There are many steps that a TI (Terra Indígena – Indigenous Territory) has to overcome in Brazil in order to be fully recognized by the government, but they can broadly be summarized as follows: After an anthropological study, the TI is identified by FUNAI (Indian National Foundation). Secondly, the TI needs to be declared by the Ministry of Justice. The last stage is its homologation by the President of Brazil.

It usually takes many years and even decades for that to be completed, if it ever is. In the Brazilian constitution, dating from 1988, the government committed itself to legalizing all Indigenous lands in Brazil in five years, but three decades have elapsed and many Indigenous groups wait to have their land claims met, especially in Southern Brazil.

TIs may be large or small, and most of them are located in the Amazon. Few people realize that 40% of Indigenous people live outside the Amazon, many of them in Southern Brazil. The mainstream media plays a key role to manipulate public opinion in order to hold that idea, favoring the financial goals of corporations that farm and exploit the resources in the region. All Guarani groups live in Southern Brazil and neighboring countries.

Most Guarani people portrayed in the exhibition “Guardians of Life Diversity” live in TIs that are not fully recognized by the Brazilian government.


The original inhabitants of the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans were as diverse as peoples in any other continent of the planet. Social structure, belief systems, languages, were all part of that great diversity. Despite centuries of ethnocide, part of that diversity is holding strong to this day.

The Tupi Guarani family (or just Tupi family, for short) is one of the ethnic and linguistic families in South America, which spreads from the Guianas to Argentina and is made up of more than fifty different groups, with their respective languages and distinct cultural traits.

The different groups in this family can roughly be divided in Tupi in the North and Guarani in the South. The Tupi groups reach as far north as Colombia and the French Guiana, and occupy vast areas in the Amazon. When the Europeans first arrived, they also occupied most of the Atlantic Coast of what is now Brazil, but they were decimated by war and disease. As for the Guarani groups, they are found in Bolivia, Paraguay, Southern Brazil and Northern Argentina. Those lands are shared with Indigenous groups of other families.

Some of the Guarani groups and languages are: Ava, Guarani Ete, Guarani Ñandeva, Ache, Guarani Mbya, Kaiowa, Pa’i Tavyterã and others. The term Guarani can be used to refer to just one of those groups or to all of them collectively. For example, in Bolivia it usually refers to the Ava Guarani who live in that country. In Brazil, the Kaiowa do not call themselves Guarani Kaiowa (they simply use the term Kaiowa), and they often use the term Guarani to refer to the Guarani Ñandeva who live around them. For clarity purposes, in this text we will use the term Guarani to refer to all Guarani groups from Bolivia to Argentina (including the Kaiowa), and we will specifically use the terms Kaiowa, Ñandeva and Guarani Mbya when referring to the groups that are portrayed in the exhibition.


The Pa’i Tavyterã and the Kaiowa can be considered the same cultural and linguistic group, although they are called differently on either side of the border (Pa’i Tavyterã in Paraguay and Kaiowa in Brazil).
Many of the Guarani Mbya villages are located in the “Triple Border”, which is the Area where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet.  There are also hundreds of Guarani Mbya villages scattered along Southern and Southeastern Brazil, and even a few villages in the North of Brazil.
The Ñandeva are spread out among many of the territories where Pa’i Tavyterã, Kaiowa and Mbya people live, but concentrate mostly near the Brazilian and Paraguayan border.


The Kaiowa and the Ñandeva were removed from their villages and placed in reservations In the first half of the XXth century. Many people were killed and tortured in that violent relocation. Those reservations (green areas in the map) are the only Kaiowa TIs fully recognized by the government, but it is hard to maintain traditional life in them, as there are no forests and their spirituality has been persecuted for a century by the Kaiowa Mission and by many other evangelical churches. Traditional medicine is banned from the health care centers in the reservations and in the local hospital run by the Kaiowa Mission. Therefore, two pillars of Guarani culture have been severed in the reservations: the transmission of ancestral knowledge and their contact with nature. Even so, some political and spiritual leaders in the reservations work hard to maintain their traditional knowledge and crops.

In their attempt to find more favorable conditions to maintain their lifestyle, many Kaiowa and Ñandeva families leave the reservations and retake their traditional lands, which are called retomadas (retaken lands). Most of the retomadas are only partially recognized, and many are not even identified by FUNAI. Staying in the retomadas while waiting for land recognition by the government involves many legal and physical battles, as agribusiness private security forces often evict them with violence.  The number of Kaiowa leaders killed per year is higher than that of any other Indigenous group in Brazil.
When the Kaiowa and Ñandeva first settle in the retomadas, they find a land that is totally impoverished by agribusiness.  There are endless monocultures around, so many people get diseases from the exposure to pesticides in the air, water and soil.  In that scenario, they work hard to recover the soil and get their traditional crops and trees back. All the people in the retomadas are true guardians of nature, culture and crop diversity.


The Triple border of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil has been disputed by Europeans and their descendants since the 1500’s. That is where the Spanish Jesuits first built their catholic missions using Guarani slave labor. Many Guarani people managed to escape and live in the forests, preserving their spirituality and their way of life.

The spirituality of the Guarani people includes the search for Yvy Marã E’ỹ, the earth that has no blemish. Even after the arrival of Europeans, the Guarani Mbya often walked long distances following visions of lands they had seen in their dreams. That has still been maintained in the last few decades, although because of the presence of urban areas and private properties it can seldom happen now. Many Guarani Mbya villages along the Atlantic coast were originated in the search for Yvy Marã E’ỹ.

In the Southeastern states of Brazil the Guarani Mbya have often managed to find better living conditions than the Kaiowa, building their villages in the middle of forests or near them. Although the Mbya also have to fight discrimination from mainstream culture and churches, in some areas Western medicine works together with Mbya medicine and the role of shamans and midwives is preserved.


There are two Indigenous Territories in the municipality of São Paulo, a fact that is unknown to many people that live in that city.

Even being next to densely populated neighborhoods, each TI is totally covered by forests. There are a few small Guarani Mbya villages in each TI.

As of yet, both TIs are still waiting to be fully recognized by the Brazilian government.

TI Tenonde Porã is recognized by the Ministry of Justice and is waiting for the president’s

signature. TI Jaragua was also declared by the Ministry of Justice, but in an unprecedented legal ruling, last year the very same Ministry of Justice revoked its own decision, yielding to pressure of the private sector. With the revocation, the area of TI Jaragua was reduced from 532 hectares to only 3 hectares. There are two villages in that tiny space (Tekoa Ytu and Tekoa Pyau), with a population of 700 Guarani Mbya.

TI Tenonde Porã is a large forest area (16,000 hectares) located on the coastal mountain range, where there seems to be little speculation for land and resources. That allows the Guarani Mbya to have quite a peaceful life, although they also carry out campaigns to reach full land recognition by the government.

The natural environment has suffered from decades of logging, which has drastically reduced the area and quality of the original Atlantic Forest. Even along the coastal mountain range, large areas were logged during World War II to produce charcoal. Since then the forests have regrown, but they lack much of their original diversity. In both TIs the Guarani Mbya work hard to preserve and increase nature’s diversity. Native trees and bees are even grown in Tekoa Ytu and Tekoa Pyau in TI Jaragua, right next to urban areas.

AERIAL VIEW OF TI JARAGUA: Tekoa Ytu and Tekoa Pyau (far left) add up to 3 hectares. Almost two thirds of the TI Jaragua revoked by the Ministry of Justice are park area, and its management would be shared between by the Guarani Mbya and the State of São Paulo. Some pictures in the exhibition portray people in Tekoa Itakupe, in the area revoked by the Ministry of Justice. With these pictures we hope to support their struggle to stay in their village and to lawfully regain the recognition of their land by the Brazilian government.

For more information on legal status of Kaiowa, Ñandeva and Guarani Mbya Indigenous Territories, access “”


The pictures show people that in one way or another contribute to maintaining seed diversity. Some of them do it directly, working in crop diversity projects and in reforestation of native trees. Many of them do it by fighting for Indigenous rights to land, without which there can be no traditional crops. They are political leaders, young activists and guardians of retomadas. All spiritual leaders and elders are also guardians of sacred knowledge and crop diversity.

In the pictures we wish to show three core aspects of Guarani culture which, to some degree or another, are common to all Indigenous peoples around the world:

– The importance of enjoying life in community, where everything is happily shared and where children are sacred. Children participate in everything that adults do, sometimes just watching and often imitating them, as a playing and learning process.

– The sacredness of everything, because Ñanderu Ete, Ñandexy Ete (Our True Father, Our True Mother) created everything for us to live in spiritual fulfillment. The interconnectedness of everything is the foundation for our spiritual growth.

– The importance of the preservation of traditional knowledge, transmitted from generation to generation. The elders, like the children, also hold a very sacred place in Guarani society.

A fact throughout history that still holds true today is that wherever Guarani people make their villages biodiversity in the region is not only maintained, but it is increased. Even nowadays, in TI Jaragua and TI Tenonde Porã, in the outskirts of the huge urban center of São Paulo, many projects are dedicated to replanting native fruit trees to recuperate the Atlantic Forest. That automatically allows for the procreation of forest animals and medicinal plants. Also several projects focus on raising native bees, true guardians of seed diversity.

In order to preserve knowledge and all sacred things that Ñanderu created for us, Guarani people really strive to plant as much variety of traditional crops as possible. Seeds are exchanged among families within any village and also during visits to other villages. Many present projects in the villages focus on increasing such crop diversity and seed exchange.

The most diverse and typically Guarani crop is the sweet potato, but in all villages it is planted along with many varieties of corn and different types of string beans, peanuts, squash, sugar cane, manioc (yucca), different medicinal plants and lots of fruit trees. Walking around a Guarani village, especially in wetter areas like TI Tenonde Porã, is learning how to walk without stepping on the huge variety of crops and medicinal plants that are scattered all around, something hard to do for non Indigenous people in their initial visits to the villages.

During all our daily activities, the elders share their knowledge about plants, food and medicine. A specially sacred moment for the Guarani Mbya to share stories is in the evening, when village members get together at the sacred house and sit by the sacred fire while smoking a pipe. Smoking a pipe is also sacred, because the pipe was also given to us by Ñanderu to connect with Him, and it is also used by shamans when they heal other people. Only tobacco is used in the pipe, which we don’t even inhale, because we do not use any substance to expand our consciousness. Spiritual fulfillment is achieved in the Guarani world by eating traditional food and by leading a physically active life. In the sacred house we dance for hours to cleanse our bodies and to transcend spiritually.


People have stayed in Tekoa Itakupe after their land was revoked by the Ministry of Justice in Januray 2017, trying to maintain their lifestyle and hoping to have their land recognized again. All the people in this village are guardians of life diversity in São Paulo.

The children that appear in the pictures are true guardians of seeds. Last year, they planted traditional corn that the adults considered unsuitable for planting. With great faith in Ñanderu, they insisted that the corn would grow. Most of the corn that now grows in the village comes from their first crop.


Tekoa Ytu and Tekoa Pyau are joined in one small area of 3 hectares, the part of TI Jaragua that was not revoked by the Ministry of Justice.   In such a tiny space, it is almost impossible to maintain traditional life. Even so, the Guarani are gifted by Ñanderu to find ways to survive and maintain their language, their social structure, their values and their spiritual tradition.

Different projects in these villages are dedicated to growing medicinal plants, native fruit trees and native bees.


The video greeting for Peliti was filmed in Tekoa Kalipety. Kalipety is the guarani pronunciaiton of ‘eucaliptus’, because of the many eucalyptus trees that non Indigenous people had planted in the region.

After years of working to recover the soil, the whole village is lush with a great variety of crops and trees. Many initiatives in Tekoa Kalipety have focused on gathering and planting different types of sweet potato, making this village a botanical reserve of sweet potatoes, with more than 60 varieties.

Jera Giselda is a teacher and a political leader. She has developed and supported many of the projects in the village dealing with soil recovery and crop diversity. She has also supported many educational and cultural projects in the region to strengthen the transmission of sacred knowledge from the elders to the children.


The song in the video for Peliti was sung in Tekoa Tape Mirĩ. Tekoa Tape Mirĩ is less than one year old, the newest retomada in TI Tenode Porã, built near the sites of an old guarani village.

With lots of individual and collective work, hundreds of different types of crops, medicinal plants and native trees are already visible all over the village.   Beatriz is the most courageous and hard working person in Tape Mirĩ, and she is a guardian of medicinal plants.


TI Tenonde Porã owes its name to this village of 900 inhabitants, the largest population of all Guarani Mbya villages, who live in an area of 26 hectares. It is the only area in the TI that is fully recognized by the Brazilian governmemnt.

Most homes have a small area for planting, and there are a few communal areas where planting projects are implemented. Many pictures show elders and spiritual leaders that transmit knowledge to younger people and help the community to stay healthy, both socially and spiritually. There are also pictures of young people who follow in their footsteps.


Most of the people in the pictures are from TI Jaguapiru, in Dourados. With no woods, limited land for planting and the persecution of Guarani spirituality and medicine by evangelical churches, it is hard to maintain traditional life and crop diversity in the reservations. Even so, some spiritual leaders do amazing work to heal the community.

Seu Getulio and his wife (Dona Alda, not in the pictures) are both spiritual and political leaders. who are at the forefront in the preservation of traditional seeds. They celebrate ceremonies at the Ongusu (Sacred House) the evening prior to planting. The ceremony consists of a whole night of dancing, followed by planting at dawn. They only plant traditional crops and they do not use pesticides. They work together with 400 families in the reservation, many of them with single mothers, and 150 orphans that they feed.

Dona Tereza is the last Ñandeva rezadora (female shaman) in Jaguapiru. She is rebuilding her sacred house. As all rezadoras, she is also a midwife but health care centers and hospitals run by evangelical missions prohibit them from taking care of pregnant women or other patients. Her daughter took traditional medicine during her pregnancy behind nurses’ backs.

Seu Jorge and Dona Floriza are rezadores who have adopted many children. Some have grown up to become Ñanderu’i (shamans). Dona Floriza wants to build a school on her yard to teach Guarani language, culture and spiritual tradition. Just like Dona Tereza, she is a midwife but she is not allowed to practice.

Elizeu is a respected political leader from TI Limão Verde, in Amambai, who works hard to support people in the retomadas. His work for the right of the Kaiowa to their ancestral lands allows for the preservation of traditional crops and for the protection of forests and rivers.


Everybody that moves to a retomada becomes an active guardian of land, culture, spirituality, crops and natural environment. Most people in the pictures live at the front line of conflict with non Indigenous people, so many of them have sad experiences to share.

Dona Damiana lives by herself in a camp by the roadside, next to the land where she used to live with her family. Since their eviction, her husband, son and other relatives have been killed. She buried them in the land that used to be theirs. Cacique Jenito, Dona Isila, Sr. Abelardo, they also live on with the memory of the loved ones they lost, and with the hope to offer better living conditions to the children.

Families move from the reservations into the retomadas in order to maintain their ancestal land and culture, but they find a land that is devastated. Where there used to be dense forests and clean rivers, there are only endless seas of monocultures, with impoverished soils and polluted creeks. Mother nature is crying out for her Guarani children to return to their traditional lands and take care of their Mother.


There are several projects for maintaining crop diversity, especially traditional corn and sweet potato, but also peanuts, string beans, squash, sugar cane and others. In such projects, adults work surrounded by children, who often participate in planting and taking care of the fields.

Some of the activities take place while visiting the elders in the village, who happily share their knowledge. The children are allowed to run and play all around the crops.

Cooking with children is an important way to value traditional diets and crops. It is also a fun way to share knowledge and stories.

The children also participate in replanting native trees. Even if the whole TI is covered with lush forests, there are few areas of original Atlantic forest. In some areas there are eucalyptus plantations, and the rest is secondary forest, regrown after it was cut down during World War II to make charcoal.


The pictures show a Ka’a’i (mate leaf ceremony) that Xamoĩ Karai Poty leads, which is carried out to strengthen the spiritual health of everybody, and in particular of the children. The ceremony also aims to strengthen our bond with the spirits and Ñanderu, the Creator, so they maintain our crops happy.

In Ka’a’i and other ceremonies, the spirits of the children reveal their true names to our spiritual leaders. Our names are sacred because they remind us of our specific origin and about our path in this life.

A few years ago, Ñanderu revealed to Xamoĩ Karai Poty the song Ma’etỹ Marã E’ỹ, Sacred Crops without blemish, that is sung in our greeting video to Peliti to show the sacredness of traditional crops and their importance for the physical and spiritual well being of the children.


The Guarani have been planting sweet potato, corn, manioc, peanuts, sugar cane, squash, string beans and fruit trees for millenia. There are many different varieties of sweet potato and corn. Fewer varieties are usually planted of peanuts, string beans, squash, sugar cane and manioc.

Guarani people eat few leaves, but they love all kinds of fruit, either native or introduced from Western culture. Leaves are generally used for tea and medicine.

Traditionally, Guarani people did not use salt or seasoning in their food. Sugar was not used either. To sweeten some foods honey was sometimes used, and is still eaten with corn bread. Sugar canes are used by the children to chew on.

The traditional Guarani diet is very balanced and complete, containing all minerals and vitamins. It also allows a very healthy digestion, because the nutrients are absorbed slowly and they do not cause acidity in the stomach, as is often the case in western diets, so calcium in the bones is not lost even among older people.

In the traditional Guarani diet, people would spend many days without eating meat. Birds and fish can be consumed any time of year, but forest animals can only be hunted from February to July. From August to January the animals procreate and raise their babies, so they can not be hunted. And even during hunting season, when someone hunted a larger animal (like tapir) he would share the meat with everybody in the village and he would not hunt another big animal again until the following year.

Nowadays western foods and drinks are common in Guarani villages, but traditional crops are maintained and there are many campaigns to raise awareness of the harm that processed and transgenic foods cause to our health.

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