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Free for All: Foods, Landscapes, and Lives in the Paraguayan Chaco


Abstract and Figures

span>Foods and foodscapes structure and inform our experiences as ethnobiologists and ethnographers, the way we interact with and learn from teachers in study sites, and how relations between peoples and between people and landscapes unfold over time. This short memoir essay revisits my education in foodscapes with the Ayoreo community of Jesudi in the Paraguayan Chaco through stories and experiences of food procurement and distribution. From landscapes in which food was free for all (non-monetized) to contemporary encroachments and land-grabbing in the Chaco for globally-connected markets, the transformations have been rapid and witnessed by Ayoreo and other dispossessed indigenous groups.</span
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Wyndham. 2016. Ethnobiology Leers 7(2):1422 14
Special Issue on Memoirs and Memory
knowledgehow people interact with their land-
scapes, and with each other, through food and
through storytelling. This essay addresses a few of
these interconnections of personal histories, ethnobi-
ology, and foodscapes during my first visit in 1998,
and during subsequent trips in 2011, 2012, and 2014.
Jesudi was the first Ayoreo community living
among the cojñone (whites) to be formed independently
of the New Tribes Mission, any of the Catholic or
Anglican missions, or Mennonite-organized labor
settlements. In 1998 there were about eight extended
families living there, from several Ayoreo sub-groups,
who had lived in various mission campsmost
commonly Campo Loro (New Tribes) and María
Auxiliadora (Salesian)following their particular
experience of contact with cojñone in the 1960s80s.
The settlement is about 70 kilometers north of the
Mennonite town of Filadelfia, on a dirt road that
leads, after another few hundred kilometers north-
east, to the riverine, palm-savannah, forests, and
grasslands where many of the people in Jesudi grew
up and consider their ancestral homelands near the
Bolivian and Brazilian borders. There is little water in
Jesudi, and it is a much drier thornscrub ecosystem
than its residents were used to in their childhoods and
young adulthoods living as hunters, gatherers, fishers,
and gardeners further north. But the original settler
Siempre comemos juntos cuando ella recibe cosas1
Queneja Dosapé, age 10
My first evening in Jesudi I was given a small strip of
roasted giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) for
supper. It was very dark meat, slightly spicy, delicious,
chewy, topped with a layer of creamy fat and burnt
hide. Each person in the small Ayoreo community
received a piece of the animal, and I, having been
renamed Ichá (meaning ‘newly arrived’), had also
warranted a portiona very small portion. To be
included in the distribution changed me immediately.
It was 1998. I was a first-year ecological anthro-
pology grad student from the US and I was in a small
Ayoreo settlement in the Central Chaco of Northern
Paraguay. Jesudi, a collective name for the esó fruit
trees (Sideroxylon obtusifolium) that used to ripen there,
was home to a group of families who had decided to
move away from the Mennonite cooperatives and
missionary camps about a decade earlier. They were
trying to make it on their own as a community with
more access to forest resources than they had in the
camps, but without the benefits of either their
traditional mobility across the landscape, or proximity
to a town. I was there to complete a study of chil-
dren’s plant knowledge, but in many ways I ended up
most transfixed by the more general context for that
Free for All: Foods, Landscapes, and Lives in the Paraguayan Chaco
Felice S. Wyndham1*
1290 Stanton Way, Athens, GA, USA.
Abstract Foods and foodscapes structure and inform our experiences as ethnobiologists and ethnographers, the way we
interact with and learn from teachers in study sites, and how relaons between peoples and between people and
landscapes unfold over me. This short memoir essay revisits my educaon in foodscapes with the Ayoreo community of
Jesudi in the Paraguayan Chaco through stories and experiences of food procurement and distribuon. From landscapes in
which food was free for all (non-monezed) to contemporary encroachments and land-grabbing in the Chaco for globally-
connected markets, the transformaons have been rapid and witnessed by Ayoreo and other dispossessed indigenous
Received June 19, 2016 OPEN ACCESS
Accepted December 4, 2016 DOI 10.14237/ebl.7.2.2016.731
Keywords Ayoreo, Paraguayan Chaco, Wild foods, Landscape ethnobiology
Copyright © 2016 by the author(s); licensee Society of Ethnobiology. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Public License (, which permits non-commercial use, distribution,
and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Wyndham. 2016. Ethnobiology Leers 7(2):1422 15
Special Issue on Memoirs and Memory
families of Jesudi, after struggling to obtain legal land
title from the Paraguayan government, were deter-
mined to make it work, and by and large they have.
In this essay I begin to explore the implications of
understanding the work we do as ethnoecologists as a
meeting ground, in the sense of Ermine’s ethical
space (2007:195), in which we can learn to see one
another’s knowledge systems as well as the spaces—
or thought-distancesbetween them. Especially in
ethnobiology, an eye-level meeting of the minds is
necessary to learn specifics, understand systems of
knowledge, and relate to our interlocutors as teachers
and hosts. The process is intensely relational, a
dipping into experiences that are invited, moderated,
and guided by the people we learn from. At the same
time we need to learn the forms and spaces of the
socio-political and worldview differences between us
and those with whom we study, and between them
and their wider local context. In the day-to-day, food
is often the medium for communicating both the
facts and the intentions of underlying relations, visible
and invisible.
Stories about food intersect with memories of the
past strongly for Ayoreo people, often evoking a
narration or a story that illustrates their notion of
place in the landscape, their historicizing of personal
experiences of the colonial encounter, or their own
identity and social relations (Besirre 2014; Blaser
2010; Glauser 2011:33). Over and over again in world
ethnographies by outsider researchers, we read of the
generosity of inclusion on the part of local communi-
ties and outsiders’ attempts to learn from it. For me,
being included in the roasted anteater meat distribu-
tion in Jesudi was a deeply appreciated invitation to
relationship, and it awakened in me acute awareness
of a dormant social faculty, that invisible web of
reciprocity called The Gift by writers since Mauss
(1990 [1950]).
The day before I arrived in Jesudi, I spent a
couple of hours at the Mennonite cooperative
supermarket in the town of Filadelfia, which, an hour
and a half by car from Jesudi, was the nearest large
store. I bought enough food to last weeks, I hoped. I
knew from my reading that Ayoreo people especially
prized honey, so I purchased a two liter jar of it,
chuckling a bit at my extravagance, because such a
quantity would last me years at home. The supermar-
ket was delightfully cool and nicely organized, with
long straight aisles of packaged foods and butcher,
bread, and cheese sections with European delicacies. I
paid for my provisions and then asked permission
from the supervisor to borrow the shopping cart
momentarily to wheel the groceries across the street
to my hotel.
“Sorry, maybe you misunderstood. It is just for
five minutes, just directly across the street there.”
“I’ll bring it back right away...”
Chagrined and annoyed, I left most of my bags on
the cement patio in front of the store while I sweated
three trips back and forth across the street. The
market supervisor stood in the doorway and watched
to make sure I didn’t try to sneak the cart when he
wasn’t looking.2
That first evening in Jesudi, my hosts graciously
showed me the lean-to they were providing for my
shelter. My hammock fit nicely between the poles that
supported the raw-hewn plank walls, and a blackboard
that had seen better days served as a low door to
block small animals from entry. My hosts Ei and Ijaoi,
the leaders of Jesudi, loaned me a footlocker chest in
which to store my things. As I unloaded my backpack,
all their extended family crowded into the tiny space
to watch, comfortably squatting or sitting on the dirt
floor with me. I put my few items of clothes, plant
press paraphernalia, and notebooks into the chest,
along with some snackschocolate bars, granola,
beef jerky, dried fruit and lemonade powderthat I
hoped would keep me from getting too hungry in the
weeks to follow. I felt self-conscious about sequester-
ing food so I attempted to hide these edibles under
other things as I transferred them; I’m sure my
hostess Ei and the others noticed every last item
nonetheless. I handed all the bulk foods over to Ei, as
head of household, as a contribution to the family
meals: cans of corned beef, large bags of egg noodle
pasta, beans, oatmeal, carrots, onions, stew meat, five
kilos of yerba mate, sugar, flour, and cooking oil. And
the two-liter jar of supermarket honey. At the sight of
the honey, an excited buzz started up among the
children, and one was sent to fetch a big mixing bowl
and a pitcher of water. I watched, intrigued, as Ei
poured half of the honey into the bowl, mixed in a
generous amount of water, and passed it back to me. I
wasn’t sure exactly what to do but took a sip from the
honey-water drinkit was deliciousand passed the
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bowl to one of the children, who drank deeply. It
went around the assembled group, each adult and
child drinking until the sweet liquor was gone. Then
Ei repeated the procedure with the remaining honey,
emptying the two-liter jar completely, to the content-
ed sounds of licked lips and sweetened sighs, and
everyone went off to bed.
That, on my first night in Jesudi, was my second
lesson in food protocols among people who grew up
hunting, gathering, fishing, and gardening in the
forests and palm savannahs of North-east Paraguay.
If the first lesson, that of the anteater, was that all
hunted meat will be carefully curated and shared out
along prescribed relational rules, this second lesson
was that if a boon resource is found, gather your
people and consume it all, right then and there. Carry
it away in the belly and the bloodstream rather than
mess around with trying to transfer the sticky, runny
stuff into containers and trying to store it in the
relentless, fermenting heat of the Chaco. I had, of
course, read about the first lesson especially, in
ethnographies about other hunting societies, so the
structure of the gifting was familiar when I saw it, a
thrill of recognition running through me. But the feel
of it as a social being was altogether new and unex-
pected. To feel the electric moment as a new social tie
came into being, a strip of roasted meat passed from
José Ikebi’s hand to mine, an inauguration of reci-
procities to come, and of being overtly included in a
clear social web, was felt in the flesh more than
understood by the mind.
The second lesson, the honey lesson, was more
thoroughly illustrated to me a few weeks later, when
Luis Ijaoi, the leader of Jesudi and the father of the
extended group that was my host family, came home
one day and reported that he had found a hollow tree
full of bees. Again, the children buzzed with excite-
ment, I was invited, and, gathering up all available
receptaclesplastic soda bottles, buckets, and
enameled bowlswe set off with him at a walk-jog to
collect honey. Along the way through dense thicketed
forest, he pointed out a dochiya’c tree (no Linnaean
identification), leaning at a slight angle, that had been
incised across its bark and living tissue at head height,
in such as way so as to drip sap-water drawn up from
its roots. Ijaoi explained that his people liked to create
these water sources throughout their territories as a
reserve in case of need, and if they were in use, they
would place a container underneath to catch and store
the filtered water that dripped from the tree after a
rain. The container was usually a barrel made from the
naturally-hollow trunk of a young cucoi (Chorisia
insignis), placed on logs so as not to decay in contact
with the earth.
A short ways on, we found the beehive. I ap-
proached cautiously, thinking of the vituperative ire of
a disturbed hive. But the children ran right up to the
tree in question, poked their fingers into its hollows,
and pulled bark away where they could. All I had
known until that point was that we were after honey,
though I’m sure Ei and the others tried to explain to
me that it was an ajidábia nest (a small, native, edible
stingless species of black melipone bee [Melipona sp.]),
my Ayoreode vocabulary did not yet include any of
the numerous species of Chacoan honeybees. Ijaoi
told his daughter and sons to stand back, and swiftly
opened up the tree trunk with his axe. Layer upon
layer of dark combs were exposed to sunlight, and
dark liquid dripped amongst a cloud of tiny bees that
had suddenly materialized. The children crowded in
immediately, sitting back on their heels comfortably,
as close as possible to the trunk, and proceeded to
delicately pick out combs and put them into their
mouths in rapid succession, as if intent on getting as
much as possible as quickly as possible. Ijaoi and Ei
looked on indulgently and collected handfuls for
themselves, for me, and for the others in attendance. I
followed the children’s example and bit into the
honeycomb’s dark gold wax tunnels, larvae and all—
the larvae were a delicacyand was transported by an
aromatic, flesh-tingling ultrasweet sensation. It was a
new taste to me, having only eaten the various
products of the reina, or European honeybee. This
wild melipone honey was more delicate, nuanced,
runny, and I imagined that it also tasted of the
aromatic wood of its hive. Since then, I’ve heard
Ayoreo people disparage the use of metal wires or
frames in beekeeping, saying that it ruins the flavor of
the honey. For quite a while, no one said anything. We
just squatted there under the trees, gently waving away
the mildly buzzing bees whose lifework we had just
destroyed, eating, sucking, savoring, swallowing honey
and bees, and spitting out tooth-marked balls of wax.
I felt the sweet excess coursing through my arteries
and capillaries, almost painful as it made its way to the
surfaces of my skin. Perhaps we became a bit torpid,
the excitement of the find transmuted into an altered
state of sugary satiation, the gaze of the honey eater
steady and even, everything slowed down around us,
no thoughts to turn into words, just the obvious and
shared pleasure in the abundance of deliciousness.
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Once we had regained a bit of focus, we filled the
vessels we’d brought with the rest of the honeycomb,
and carried them on the long return walk to Jesudi. It
was clear to me that the efficiency of taking people to
the spot to eat their fill then and there made good
sense in this world.
One of the recurrent topics of conversation in Jesudi,
both in 1998 and in later visits, revolved around the
lives and livelihoods of relativesTotobiegosoode
family groups, mostlywho still live in voluntary
isolation en el monte (in the forest). While I was there in
1998, several incidents of controversial contact
between ranch workers and silvícola (forest-dwelling)
Ayoreo people occurred (see Besirre 2005, 2014).
Young and old Jesudi residents were intensely
intrigued and concerned with the plight of their
relatives who were (and many still are) on the run:
some advocated ‘bringing them out,’ others supported
legal protection of their traditional territories so they
could stay there indefinitely. With an empathetic
genius for imagining what their lives might be like,
which, for many, was also a remembering of similar
personal experience when they were younger, people
often commented on how hungry they must be, and
what it must be like for the Totobiegosoode en el monte
as they seek and prepare wild foods nowadays. One
example in particular illustrates a sensorial awareness
of the dimensions of interaction implicated by food
practices that were veiled to me, having never
experienced prolonged hiding from enemies. In 1998,
knowing of my interest in wild foods, Ei graciously
agreed to teach me how to collect and prepare doídie, a
common spiny ground cover bromeliad (Bromelia
balansae). It is time-consuming compared to the yield,
so for the most part families no longer prepare this
food in Jesudi, but report that it was a common food
in the past. With machete-tipped ironwood digging
sticks we cut, tied, and carried the wiry rosettes to a
clearing, where we piled them several feet high over
kindling and set them on fire. Ei was much more
efficient at this work than I. An intense white smoke
soon issued from the roasting pile, and the plants
crackled and popped loudly as the leaves burned off
(Figure 1). We sat nearby, waiting for the fire to die
down so we could rake the roasted petiole bases out
of the coals. Ei watched and listened, and soberly
commented that though this was a predominant food
source for people living in the forest, the Totobie-
gosoode would not feel safe cooking it any longer,
because as a food doídie was too noisy. The sharp
popping and crackling, and the white smoke could
give their location away to outsiders, whom would all
be perceived as dangerous, mortal enemies.
Each morning, the two daily eggs from the (not-
very-productive) family hens were cracked into a pot
of canola oil boiling over a wood fire. The whites
frothed up into a feathery nest around quickly
hardening yolks, and each was scooped out with a
spoon and deposited on a plastic dish and cut into
small pieces for the children to eat. I watched,
interested because I had never seen a deep-fried egg
before, but also recognizing in myself a hunger I
hadn’t often experienced. Of course I had been plain
old peckish many times, but this was a deeper,
sharper, more specific hunger, likely for protein,
which, while in Jesudi, had been lacking from my diet
for several weeks. I watched the three kids eat the two
eggs, sharing them equally, and I was immensely glad
that they were getting this protein, at the same time
that I averted my eyes, trying to mask my interest so
as not to make them uncomfortable. I also craved
greens, fruits, and vegetables during the weeks I was
in Jesudi. We gathered wild foods but usually only
enough to taste, not eat our fill. We had lots of
delicious squash, which was stored on the vine in the
fields it had grown in, protected from the frost under
piles of dried grass. Curiously, however, leafy greens
of any kind did not seem to be a part of the Ayoreo
diet, though Chenopodium and other weedy edibles
grow prolifically in Jesudi. There was a lettuce farm
some kilometers down the road that sent its produce
to market weekly, and when I could I did my best to
waylay the trucks and buy some from the drivers.
One of the narratives that adults return to
regularly was their worry that there won’t be enough
to eat for themselves or the children in Jesudi. In 1998
the community was somewhat dependent on getting
deliveries of gift food from the Red Cross, UNICEF,
or other aid and government organizations. By settling
in Jesudi as an independent community, these families
were experimenting with a life in-between the lifestyle
most of the adults had grown up in (hunting, gather-
ing, fishing and growing foods in el monte) and the life
they led as dependents employed on Mennonite farms
or in the mission camps, with limited access to forest
foods and land to move around on. In Jesudi people
had more freedom and autonomy to organize their
own life projects; “to seek out foods and benefits for
their families” (Picanerai 2011), but the 5,000 hectares
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of Jesudi lands wasn’t necessarily enough land, or the
right ecotype, to reproduce their former livelihoods en
el monte.
The more I paid attention to what the children
were doing moment-to-moment as they went through
their days I noticed that they took every opportunity
to eat a diverse array of foodstuffs. No matter how
minor the resource seemed to me, to them it was fun,
a game, a challenge, a shared activity, or just an
opportunity to satiate a passing hunger. They picked
nectary flower blossoms to share amongst themselves,
and made tiny fires on which they cooked tiny stews
in tuna-fish cans. When the men cut, stacked and
hauled palo santo (Bulnesia sarmientoi) logs on a truck to
take to town, children would snap slender twigs from
nearby bushes and poke these into holes in the
exposed cross-sectioned logs, drawing them out
carefully and sliding them through their lips to get the
droplets of wild honey that solitary bees had deposit-
ed in the trunks of these aromatic trees (Figure 2).
The logs were destined to be sold in Filadelfia, which
at that time still ran its electricity plant by burning
endemic Chacoan ironwood trees. When someone
went to town to sell the logs, they’d bring back treats
for the kids in the form of a ziplock bag of Hellman’s
mayonnaise and a brown sugarloaf, and they would
sip and nibble in turn on one, then the other, until
they were gone.
Free for All: Mattresses and Lollipops All Around
One day in Jesudi, as we women were relaxing in the
shade on our sitting cloths, twining bromeliad string
with white ash on our thighs, those around me
suddenly lifted their heads to listen. I could hear
nothing new. “Camión Cruz Roja!” one woman cried
and everyone immediately set aside their things and
started running towards the driveway entrance to
Jesudi, some 600 yards away. They kept shouting to
the others as they ran, and people appeared out of
their houses and joined in the sprint. I followed, and
Figure 1 Ei Posinho burning a pile of doídie bromeliads, 1998, by the author.
Wyndham. 2016. Ethnobiology Leers 7(2):1422 19
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by the time I got there, a crowd had gathered, and I
could just make out the growl of a truck’s engine
coming towards us on the red dirt road. It slowed,
and turned onto the Jesudi entrance track. As soon as
it stopped, people surrounded it. The men in the cab
got out, greeted the Jesudi leaders, and then climbed
into the bed of the truck and started to throw out a
flurry of plastic-wrapped mattresses, blankets,
gunnysacks of pasta, and jugs of peanut oil, each item
grabbed by the first person in the crowd to touch it. I
was stunned by the rapidity and the chaos of the
handoutso different from the carefully considered
distribution of the meat from a single anteater
amongst the group a couple weeks earlier. As far as I
could tell, it was a free-for-all, and those who grabbed
an item first got to keep it for their family. As soon as
their truck bed was empty, the Red Cross workers
jumped back into the cab, made a tight u-turn, and
drove off, heading to the next community.
A few days later, another truck arrived, also
identified by the unique sound of its engine by those
around me long before I could hear it. This one
brought a health NGO team, who interviewed the
residents of Jesudi, and distributed some food,
including an enormous bag of lollipops for the
children, which they gave to one of the moms to hand
out. Clearly used to this process, the children, about
23 of them, immediately formed a queue, from
youngest to oldest, and each was handed one lollipop.
Upon receiving it, the child went right back to the end
of the line, and each got a second candy. After every
child had received three lollipops, there were some
left over, but not enough for everyone to get a fourth.
Again with no hesitation, deliberation, or instructions,
the five youngest children, mostly three- and four-year
-olds, took the remaining lollipops over to a nearby
flat tree stump, gently smashed them with a hammer,
and then divided the candy powder into five equal
piles and proceeded to each consume their pile of
sweet dust by pressing and licking their fingers (Figure
The rules of food and resource distribution
Figure 2 Sampling honey treats from bee-tunnels in palo santo logs on a truck bound for market, 1998, by the author.
Wyndham. 2016. Ethnobiology Leers 7(2):1422 20
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became a bit clearer to me when, much later, I was
working on a forthcoming book based on Ei
Posinho’s life story, and she explained in detail the
moral code that dictates that the smallest children
should always be fed first, with special foods
‘reserved’ for them so they can eat even in times when
the rest of the family goes hungry. She also related her
sister Puúa’s account from the time in el monte
(meaning before their transition to living among
Paraguayans), which shed some light on the claiming
of resources in a world that is otherwise free for all.
Puúa and several other women had been on a food-
gathering trip when in the near distance they spied a
grove of prized edauóde palm treesa species that
yields abundant edible flour from its trunk (probably
Syagrus romanzoffiana). Puúa recognized an especially
mature tree, sure to provide a great deal of food, by
its dark horizontal stripes and sprinted towards it to
claim it for herself and her family. But another
woman sprinted toward it at the same time, and
though Puúa thought that she had definitely touched
and claimed it first, the other woman argued loudly,
saying that it should be hers, fighting until she got her
way. For years this memory had rankled with Puúa’s
sense of fair play and she used it as a teaching
anecdote to instruct her sister Ei in proper food rules.
For certain items, such as palm trees and Red Cross
blankets, the first person to touch it gets to keep it.
Lollipops and giant anteater meat, on the other hand,
should be carefully apportioned according to social
ties and standing in one’s immediate group. The
difference likely has to do with whether or not the
item is ‘windfall,’ that is, still in a wild state of no-
claim, in which case it is up for grabs… and then,
once a claiming has occurred, the social sharing rules
kick in so that the item is distributed and credit,
prestige, and reciprocal obligation circulate.
A frequent comment Jesudi residents made about
the transition from forest life to mission life was how
surprised they were to discover that outside of el monte
all foods, especially plant foods, were not free. Not
only was the landscape itself carved up into owned
pieces, but all the foods growing upon it also had
owners. For Ayoreo individuals who first came in
contact with cojñone in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and still
today, food transactions are the most ubiquitous
quotidian economic interface with non-Ayoreo
peoples, and are thus also inherently linked to political
and ideological difference. Gifts of food were, and still
are, used by missionaries to attract people to attend
church services. People still talk about the moment
when they realized, after accommodating to mission
camp life and the horrors of their transition from
forest to settlement, that the foodstuffs they had been
given by the cojñone were not always gifts, but came
with obligations of physical labor and other services,
including sex services. Though most of the food of
the cojñone was unpalatable3 to the recently arrived,
they soon discovered that a key aspect of their loss of
autonomy related to their inability to harvest foods for
their own families, on their own terms.
Gifts of food were, and still are, used by anthro-
pologists to initiate and continue relationships of
teaching and learning with local communities. I
brought foodstuffs with me as gifts in 1998, and I still
take lots of extra food with me when I visit Jesudi, as
a contribution to the material sustenance of the
families who host me, and as a way to reciprocate for
their time and any inconvenience of my presence,
aside from any research-related compensations. As I
have investigated the personal histories of coercion,
obligation, and exploitation experienced by Ayoreo
groups of the last hundred years, however, my
awareness of the imbalances involved has become
ever more acute. Though it is a complex history, the
basic relations are simple: their means of production
have been coopted by ours. Their homelands have
been grabbed by the state, by settlers, and by multi-
national corporations, bulldozed, planted in buffel
Figure 3 Jesudi children in charge of equitably dividing
up an odd-number of lollipops amongst themselves,
1998, by the author.
Wyndham. 2016. Ethnobiology Leers 7(2):1422 21
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grass pasture, and populated with beef grow-lots. The
foods of the Chaco are now exported to supermarkets
around the world in the form of dairy and beef
products. These are the macro-structural relations of
food in this place. The micro-structural relations of
daily interaction for the Ayoreo continue in the
sections of landscape that have not been coopted by
outsiders: children learning to automatically share
sweets amongst themselves, the now rare game-meats
lauded and carefully distributed, the jockeying for
gifts/grants from outside projects, and selling one’s
labor to the cattle ranchers.
The Chaco as a productive foodscape is in the
process of transforming. Transforming from a place
where resources were diverse, and literally free for all
who lived there, into a place that has been more of a
free-for-all of non-indigenous settler resource
appropriation via ideology, law, and firepower. There
is quite a bit of space, in Ermine’s sense, between the
worldviews of the indigenous peoples and those of
the settlers. People from each community feel that
their way of relating to the landscape is correct and
natural. By being there in person, forging individual
relationships with Ayoreo community members,
learning from their stories and, perhaps most of all,
experiencing the electricity of inclusion in the form
and reason of food sharing, one begins to learn to see
the spaces between those worldviews, and the spaces
between the material worlds we create by our actions.
1“We always eat together when she gets food.” This
recommendation from a young Ayoreo girl was one
of several messages tape-recorded about me by Jesudi
community members upon my departure from the
Chaco in 1998, meant as a report or assessment for
my supervisors and parents. I later learned more
explicitly that whether or not a person shares food
with children is a key test of character in Ayoreo
2Of course, this may have been my paranoid interpre-
tation. He may have been watching my groceries to
make sure no one took them while I made the trips
back and forth across the street. Since this unfriendly
first encounter, I have met many other Filadelfians
and members of the Mennonite communities
elsewhere who were extremely helpful, welcoming,
and generous.
3Many reports from this time concur that rice, sugar,
bread, wheat, and other foods of the cojñone were
perceived as smelling and tasting horrible to the
Ayoreo, especially to the elders. It is not uncommon
to hear of elders who starved to death rather than eat
the new foods (which were also associated with
extreme cultural and social trauma), and of the efforts
by their family members to find wild and traditional
foods for them. Sweet potatoes, watermelon, and
squash were foods common to both the Ayoreo and
cojñone communities but only seasonally available.
This work was made possible by Ei Posinho, Ijaoi
Dosapei and their family, all the residents of Jesudi,
and Justina Taobi Juuminé’s translations. Thanks also
to Ted Gragson, who made me aware of Jesudi in
1998; Antonia Barreau-Daly, who assisted with
research in 2011, the many people in Paraguay who
generously gave of their time along the way, two
anonymous reviewers and editors Mac Marston and
Rick Stepp.
Permissions: Institutional Review Board and Behavioral
Research Ethics Board permits for research were
obtained from the University of Georgia (1998) and
the University of British Columbia (2011-12), respec-
tively. Permissions were granted by Ayoreo communi-
ty members after informed consent conversations
took place during each research visit.
Sources of Funding: National Science Foundation
ethnographic research training grant (1998), and Social
Science and Humanities Research Canada standard
research grant (2011-2012).
Conflicts of Interest: None declared.
References Cited
Bessire, L. 2005. Isolated Ayoreo: Will History Repeat
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Bessire, L. 2014. Behold the Black Caiman: A Chronicle of
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Blaser, M. 2010. Storytelling Globalization from the Chaco
and Beyond. Duke University Press, Durham, NC.
Ermine, W. 2007. The Ethical Space of Engagement.
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Special Issue on Memoirs and Memory
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
VII RECONCILIATION 201 The "ethical space" is formed when two societies, with disparate worldviews, are poised to engage each other. It is the thought about diverse societies and the space in between them that contributes to the development of a framework for dialogue between human communities. The ethical space of engagement proposes a framework as a way of examining the diversity and positioning of Indigenous peoples and Western society in the pursuit of a relevant discussion on Indigenous legal issues and particularly to the fragile intersection of Indigenous law and Canadian legal systems. Ethical * M.Ed., Ethicist / Researcher with the Indigenous Peoples Health Research Centre ("IPHRC"), and Assistant Professor with the First Nations University of Canada. Willie is Cree and is from the Sturgeon Lake First Nation in the north central part of Saskatchewan where he lives with his family. As faculty with the First Nations University of Canada, he lectures in subject areas of Cree Literature, and Indigenous systems of religion and philosophy. Willie has published numerous academic articles, including a widely read academic paper entitled "Aboriginal Epistemology" through UBC Press, and contributed recent reports to the Tri Council Panel on Research Ethics, and is a member of the Panel on Research Ethics Technical Advisory Committee on Aboriginal Research ("PRE TACAR"). His primary focus as an Ethicist / Researcher is to promote ethical practices of research involving Indigenous peoples with particular interest in the conceptual development of the "ethical space"—a theoretical space between cultures and worldviews.
The story would read like a farce if it weren' t a tragic repetition of historical injustice and poor gubernatorial judgments adversely impacting the indigenous peoples of South America. On 9 April 2005 a vote by elected officials in the lower house of the Paraguayan Congress brought an ignominious end to the most ambitious and ecologically viable indigenous land-claim in the history of South America' s Gran Chaco. The 32- 19 vote denied government expropriation of 114,000 hectares from Brazilian and Argentine corporate land owners, and effectively concluded a 12-year legal and cultural struggle to preserve an area of the fragile Chaco forest ecosystem sufficient for the survival of the last voluntarily isolated hunters and gatherers south of the Amazon basin.
Behold the Black Caiman: A Chronicle of Ayoreo Life
  • L Bessire
Bessire, L. 2014. Behold the Black Caiman: A Chronicle of Ayoreo Life. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.
Online audio interview on the work of the Unión de Nativos Ayoreos de Paraguay
  • A Picanerai
Picanerai, A. 2011. Online audio interview on the work of the Unión de Nativos Ayoreos de Paraguay. Available at: files/entrevista_aquino-picanerai.mp3. Accessed on 3/20/2011.