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Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians Americas South America Paraguay Pierre Clastres Zone


29th June 2013 History Books 19 Comments

In the early 1960s, the French anthropologist Pierre Clastres spent two years living among the Guayaki people of Paraguay, a tiny community of nomadic hunters whose way of life was quickly disappearing. When Clastres arrived in Paraguay, there were only 100 Guayaki left, and their culture seemed doomed by influenza and encroaching civilization. Clastres’s description of his encounters with these people is respectful, self-aware, and written with great skill. Paul Auster (author of The New York Trilogy and the movie Smoke) translated the book from French to English in the late 1970s, sent it to a publisher, and then lost track of the manuscript for 20 years. Fortunately, one of Auster’s fans stumbled upon the manuscript in a used-book store in 1996 and brought it to the author, making this publication possible.

According to Clastres, the Guayaki were mild-mannered folk who relished the taste of human flesh. There were far more men than women in the community, which seems sort of sinister. Every June, when the air was cold enough to make the bees logy, all the Guayaki groups gathered for a honey festival, which featured tickling games and many sexual adventures. In short, the Guayaki led lives very different from our own. There is something deeply satisfying about learning the details of faraway, drastically foreign lives. Clastres manages to describe these people’s daily lives and traditions without making them seem exotic or sensationalizing their story. Clastres’s quiet, detailed observations honor this vanished culture and should be of interest to anthropologists and layman alike. –Jill Marquis –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Little was known about the nomadic Guayaki Indians of eastern Paraguay until Clastres, a French ethnographer now deceased, made contact with them. He lived among them in 1963-64 and documented their history and culture. His study is extremely valuable because it documents the experiences of a group of people who no longer exist. Clastres published the French edition of this book in 1972, and it has been translated by novelist Auster, who originally translated this title in the mid-1970s. Auster’s trials and tribulations in getting it published are documented in the section entitled “Translator’s Notes” and his story alone is worth the price of the book. The photographs and illustrations greatly enhance the text and provide valuable information. Highly recommended for specialized collections on South American Indians.?John Burch, Cumberland Coll. Lib., Williamsburg, Ky.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Pierre Clastres (1934-1979) was one of the most respected political anthropologists of our time. Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians is an account of his first fieldwork in the early 1960s–an encounter with a small, unique, and now vanished Paraguayan tribe. From “Birth” to “The End,” Clastres follows the Guayakis in their everyday lives, determined to record every detail of their history, ritual, myths, and culture in order to answer the many questions prompted by his personal experiences. Now available for the first time in English in a beautiful translation by the novelist Paul Auster, Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians will alter radically not only the Western academic conventions in which other cultures are thought but also the discipline of political anthropology itself.

In the early 1960s, the French anthropologist Pierre Clastres spent two years living among the Guayaki people of Paraguay, a tiny community of nomadic hunters whose way of life was quickly disappearing. When Clastres arrived in Paraguay, there were only 100 Guayaki left, and their culture seemed doomed by influenza and encroaching civilization. Clastres’s description of his encounters with these people is respectful, self-aware, and written with great skill. Paul Auster translated the book from French to English in the late 1970s, sent it to a publisher, and then lost track of the manuscript for 20 years. Fortunately, one of Auster’s fans stumbled upon the manuscript in a used-book store in 1996 and brought it to the author, making this publication possible.

According to Clastres, the Guayaki were mild-mannered folk who relished the taste of human flesh. There were far more men than women in the community, which seems sort of sinister. Every June, when the air was cold enough to make the bees logy, all the Guayaki groups gathered for a honey festival, which featured tickling games and many sexual adventures. In short, the Guayaki led lives very different from our own. There is something deeply satisfying about learning the details of faraway, drastically foreign lives. Clastres manages to describe these people’s daily lives and traditions without making them seem exotic or sensationalizing their story. Clastres’s quiet, detailed observations honor this vanished culture and should be of interest to anthropologists and layman alike. –Jill Marquis –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians

Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) was a novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist whose fictional and factual accounts of black heritage remain unparalleled. Her many books include Dust Tracks on a Road; Their Eyes Were Watching God; Jonah’s Gourd Vine; Moses, Man of the Mountain; Mules and Men; and Every Tongue Got to Confess.

Based on acclaimed author Zora Neale Hurston’s personal experiences in Haiti and Jamaicawhere she participated as an initiate rather than just an observer during her visits in the 1930sTell My Horse is a fascinating firsthand account of the mysteries of Voodoo. An invaluable resource and remarkable guide to Voodoo practices, rituals, and beliefs, it is a travelogue into a dark, mystical world that offers a vividly authentic picture of ceremonies, customs, and superstitions.

Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica (P.S.)










  • 19 responses to "Chronicle of the Guayaki Indians Americas South America Paraguay Pierre Clastres Zone"

  • sebastienm
    2:43 on June 29th, 2013
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    Pierre Clastres (1934-1979) was one of the most respected and insightful anthropologists of his day. Chronicle Of The Guayaki Indians (ably translated and with a foreword by Paul Auster) is a vivid and compelling account of his first fieldwork in the early 1960s which included an encounter with a small, unique, and now vanished Paraguayan tribe — the Guayaki. Clastres followed the Guayaki in their everyday lives, determined to record every detail of their history, ritual, myths, and culture. In doing so he had also created a monument of political anthropology which would commemorate a Native American peoples that was to swiftly pass from scene. Chronicle Of The Guayaki Indians is an important addition to any serious anthropology and Native South American studies reference collection.

  • Apoorv Kodera
    6:40 on June 29th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    It came as a pleasant surprise to discover that the author of this book was an understudy of Claude Levi-Strauss for, the latter’s Tristes Tropiques elicited an intellectual epiphany in this reviewer.
    This is not to say that Claustres’ writing is anywhere near as good as Levi-Strauss’, even though this chronicle of his one year plus association with the Guayaki, or Atchei Gatu, Indians of Paraguay in 1963-64 is a compelling, worthwhile read.
    Claustres’ task was to gather as much information as he could about the tribe’s daily life, customs, ‘religious’ beliefs, family and tribal structures, tool use, etc. In short, or long, everything of note that he can observe. Indeed, the book is brim full of interesting, often fascinating, information and the author successfully brings the tribe to life in the reader’s mind.
    In fact, to examine the life of the Other, you need go no further than this book, for the life these Indians led is so out of the bounds of modern mores that they come off as an altogether different species of human.
    I know that today it is acceptable only to lament the displacement of the aboriginal population of the New World by the denizens of the Old, but it strikes one that no reasonable person would countenance the Atchei Gatu order of things, assuming that Claustres’ account is accurate. Granted some people would celebrate a reality that includes Incest, internecine human sacrifice, infanticide, geriatric murder, polyandry, pedophilia, open marriage, and cannbialism, albeit not, evidently, onanism. For most of us, however, the the Atchei Gatu way of life must fill us with revulsion. Their tribal life is voyeurisitically interesting, to be sure, but also repulsive and reading about it causes one to realize that, as portrayed, there really should be no place for it in our world.
    This book though is a worthwhile read. A few comments, the drawings of the native implements are beautifully rendered and the photos are charming. One does wish that the author or translator had given a guide to pronouncing the native words that are liberally sprinkled throughout the text.
    Finally, one does sometimes question the veracity of this account. It is not so much that the material is sensationalized or beggars belief, but much of what is there does beg questions. For instance, the tribal members have wonderfully descriptive names that are supposedly bestowed upon them according to spiritual connections made before birth, yet surely the sex-hungry elderly woman ‘Perechankangi’ or ‘Vagina of Dry Wood’ was not called that from birth. Also, author goes into elaborate detail about the daily life of these forest indians but he encountered the tribe after it had left the forest and it is difficult to believe that his account of their daily life is first hand, observed knowledge, rather than an account of what has been told to him and this is only a couple of the obvious intellectual contradictions that fill the book.
    In fact, that is the biggest problem with the book. One is forced to question how much of the account is a transmission of knowledge intuited and inferred by the author, I wouldn’t dare say manufactured, and how much of it is verified factual information.
    Still, this makes the book no less readable nor any less recommended.

  • Doloris Onnen
    8:07 on June 29th, 2013
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    an anthropological tour de force that breaks your heart as you witness firsthand the cultural and material desecration of this once proud and self-sufficient tribe. their view of life and death seems the direct opposite of our western way of thinking, and one can only hope that they are right in the end. much credit must be given to the author–and novelist/translator paul auster– who uncovered the lost, sad truths of this forgotten world. the writing is candid, pure,lyrical, incandescent, potent and non-academic. a haunting, haunting book–it literally speaks truth and wisdon from the grave.

  • oclock
    11:46 on June 29th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    This book includes a small section on Jamaica but concentrates mainly on vodou practices in Haiti. I am impressed with Hurston’s skill as a travel writer in the section on Jamaica. The images from the island are vivid and written in a lush style. She includes lots of descriptions of Jamaicans’ folk culture; the sections on spiritual beings called “duppies” is especially rich. The major focus of the book, however, is on Haiti in general and vodou in particular. Hurston’s style is even more impressive in this section. Some passages, such as her blending of mythic images with history, are characteristic of some of her finest writing. The content is equally spectacular, as she writes vibrantly about a range of spiritual beliefs, practices, and rituals. Some of the more fantastical elements, including a description of a corpse that sat upright in a funeral ritual and a photograph of a living zombie seem more like ethnographic fiction than valid social scientific work. As a result, some have dismissed this book as more of a travelogue or even a fictionalized ethnography. In recent years, however, scientific studies have supported Hurston’s argument that there is a rationalistic, and perhaps even, a-rationalistic basis for what she observed and discussed. In this respect, her in-depth and sympathetic analysis of vodou is much more interesting and much more relevant to the study of religious experience and folk culture in the islands. It also interesting to think about how she was completing the fieldwork in Haiti while she was also writing other works, including “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” That aspect of her life history really adds to an understanding of this book, and it adds to an understanding of her novel and numerous short stories.

  • alibaba
    13:38 on June 29th, 2013
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    A highly influential book on vodou in its day and worth buying still as an historical document, but now rather dated in terms of information. A good book to accompany this would be Vodou Shaman by Ross Heaven, which brings the whole subject area truly up to date.

  • DTerry
    17:06 on June 29th, 2013
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    If this book was fiction I would call it one of the most imaginative books I have ever read, but it’s real. It is scary, unbelievably deep, and true. A wonderful anthropological gathering of stories, ceremonies , and everyday life. Let me wash my face with Jalapeno rum if I’m not telling the truth about this book being great. You can tell my horse.

  • Jenae Brody
    1:36 on June 30th, 2013
    Reply to comment

    Vital, energizing and most of all factual. No Hollywood metaphors here. This is the real earth-affirming belief and one that can have beneficent effects on those who really research and practice it. A well-written blessing.

  • mumtaz
    5:13 on June 30th, 2013
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    This is an essential book on both Haiti and Voodoo. It’s the first book I’ve read by the author and I am now inspired to read more. There are few really insightful books out there on Voodoo and this is one of them. It begins in Jamaica, recounting her experiences there but then quickly moves to Haiti. The section on Haitian politics of the time was the least interesting section of the book. It is brief however, and she quickly moves on to the Haitian people, Voodoo as a religion, and secret societies.

    This is a crucial work in the study of zombies as well. Zora met with one and photographed her for the book. She also provides valuable insight into the phenomenon of possession as well.

    For an outsider, it is difficult to understand the intricacies of Voodoo. This book is an excellent place to start.

  • lauklyn
    8:54 on June 30th, 2013
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    The writing of Zora Neale Hurston is fine. The content of the book is, in his second part, is a “first hand” experience of what voodoo was in 1930. This is therefore a classical and valuable source of knowledge. Interesting enough, Zora Neale Hurston took probably part at various voodoo initiations, and we would have been interested to know more about her experiences, feelings, philosophical and religious insights. Unfortunately for us, she respected the “secret de l’arcane” which characterizes most of the so called esoteric societies. There is also hope for Ha?ti in this book, but it demonstrates also the power of USA to bring some kind of mismatch in the political affairs and economic life of a poor and very small country. Abobo!

  • Jimdo
    13:14 on June 30th, 2013
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    This is a wonderful book and as Auster’s points out in the preface it’s impossible not to love it. But this is also a sad story about our time. Clastres felt that, how tribes and ancient cultures are doom to dissapear. In a way this book is written with a heart full of melancholy.

  • solarsculptor
    17:13 on June 30th, 2013
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    Tell My Horse provides good descriptions of some aspects of life for descendants of slaves in Jamaica and Haiti during the 1920′s and 30′s. It is objective without being judgmental. It is based on the author’s personal experiences so is a first-hand account and is one of only a few such works in existence on this aspect of Caribbean life during this time period.
    While the subject of voodoo is covered thoroughly, Hurston also describes living conditions and some historical events that were relevant to her subject. The book appears to be well-researched and Hurston is sympathetic to her subjects without being overly sentimental.

  • Abel Genas
    22:41 on June 30th, 2013
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    In the late 1930s, Zora Neale Hurston toured Jamaica and Haiti on a Guggenheim Fellowship collecting folklore and voodoo materials for this book, published in 1938. The book is in three sections, covering her views of and experiences in Jamaica, people and politics of Haiti, and finally her initiation and participation in the world of Haitian voodoo. Zora maintains her usual stance of the involved, inquisitive participant, and her initiation into the ways of voodoo was, and is, both remarkable and engaging. From sexism in Jamaica to threats about her voodoo investigations, from commentary on her role as ethnographer to criticism of previous white studies of voodoo, the book is wild, and collects a huge range of important black cultural practices. Zora left the field hurriedly in 1938, desperately ill, convinced she might die, and sure that she had been ‘hexed’ for delving too deep into the world of ‘bad’ (petro) voodoo…have a read of one of the most important pieces of black folklore research of the 1930s. Parlay cheval ou! Ah bo bo!

  • Yeah But
    1:20 on July 1st, 2013
    Reply to comment

    This book is recommended by almost every Vodouisant I know, and with good reason. Zora gives a personal account of her travels through Haiti and Jamaica, and offers us a beautiful glimpse at Voodoo (Vodou) during the time that she was there. If you are serious about studying Vodou, this is a must read.

  • Orson Beam
    1:47 on July 1st, 2013
    Reply to comment

    I was stunned when I first read this book. No point of detail, from the first period of a tribeswoman to stories tales and legends of the Indians, is missed. Pierre Clastres takes the reader with him on a journey which took place in the early 1960′s to find a people and place which have now past. His subtle evocation and immersion in a sense of place by concentrating on day to day detail of the indians life is breathtaking. It is worth noting that the translator is the writer Paul Auster, who carried out this translation in the mid seventies when he was impoverished. Due to a series of misadventures his translation was lost and if it was not for it re-emerging almost by accident then it may never have seen the light of day. Paul’s illuminating and inspired telling of this aspect of the story is worth reading in itself and is a beautiful piece of writing.

  • bluepoo?
    8:09 on July 1st, 2013
    Reply to comment

    Reading this book is like travelling along with Ms. Neale Hurston as she explores life in Haiti. You will meet fanscinating and intriguing people. The practices and beliefs are explained in just enough detail to make you feel like you were there, but all the mystery is retained as even the author is unable to explain or understand the depth of experience and strength of beliefs held by the native Haitians. Finding non-fiction that reads like a novel is a rare and wonderful treasure.

  • amador
    11:38 on July 1st, 2013
    Reply to comment

    Make no mistake, this is a travelogue, not an ethnography in the traditional sense. Hurston, who was a voodoo priestess of a high order herself, was too immersed in the culture to really view it objectively, which is necessary for any anthropologist. That said, it’s still a very interesting read and certainly emphasizes the fact that voudon is a valid religion and not a set of superstitions. However, I’m puzzled as to why Ismael Reed (himself an accomplished writer) is listed as a credit. Did he write the introduction? Because he didn’t write this book. Hurston wrote it. She traveled to Haiti by herself in the 30s to investigate this. It was not written by Reed.

  • Oh...No...!
    14:24 on July 1st, 2013
    Reply to comment

    Contrary to the above reviews, the Guayakí have not “disappeared.” At present, they are rarely referred to as “guayakí” (it is offensive to them), favoring the name “Aché.” Their semi-nomadic subsistence is sadly gone, but many aspects of the culture continue in the Aché communities. For a physical anthropological study of the Aché-Guayakí and a brief history of the contact, check out Kim Hill and Magdalena Hurtado’s “Aché Life History.” Its out-of-print and hard to find but provides an interesting, albeit academic, complement to Clastres’ work.

  • Nanny City
    19:37 on July 1st, 2013
    Reply to comment

    I enjoyed reading this book. Ms. Zora is an excellent story teller. Jamaicans and the duppies make me smile. Duppies are like zombies y’all. Those duppies can be some serious pests. When you die, you should stay dead. She also lets us into the world of Jamaicans and Haitians. The power of colonialism and slavery are far reaching into the

    Black man’s psyche.

  • WungPoo
    23:18 on July 1st, 2013
    Reply to comment

    This book is as mysterious and thought-provoking as expected from the author. As always, she presents the reader with a point of view that is very personal, and so deeply informed. I don’t believe anyone else could have had the range of resources she did on the subjects. I knew very little about Voodoo, or the history of Jamaica and Haiti. I trust Ms. Hurston to have given us an insightful, if brief overview of the state of affairs at that time, in these places. The photos are remarkable.

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