Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians

Image: Andrés Sandoval


Read the presentation of the newly released book by Pierre Clastres

Better known as the thinker of “Society against the State”, as one of the few anthropologists, if not the only one, who produced a political reflection from the theoretical framework of structuralism – a political reflection that still surprises today for its radicality –, Pierre Clastres ( 1934-1977) was also an outstanding field ethnographer.

This Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians introduces us to the formative experience that underlies the author's broad conceptions of “primitive society”. Privileged formative experience – as the Aché (or Guayaki) were at the time one of the few isolated groups of hunter-gatherers in South America – described in this book through an original literary experiment, where the indigenous voice intersects a narrative flow at every step dominated by free indirect discourse, where the illustration of classic anthropology theses is blended with naturalness and an evocation at the same time lyrical and tragic of the daily life of this people of the forests of Paraguay, and where the omnipresence of the socius as a horizon of meaning, it never masks the irruption of singularity. Clastres thus offers us a fascinating reading chronicle that is at the same time a solid ethnography.

Effectively chronicle, in more than one sense: history of a lived time com the Aché, when they still oscillated between original freedom and genocidal servitude: but history, above all, of the time lived by Aché, with joy and despair, between birth and death.

Admirably rich chronicle from the ethnographic point of view: these are stories where actors and landscape are constantly changing their roles, where animals and plants, rites and techniques, cosmology and ecology share the scene with men and women, parents and brothers-in-law, bosses and pederasts, hunters and cannibals.

For the reader familiar with indigenous societies, this book is a treasure trove of information, allusions and parallels, in which the classic themes of Tupi-Guarani ethnology unfold in multiple modulations, unexpected absences and intriguing exacerbations. For those who had attended until now only the Clastres thinker of the politician, the Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians can be read as a kind of philosophical novel, partly autobiographical, where the author narrates his encounter with what would become the main concrete model of Primitive Society.

And finally, for the reader who simply wants to get an idea of ​​“life as it is” from the point of view of a forest people, here you will find the essential: that there as here, sex, food and death are the substance of which reality is made, but also dreams: and that this same human substance is capable of informing realities and dreams radically different from ours.

*Eduardo Viveiros de Castro is professor of anthropology at the National Museum of UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Inconstancies of the wild soul (Ubu).



Pierre Clastres. Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians: What the Aché, Paraguayan nomadic hunters, know. Translation: Tânia Stolze Lima and Janice Caiafa. São Paulo, Publisher 34, 2020.




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