Foto: Wilson Dias/ABr, 2011

Guarani Kaiowá

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

    MS31.000 (Funasa, Funai, 2008)
    Paraguai15.097 (II Censo Nacional de Poblacion y Viviendas, 2012)
  • Linguistic family

Social organization


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.