Brazil's Guarani suffer at the hands of violent ranchers
For the Guarani, land is the origin of all life. But violent invasions by ranchers have devastated their territory and nearly all of their land has been stolen.
Guarani children starve and their leaders have been assassinated. Hundreds of Guarani men, women and children have committed suicide.
The Guarani were one of the first peoples contacted after Europeans arrived in South America around 500 years ago.
In Brazil, there are today around 46,000 Guarani living in seven states, making them the country’s most numerous tribe. Many others live in neighbouring Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina.
The Guarani people in Brazil are divided into three groups: Kaiowá, Ñandeva and M’byá, of which the largest is the Kaiowá which means ‘forest people’.
|Guarani children work on the sugar cane fields which now cover much of their people’s ancestral lands in Mato Grosso do Sul state|
They are a deeply spiritual people. Most communities have a prayer house, and a religious leader, whose authority is based on prestige rather than formal power.
The ‘land without evil’
For as long as they can remember, the Guarani have been searching – searching for a place revealed to them by their ancestors where people live free from pain and suffering, which they call ‘the land without evil’.
Over hundreds of years, the Guarani have travelled vast distances in search of this land.
One 16th century chronicler noted their ‘constant desire to seek new lands, in which they imagine they will find immortality and perpetual ease’.
This permanent quest is indicative of the unique character of the Guarani, a ‘difference’ about them which has often been noted by outsiders.
Today, this manifests itself in a more tragic way: profoundly affected by the loss of almost all their land in the last century, the Guarani suffer a wave of suicide unequalled in South America.
The problems are especially acute in Mato Grosso do Sul where the Guarani once occupied a homeland of forests and plains totaling some 350,000 square kilometers.
Today they are squeezed onto tiny patches of land surrounded by cattle ranches and vast fields of soya and sugar cane. Some have no land at all, and live camped by roadsides.