Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians

CHRONICLE OF THE GUAYAKI INDIANS is a description of the conditions of a tribe of primitives in their last days. In addition to personal observations, the author draws on stories told to him by the natives, as well as European documents from as far back as the sixteenth century.

The narrative begins with a description of Guayaki birth rites and initiation ceremonies into adulthood, for both boys and girls. There is clearly a preference for boys, who will become the hunters, and provide for the tribe. The Guayaki are hunters and nomads, and almost all of their nutrition comes from meat.

The Guayaki were held in contempt by the European conquerors, who often enslaved them, especially carrying away the children. In 1959, after centuries of resistance, the natives finally surrendered to the white men, and when Clastres arrived in 1963, they were living in Arroyo Moroti, a sort of reservation under white domination.

The spiritual beliefs of the Guayaki are very difficult for a person of European background to understand. Both natural death and homicide are avenged by the killing of others, usually children, most often little girls. The dead are eaten to prevent their spirits from inhabiting and sickening the living, although this practice must be hidden from white people.

This book is a fascinating, though sometimes confusing, look at a people and a lifestyle very different from those with which readers are more familiar. The author takes great pains to emphasize that their ways are as legitimate as any. Clastres appears to justify infanticide and cannibalism on the basis that it is their way of doing things. This may be a sort of defense against the tendency to look down upon other people as “savages”; it is hardly a case of scientific objectivity.