The Guarani: Reclaiming One’s Conditions of Life
By Hwaa Irfan
For some of us, a growing underlying dissatisfaction might manifest, but depending on our level of receptivity to our true selves, if we are blessed, we will recognize that there is something entirely uncomfortable about the way in which we live. If we are blessed further, we will seek out a better way through our actions. For people like the Guarani, despite being dispossessed, they have always held a strong relationship with their traditional way of life. We might never have heard of the Guarani, but some of us would have known of the gruesome film ‘The Mission’, or the health drink Yerba Mate, it is these people particularly the Guarani of Brazil, that is addressed here. The reason being, after being uprooted and left to wander the highway, a community of Guarani have finally reclaimed their conditions for life.
The Guarani marched back to their ancestral land late May 2011, an act that was carried out in state of utter desperation. The Guarani community of Laranjeira Nanderu like many before them had their land stolen from them in the 1960s by cattle ranchers. They reclaimed their land in 2008, and were evicted the following year and to prevent them from ever returning, their land was attacked and burnt down.
“When Brazil was discovered we were a great nation. Today we inhabit the margins of this country with no way to live. Even our survival is in danger as we are being murdered on this land. – Guarani Indian leader Marcal de Souza in 1980, three years before his own murder, addressing the Pope’s visit to Brazil.”
To justify the treatment of Guarani, such adjectives as ‘warriors’ are added to downgrade them in comparison to the ‘peaceful’ indigenous peoples of the U.S., yet whether ‘warriors’ or ‘peacemaker’ both were horrifically treated and relegated to plots of sometimes barren land (reservations) to die on.
Like the gypsies of England, furnished with no alternative the Guarani ended up surviving under tarpaulin sheets, without any amenities whatsoever: clean water, food, medicine or home. Exposed to the unnatural environment they suffered from intense heats, and heavy floods, with the backdrop of heavy trucks thundering past them 24/7.
The state of Mato Grosso Do Sul is in west Brazil where a Guarani Indian reservation exists. Believed to have the highest suicide rate in the world, 160 Guaranis have died between 1990 – 1999, which is a suicide rate 16 times that of the U.S. and 26 times that of Brazil as a whole. Suicide would seem an appropriate cover for a people who would rather die, than live as they do. When Julian Rubenstein explored the problem he came across evidence that states “murder” not suicide. Police photographer Waldemar “Russo” Gonzalez from the nearest city of Dourados, claims to have taken the photos of every suicide within 8 years, and stated unequivocally to Julian Rubenstein, that 90% of the suicides were murders. Yet, the Catholic mission that runs the reservation denies this and put it down to drugs, alcohol etc., activities which are a form of death.
From Colonialism – Neocolonialism
A populous nation, which originated from the tropical forests of Uruguay and the Brazlian plateau, the Guarani-Kaiowa met the Portuguese explorer Pedro Cabral has now been reduced along with their ancestral land to an indigenous Brazilian population of 30,000. The Guarani-Kaiowa once lived by hunting, fishing, and the practice of shifting agriculture, in villages of 4 – 8 communal dwellings each with 100 communal members. 1500 was to mark a very different life from the one they have always known along with their name which we know as Guarani.
The missionaries of the Vatican under the Doctrine of Discovery, the Jesuit priests allowed the Spanish conquistadors to colonize and enslave the Guaranis, giving them ‘protection’ or the opportunity to save the peoples of the earth for God’s mission on earth according to the Vatican. From that time on, the ancestral land of the Guaranis was up for dispute, initially because for the Spaniards, Guarani land would avail an access route to Paraguay and Europe, and superior battle ground against the Portuguese. For the Portuguese, the ancestral land of the Guaranis allowed for expansion into the interior, and perceived mineral wealth, such as the reported wealth of Eldorado.
The Guaranis were forcibly catechized by the Jesuits into settlements, also known as “reductions” or “missions,” with the aim of subjugating them to the regime through a process of Christianization, which in turn would provide a willing labour force for the encomenderos of Assunción. However, some Jesuit Fathers were against the enslavement model. In the 17th century, 520,000 thousands slaves were used to provide labour on sugar plantations, of which 170,000 were Indian, and 350,000 were imported Africans. In the 18th century the number of slaves used were closer to 1,300,000 with 320,000 of those indigenous Indians. Provincial history records 200,000 – 1 million Guaranis were enslaved by the “encomenderos”, and 60,000 by the Jesuits.
When the ‘sovereignty’ of the Vatican was seriously challenged and the Jesuit priests were expelled in the 17th century, the ‘reduced’ Indians were left without a protector and thus began to mobilize. The signing of the Treaty of Madrid (1750), saw further balkanization of ancestral land forming the borders between Brazil and Paraguay in1752.
The descendents of the Gurani remained deep in the forest until the 19th century as increasing incursions into their land was being made. However, southern Mato Grosso do Sul escaped intense colonization until the 20th century providing a refuge for the Guarani until colonialism took on a more economic form we know today through neocolonialism. Exploitative commercial practices began with Yerba Mate tea, the health drink that was to become popular amongst Westerners, which swelled the profit margins of many companies. These companies leased much of the land for production with powers to ‘protect’ that production during the 1920s and ‘30s. Guarani ancestral land was to become increasingly expropriated, and the Guarani were contained via the Indian Protection Service by creating reservations.
With ancestral lands razed to the ground for timber, since 1922, a people have been forced to walk the streets in tatters, making their presence known on someone’s lawn/porch by clapping their hands, out of a desperate need for food if they cannot get underpaid slave work on a plantation, or in a factory.
Meanwhile, for those who have not escaped life on the reservation life is a nightmare.
“My house has been invaded by five hitmen of Ramao Machado at about 12 noon just because I went to watch the new FUNAI delegate’s inauguration. The five men got to my house without saying anything. One of them was already holding his gun in his hand, pulling me ahead without any explanation. They just told me that I should go with them to the captain Ramao Machado’s house. I didn’t owe them or anybody else anything, and being afraid of what they could do with me I didn’t want to die that way. I managed to escape and I had to spend the night in the forest without eating dinner and without shelter while Ramao Machado sends his hitmen to hunt Indians as if they were criminals and the real criminals against Indians are still free today.
Ramao Machado was not chosen by the Indian people. He’s been put in power by FUNAI. During the 13 years he has been captain, the Guarani and Caiowa Indians have suffered himiliation, disrespect, health problems and death as a result of the violence. Ramao Machado has never defended the Indians. He does not even speak any Indian language. This is my testimony.” Teodoro de Souza – 1985.
FUNAI is the federal Indian protection agency, and the Guarani have no love of Ramao Machado who forces their women to work in the fields with little on. Five Guarani chiefs had raised enough awareness to enforce the two captains of the reservation (there are 22 reservations), one being Machado, to expel all white farmers, and remove the role of captain in 1997. However, two days before the resolution was to take effect, Machado’s counter attack was to round up a number of unknown people to vote, and declare him the newly elected leader.
To the evangelical mission that runs the schools and hospitals inside the reservation, Machado can do no wrong.
“He’s been a wonderful leader,” says Benjamin Benedito Bernardes, the head of the Evangelical mission. “The people are much better off. Many of the Guarani just don’t like to work, frankly, but Ramao has shut down the bars and helped to put the emphasis back on the church and the family.”
In other words, Manchado, a reduced Indian, but not a Guarani is helping to maintain the Doctrine of Discovery. With 19 Christian sects competing over the ‘clientelle’ the Guaranis see the churches as invaders. When Rubenstein interviewed the Guarani’s spiritual leader, the paje, referring to the church he said
“They disturbed things in Indians heads.”
When Rubenstein asked for clarification, the paje said:
“I am afraid to say.”
When Rubenstein asked: Is suicide a part of their religion?
The paje replied: “No, it is a recent thing,”
When Rubenstein asked if he thinks the presence of the other religions has led to suicides, everyone standing around answers “Yes.”
Yet, despite this, one can find the Guarani paje, spiritual leader praying everyday:
“We pray for peace. We pray even for your country because we know a world war could start at any time and god could kill everybody. We are all the same.”
The Guarani Way of Life
“The Guarani live in extended family groups and each has its own land called tekohá which refers to the whole space occupied by natural resources: land, rivers, forests and gardens which are integral to sustaining their way of life.” Rosalino Ortiz Ñandeva told Survival International
‘Land is sacred for us Kaiowá. Land is the essence of Kaiowá life for us. Land is the structure of life for us Guarani.”
They call God/Allah by the name of Ñande Ru, and their language, Avañe’e, is one of a group of languages known as Tupi-Guarani as the Guarani-Kaiowa (Kaiowa meaning people of the forest) are indigenous to not only Brazil, but Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Their language is onomatopoeic, replicating the sounds on the forest. Their language is an unwritten language, a language where words are precious, have life force, and are therefore powerful.
An aspect of Guarani spirituality has found itself to the West through New Agers seeking a spiritual high. It is one that quite a few have benefited financially from. Not be confused with Mozarts’ Amadeus, Ama Deus is a shamanic vibrational/energy based healing system that has been used for thousands of years by the Guarani, though the more one hears of it, the less one will know its origin.
From a people who have always lives close to nature, in fact see themselves as a part the cycle of the Laws of Nature, Ama Deus is a way of life for the Guarani. They understand its source is from God/universal single power. ‘God is love’ is a throw away phrase that we will hear now and again, but for the Guarani the word ‘love’ and the word ‘God’ are interchangeable, and that love is the means by which healing takes place, hence the name given to by non-Guarani, Ama Deus, which is Latin for “I live God.” However, very few of the practitioners in the West have learnt this healing system through the Guarani. In a world where the ‘word’ is used to persuade, and manipulate, for the Guarani and many indigenous peoples, the ‘word’ is used to create.
Ñẽ’ẽ ” both for “word” and for “soul”
A word given to a noun expresses the soul of that given, a child’s name is not just a name. A lie or a false promise is incomprehensible to the Guarani, just as in Islam it is better to speak the truth or say nothing. In the Biblical account of creation, In the beginning was the word and the word was God, yet it is people who say they are of this doctrine who brought in existence the Doctrine of Discovery, a Doctrine that is still in practice today, a doctrine that has furnished greed, exploitation, enslavement, the massacre of millions, and millions of lives. The Brazilian Guarani Shaman and Lecturer, Kaka Werá Jecupê wrote:
“(…) In the meantime, the space between idea and attitude have generated human misery. The Word runs through human government without spirit, without fufillment of what is said. Since word and spirit are worlds apart. The voice comes out dead. Nonetheless under heavy makeup in order to give an impression of life. The word signs peace treaties while the hand waives to war. Religion is deaf, because the spirit is dead”
In the Guarani system of healing love has to be felt, not just said. It connects with the ability to sing, and give song to the true creative life force of love. Like the Taino of the Caribbean, the hummingbird is a sacred bird of song to the Guarani that arises out of the Creative Mist, in the Sacred Iguassu Falls.
Now the Guarani have a battle to keep what is theirs, and to reclaim the rest, for without this, the land will be lost in the march to that dictated by the current economic system, a state of being barren.
The Doctrine of Discovery
The Yanomami and the Yew Tree That Fights Cancer
Brazil Signing Away Our Amazonian Legacy
The Banquet of the Spirits Come to an End
Quinoa: The Health Fad that is Starving the Cultivators
The Right to Life and Mother Earth
The People Who Should Not Exist
The Earth Keepers
What Did You Plant Today?