using the power of photojournalism to expose social and ecological injustice

Ayoreo People of the Chaco

“Sharing the Eye” Photo Essay by Orin Langelle

In the Ayoreo settlement of Campo Lorro, Chaco, Paraguay

Paraguay’s recent right-wing coup that ousted Fernando Lugo’s government hardly made North American news.  Typical.  And how many people care anyway about that small landlocked nation?

The photos in this essay were taken in early 2009 of a community and people struggling for survival.

To me the coup is personal, because I traveled to Paraguay in January of 2009 and I have friends there. Global Justice Ecology Project (the fiscal sponsor of Langelle Photography) is the North American Focal Point for Global Forest Coalition which has their southern hemisphere office there.  I had the opportunity to tour Asuncion, the nation’s Capitol, and see where the poor live several hundred meters from the national government buildings. I traveled on long back roads surrounded by immense GMO soybean fields controlled by agribusiness (the soy mafia) and I visited and photographed the Ayoreo indigenous community of Campo Lorro (Parrot Field) in the Chaco region.

I was invited by the Ayoreo people who live in Campo Lorro to take photographs in a project called “Sharing the Eye.”  An elder leader of the community walked with me through their lands, village, houses and workplaces–sharing his vision with me.

Survival International reports, “Since 1969 many [Ayoreo] have been forced out of the forest, but some still avoid all contact with outsiders.

“Their first sustained contact with white people came in the 1940s and 1950s, when Mennonite farmers established colonies on their land. The Ayoreo resisted this invasion, and there were killings on both sides.”

Some of the first Ayoreo peoples captured were sent to Campo Lorro.

I traveled with Dr. Miguel Lovera, then chairperson of Global Forest Coalition and part of the Ayoreo support group Iniciativa Amotocodie.

Because of the recent coup, Miguel lost his job as National Secretary for Plant Safety for Paraguay.  While National secretary, Lovera was in constant battle with the soy mafia and tried to stop the introduction of GMO cotton.  No doubt Paraguay’s agribusiness leaders and their friends at Monsanto are celebrating the fact that Lovera was removed from office.

Scene of the brickworks of Campo Lorro

Ayoreo brick worker

The photos in this essay were displayed in an exhibit in Campo Lorro in the summer of 2009. Campo Lorro is a 10,000-hectare field that was given to the community in exchange for their nomadic realm of more than 10 million hectares. The Ayoreo were the masters of the harsh northern Gran Chaco territory. They lived off hunting and gathering and were fierce warriors. Because they posed a threat to the expansion of white “civilization,” they were forced into settlements.  The subhuman confinement conditions, which subdued these proud warrior people, depleted their self-esteem. They have over a 50% unemployment rate.

Outside the machine shop in Campo Lorro

Fixing bicycles

Prior to the coup, these Ayoreo were in the process of regaining their dignity through the recovery of their culture and territorial rights through the Union of Native Ayoreo of Paraguay (UNAP).  The people of Campo Lorro were regaining their dignity.  Now with the coup, the situation with the Ayoreo is uncertain.

There are still uncontacted Ayoreo living in the Gran Chaco.  They do not want contact with “civilization” and wish to remain in their forest home.  Today, however, cattle ranches, expansion of genetically modified soybean plantations for biofuels, hydroelectric dams and mineral exploitation threaten the forests of the Chaco.

A recent New York Times article  points out, “At least 1.2 million acres of the Chaco have been deforested in the last two years, according to satellite analyses by Guyra, an environmental group in Asunción, the capital. Ranchers making way for their vast herds of cattle have cleared roughly 10 percent of the Chaco forest in the last five years, Guyra said. That is reflected in surging beef exports.

“Paraguay already has the sad distinction of being a deforestation champion,” said José Luis Casaccia, a prosecutor and former environment minister, referring to the large clearing in recent decades of Atlantic forests in eastern Paraguay for soybean farms; little more than 10 percent of the original forests remain.

“If we continue with this insanity,” Mr. Casaccia said, “nearly all of the Chaco’s forests could be destroyed within 30 years.”

“Killing tower” (left) where the first white settlers shot Ayoreo as “civilization” came to the Chaco

Recent (2009) Ayoreo grave

With the coup and development schemes in the Chaco, what will become of the proud Ayoreo people?

Note: For more information, please see Climate ConnectionsParaguay: Call for the restoration of democratic order, from: Comunicacion Sobrevivencia FoE Paraguay

All photographs are copyrighted by Langelle Photography (2013), all rights reserved. No photo can be used without the consent of Langelle Photography.  See Publishing and Acquisition Information.

Why Copyright?  One of the reasons I copyright my photographs is to track where these photos are being used in order to monitor the impact of my work and evaluate the effectiveness of Langelle Photography, a nonprofit organization.


2 Responses to “Ayoreo People of the Chaco”

  1. Winifred McDowell

    Thank you for your thoughtful, poignant, touching photographs of the people of the Chaco.
    A brief visit to the Chaco of Paraguay in 1998 provided many memories of a warm, wonderful
    people. It is sad to know that they, too, are enduring the horrors of development,

    • Langelle Photography

      Hi Winifred,

      Thanks for your remarks on the Ayoreo photos. I was very moved by the community I visited, though sad of how it all happened. I guess that can be said of numerous places and peoples. When you went to the Chaco did you see the colonizing settlement of Filidelfia? Cheers–Orin


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