervo do ISA (sem autor), 1984.

The basis of the Guarani social, political, and economic organization is the extended family, that is, macro-family groups which retain forms of spatial organization within the tekoha determined by relations of affinity and consanguinety. It is comprised of the married couple, children, daughters’ husbands, grandchildren, brothers, and constitutes a unit of production and consumption.

There is a leader for each extended family, as a condition of its very existence, and which generally is a man who is called Tamõi (grandfather), although it is not uncommon to find a female extended family leader who is called (grandmother) – in this case, there is a greater incidence among the Ñandeva. The family group brings kin together and guides them politically and religiously. It is up to them also to make decisions about the space that the groups occupy in the tekoha and where the nuclear families (parents and children) belonging to its family group build their dwellings, plant their gardens and utilize the natural resources available. The nuclear families today live in isolated dwellings dispersed over the area available in the tekoha, yet, their reference point is the house of the tamõi or jari. His/her house is a centralizing place around which the whole family moves, where people meet and where there is an altar (mba’e marangatu) for the jeroky, which are sacred rituals practiced in daily life.

Men marry between 16 and 18 years of age, while the women can marry after the second or third menstruation, generally between 14 and 17 years of age. At first menstruation, the girls have their hair cut and keep restrictions within their houses, where they receive food and from whence they rarely leave for several weeks. There is no specific marriage ritual, it being left to the parents of the boy, in the traditional Guarani way, to take the initiative to speak to the parents of the girl about the marriage. It is expected, however, that the betrothed are apt for building and maintaining a house and children.

There is a clear sexual division of labor and economic functions in the daily dynamic of the Guarani, and it is effectively very difficult to find a man or woman unable to perform productive functions in this day-to-day rhythm.

There is a tendency in the Indian tradition for newly-wed to live uxorilocally, that is, they follow the residence pattern in which, after marriage, the couple goes to live in the house of the wife’s father, and the husband gives political and economic support to his wife’s father, thus being absorbed by the macro-family group. Today, the political and economic weight of the families involved contributes to the choice of a newly-weds’ residence.

The spouses must belong to different extended families, since there are explicit rules prohibiting marriage among those who are considered to be members of the same family, which means rules of exogamy, but there are no prescriptive rules that regulate with whom one should marry. An illicit union – incest – has implications in the field of myth, for it causes Mbora'u (bad omens). In the same sense, the Kaiowa refer to polygamy, insisting on its prohibition, and their difference from the Ñandeva, where a greater incidence of men married to more than one woman is verified.

O parentesco guarani é um sistema de linhagens de descendência cognática, isto é, há um ascendente comum, o tamõi (avô) ou a jari (avó), que é a referência das relações familiares e dos quais consideram-se descendentes. A importância das redes de parentesco é realçada em qualquer situação guarani. Mesmo separações físicas não provocam a perda de vínculos dos que estão longe, sempre lembrados nas conversas do cotidiano, afora padrões de visitação (oguata ou caminhar) e comunicação que mantêm os parentes constantemente informados entre si.

Guarani kinship is a system of cognatic lineages, that is, there is a common ancestor, the tamõi (grandfather) or the jari (grandmother), who is the reference for family relations who all consider themselves descendants of that person. The importance of kinship networks is highlighted in any Guarani situation. Even physical separations do not mean the loss of ties with people who are far away, but are always remembered in daily conversations, outside visiting patterns (oguata or traveling) and communication through which kin constantly are informed about each other.


The Guarani are extremely skilled in political questions relevant to their interests. Each tekoha is led by a chief, “captain” or “cacique”, non-indigenous categories used to designate the one who will lead the political order of the community in its relations with the western world, mainly with the Brazilian state – in traditional speech the word used is tamõi, mentioned above, to designate the political chief, mboruvixa. His/her function, in effect, includes the family group that he/she leads as political representative, his or her power being relative to the autonomy of the extended families. There is no centralizing and totalizing power. Given the great autonomy of the macro-family groups, only in specific moments, when the group faces problems that affect everyone, it happens that the Guarani tekoha reveals itself to be a totality and demands the presence of a “captain". Depending, however, on the local or regional situation, or even the subgroup, the political organization of the community will vary (tekoha).

Varying political compositions, specific to each locality, are established in these terms, to the extent that agents are inter-related with local political forces, such as family groups, leaders, prestigious people, etc.

Mythology and rituals

Festa Avati Kyry - Batismo do milho entre os Kaiowa na aldeia Takwapiry. À frente, os instrumentos femininos takuapu e os mbaraka masculinos. Foto: Rubem T. de Almeida, 1978.
Festa Avati Kyry - Batismo do milho entre os Kaiowa na aldeia Takwapiry. À frente, os instrumentos femininos takuapu e os mbaraka masculinos. Foto: Rubem T. de Almeida, 1978.


The Guarani relate that the process of creation of the world began with Ñande Ramõi Jusu Papa or “Our Eternal Great Grandfather”, who constituted his own being from Jasuka, a primordial, vital substance with creative qualities. It was he who created the other divine beings and his wife, Ñande Jari or “Our Grandmother”, who was raised from the center of his jeguaka (a kind of crown that covers, as ornament, the forehead and head), ritual adornment. He also created the land that, at that time, took the shape of a ring, extending it to its present shape; he also raised the sky and the forests. He lived on the earth for a short time, before it was inhabited by men, leaving it, without dying, because of a misunderstanding with his wife. Overcome by deep anger caused by jealousies, he almost destroyed his own creation which was the earth, but he was prevented from doing so by Ñande Jari who chanted the first sacred song performed over the earth, and was accompanied by the takuapu: a female instrument, made of taquara bamboo, about 1.10meters long, which is pounded on the ground producing a deaf sound – thud - that accompanies the male Mbaraka, a specific kind of rattle and seeds.

Festa Avati Kyry - Batismo do milho entre os Kaiowa na aldeia Takwapiry. Foto: Rubem T. de Almeida, 1978.
Festa Avati Kyry - Batismo do milho entre os Kaiowa na aldeia Takwapiry. Foto: Rubem T. de Almeida, 1978.

The son of Ñande Ramõi, that is Ñande Ru Paven (“Our Father of All”) and his wife Ñande Sy (“Our Mother”), were responsible for the political division of the land and the settling of different peoples in their respective territories, creating mountains to delimit Guarani territory. Ñande Ru Paven stole fire from the crows and gave it to men; he created the sacred flute (mimby apyka) and tobacco (petÿ) for the rituals and was the first to die on the earth. Like his father, he decided to abandon the earth as a result of a misunderstanding with his wife who was pregnant with twins. The myth of the twins is one of the most told and widespread throughout South America. Pa’i Kuara is the grandson of Ñane Ramõi. After many adventures on the earth, he is given the responsibility of taking care of the sun, as well as of his brother, Jacy, who would take care of the moon.



Festa Avati Kyry - Batismo do milho entre os Kaiowa na aldeia Takwapiry. Foto: Rubem T. de Almeida, 1978.
Festa Avati Kyry - Batismo do milho entre os Kaiowa na aldeia Takwapiry. Foto: Rubem T. de Almeida, 1978.

Thus, Ñande Sy left in search of her husband and often asked for her son, who had still not been born, which way was to be followed. Pa’i Kuara even indicated the wrong way to his mother who had denied him a flower that he wanted to play with along the way. Ñande Sy came to the dwelling of the Jaguarete or “the truly savage beings” (who are the jaguars). The grandfather of these ferocious beings tried in vain to save his wife’s life. Their children, on coming back hungry from a hunting expedition that had failed, killed Ñande Sy, leaving only the small twins alive. These twins, after they grew up, met up with the “good-speaking parrot” (parakau ñe’ëngatu) who told them of their mother’s death. They decided to take vengeance. Pa’i Kuara and his younger brother Jasy prepared a trap in which all the jaguarete died, except for one who was pregnant, which is why the jaguarete (jaguars) remain in the world.

Pa'i Kuara and Jasy went through numerous adventures on the earth until the Pa’i Kuara decided to go to the skies in search of his father. His preparation for that consisted of fasting, dancing, and praying until he felt sufficiently light to be able to arise. He then shot a series of arrows, one after another, until he was able to make a way to the skies, where he entered through an opening made by his arrows. His father Ñande Ru Pavë recognized him as his real son, and delivered him up to the Sun to take care of him.

The Paï consider themselves to be direct descendants, as grandchildren, of Pa’i Kuara, the divine being to whom they refer most in their myths and to whom they most systematically address themselves at times of need or sickness.

Cerimônia religiosa entre os Kaiowa. Foto: Egon Shaden, 1949.
Cerimônia religiosa entre os Kaiowa. Foto: Egon Shaden, 1949.

Outside of the classic mythology and considering the creation of the world up to the departure of Pa’i Kuara to the heavens, the Guarani have innumerable stories and myths the heroes of which are animals. They have also created a mythology in which the events of the last 200 years are narrated. The myths of Kasíke Guaira and Kasíke Paragua, for example, are interpretations of conflicts and wars with Brazilians and Paraguayans who occupied their territories.

Other important divine figures are the four “caretakers of the souls of men”, located in one of the seven heavens and in the four cardinal directions; besides them, there are beings that take care of the waters, the animals, the plants and other, highlight being given to Jakaira, responsible for the fertility of the gardens.


Guarani religious activities are frequent, including chanting, praying and dances that, depending on the place, the situation and the circumstances, are held daily, beginning at nightfall and going on for several hours. The rituals are led by the ñanderu who are religious leaders and guides; they think of the ongoing necessities such as harvesting, lack or excess of rain.

Among the Kaiowa, the outstanding ceremonies include the avati kyry (new, green corn) and the mitã pepy or kunumi pepy (held in various communities in Paraguay; in Brazil, one community celebrates it). The first is celebrated at the time of the new plants (February, March) and has the avati morotĩ (white corn), a sacred plant that controls their agricultural and religious calendar, as its principal reference. Weeks of work and involvement of many families to prepare kãguy or chicha and the place for the ceremony, precede its realization. Kãguy is a fermented beverage, made, in these ceremonies, with white corn (but also with manioc, sweet potato or sugar cane) and prepared by the women.

The ceremony in itself, guided by a religious leader, begins at sundown and ends at dawn on the following day. This shaman must know the mborahéi puku or “long song”, the verses of which, not repeated, cannot be interrupted after the ceremony has begun. Each verse chanted by the ñanderu is repeated by the community, always accompanied by the mbaraka made and used by the men and the takuapu used by women. At dawn, having finished the mborahéi puku (long song), there is the baptism of the harvest (manioc, sugar cane, pumpkin, sweet potato, corn etc.), which has remained on the altar. On the following night the ceremony of avati kyry continues with songs and secular dances, the kotyhu and the guahu, performed by the whole community and by many visitors who participate in the ceremony.

Besides these rituals, there are the ceremonies of mitãmongarai, occasions when Guarani priests bring children together for baptism, when they receive tera ka’aguy (forest name) or Guarani names.


Kaiowa entre instrumentos tradicionais guarani e uma cruz do cristianismo. Foto: Egon Shaden, 1949.
Kaiowa entre instrumentos tradicionais guarani e uma cruz do cristianismo. Foto: Egon Shaden, 1949.

It is also in Mato Grosso do Sul, among the kaiowa and ñandeva Guarani, where most missionary work is done, a traditional practice among Brazilian Indians. There are protestant evangelical missions (since 1928), methodist missions (1978), German fundamentalist missions (1968), all with a traditional evangelical slant. More recently, charismatic Pentecostal denominations have proliferated in many Guarani areas in that state. The Catholic church works in the area through the Indigenist Missionary Council (1978).

Productive activities

Mulher kaiowa fiando algodão. Foto: Egon Shaden, 1949.
Mulher kaiowa fiando algodão. Foto: Egon Shaden, 1949.

Agriculture is the principal economic activity of the Guarani, but they like hunting and fishing, and do so whenever possible. Theirs is a subsistence economy, marked by the distribution and redistribution of goods produced and in which economic relations of production, whatever the activity, are organized by social links defined by kinship. The gardens are the “property” (exclusive use) of the elementary family, after the birth of the couple’s children, and it is they who consume its products, which does not exclude the distribution of produced or acquired goods, work done in the gardens of the wife’s father, and the realization of collective work parties among the macro-family groups.

The sizes of the gardens are relatively reduced. They do not surpass 1.5 to 6 hectares per family unit. All family members participate in its production – according to a sexual division of labor – with duties and activities that are appropriate for each one. They plant corn (avati morotĩ and avati tupi), manioc (mandi’o), sweet potato (jety), sugarcane (takuare’e), pumpkin, (andai), papaya, oranges, bananas (pakova), peanuts (manduvi), urucu (yruku), various types of treebeans (kumanda), rice, beans, and other products set aside for family consumption and species used as remedies (pohã ñana). Guarani survival has been and is guaranteed by these gardens, the basis of their economy, even with the possibilities which have arisen from contact, in relation to the “changa”, or in relation to modern technology. Only one variety of corn, the avati tupi (yellow corn) is planted for commercialization. This variety is different from avati morotĩ (White corn), which is considered a sacred plant that should not be used for commerce, but which is a determining element in the annual ceremonies of the avati kyry, which is the baptism of corn and the new plants.

It’s up to the women to grind the corn and prepare chicha [fermented beverage], and make chipa, a kind of corn cake. The is a great variety of types and ways of preparing corn: they produce avatiku’i (corn flour), hu’ikyra (corn flour with fat), hu’i rovaja (corn flour with manioc, cooked in a pot without plant leaves), chipa mbixi (cooked over the fire, wrapped in plant leaves, generally banana), mbeju (corn flour mashed in the pot), avati mbixi (roasted green corn), chipa kukui (from white corn, chipa guasu), chipa perõ (roasted corn handshaped into cakes that wlater will be soaked in hot water), chipa jetyiru (corn mixed with sweet potato, like chipa perõ), mbaipy (corn porridge), kãguyjy miri (corn scraped and heated with water), avati pororo (popcorn). The same occurs with manioc, which, despite its not being a sacred plant, is also highly appreciated by the Guarani and is always present in their meals. They prepare manioc in different ways such as pirekai (roasted manioc), pireti (husked roasted manioc), mandi’o mimoi (cooked manioc), karaku (manioc beverage). Besides that, the sweet potato (jety) and sugarcane are also present in various forms; the four products are much appreciated in the preparation of kãguy or chicha, a fermented beverage which is highly appreciated and which is consumed in great quantities in their social festivals and religious ceremonies.

Natural resource management

Their traditional knowledge endows the Guarani with a sharpened sense of dealing with available spaces, even under adverse conditions as in the cases of the campsites where they claim the complete occupation of their tekoha, as we have seen above, in such a way as to make maximum use of the available area. They practice what western agronomists call an agroforestry system, in which they combine hunting, fishing, gathering and agricultural activities in an interconnected way; related to this technique, they observe the fallow (the regeneration of cultivated land). According to the Agroforestry Manual for Amazônia (1996:18), the Agroforestry system is a “form of land use and management, in which trees or bushes are used in association with agricultural plants and/or with animals, in the same area, in a simultaneous way or in a temporal sequence”. Another aspect which has been observed and highlighted by agronomists that come in contact with these Indians is their capacity to take care of and maintain native seeds. In effect, they possess “a bank of live germoplasm” (Spyer, 1996:19), which to a great degree contributes to the maintenance of diversity. In this sense, for each plant that they know of, they have seeds of different varieties of corn, manioc, beans, sweet potato, and many other plants, which makes the introduction and the fomentation of hybrid species indispensable. The traditional seeds, among which are included medicinal plants and those for the making of utensils (gourds, for example) are thus always found. The Indians know the people who have the seeds they desire, know where they are and they go to them when they need seeds or seedlings. In effect, trading of seeds, plants, seedlings, remedies is part of daily life and is a frequent topic of conversations on the subject.

With the closeness of contact situations and the various situations of scarcity of lands available due to the overpopulation in several areas, the Ñandeva and Kaiowa are forced to work on the regional market. If, up to a few years ago, there was a demand for Indian labor on the ranches that were forming, today this activity has become less intense above all to the extent that the ranches that were established today used mechanized agriculture or, on the other hand, the spaces were transformed into lands that have diminished the offer of work as a result of mechanization, which occurs mainly in Mato Grosso do sul, where the problem is very serious. Lately, the Kaiowa and Ñandeva have been hired by alcohol-producing plants far from their communities, where the men stay for weeks working far from their families.

Sources of information

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  • ALCARAZ LOPEZ, Gloria Margarita. A fecundidade entre os Guarani : um legado de Kunhankarai. Rio de Janeiro : ENSP, 2000. 217 p. (Tese de Doutorado)
  • ALMEIDA, Rubem Ferreira Thomaz de. O caso Guarani : o que dizem os vivos sobre os que se matam? In: RICARDO, Carlos Alberto (Ed.). Povos Indígenas no Brasil : 1991/1995. São Paulo : Instituto Socioambiental, 1996. p. 725-8.
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Publicado originalmente no Boletim n.227, Antropologia n.5, FFCL/USP, São Paulo, 1959.

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Publicado também no Boletín IWGIA n. 2, set./out. 1991, p. 21-4.

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  • Guarani Roguata <>