Mbyá children`s knowledge - Enfance et cultures


Mbyá children`s knowledge - Enfance et cultures
Enfance & Cultures
Actes du colloque international, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication –
Association internationale des sociologues de langue française – Université Paris Descartes,
9es Journées de sociologie de l’enfance, Paris, 2010
Thème Enfants d'ailleurs, enfants d'ici
Mbyá children’s knowledge
1. Part One: On Child Anthropology in Argentina.
The anthropological interest in childhood has transited a period of great vitality in Latin
America since the last decade. A diverse group of authors have become interested in investigations
where the perspectives of the children are center stage; (Colangelo 2003; Cohn 2001; Donoso 2005;
Enriz 2006; Hecht 2004; García Palacios 2005; Larriq 1993; Leal Ferreira 2002; Nunes 1999; Szulc
2000; Remorini 2004; Tasinari 2001; Trpin 2004). These investigations have recovered the
ethnographic focus to approximate themselves to a wide array of topics like religious knowledge,
the diverse linguistic appropriations, matters of health, etcetera. Play has been a theme to which
many experiences have alluded, due to its emerging character in everyday infantile life. Within this
mark is this investigation with Mbyá Guaraní children from the province of Misiones, in Argentina.
2. Context and Methodology
The Mbyá Guaraní population of Misiones finds itself in a very particular context of tension
between territory, ethnical and national identity, as it is a territory where the debates over identity
form part of everyday life. This is due to various reasons. In first place, as Misiones is a border
territory, with much more international borders than internal, beyond an international border, an
international border with a Portuguese speaking country –Brazil– and another where Spanish is a
second language –Paraguay-. It should be added that besides this border, inhabited all along its
edge by the Guaraní population, has been a zone of great impact by the Jesuit Project through the
installation of reductions. In second place, because it has been one of the most dynamic regions in
the process by which Argentina incorporated large groups of differing European populations,
especially from the East. (Gorosito 2000)
Actuality there is four partialities among the Guaraní. The Mbyá, who inhabit the South of Brazil,
Paraguay and the Northeast of Argentina (Misiones); the Avá Chiripa or Avá Katú Eté or Ñandeva in
the South of Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia and the Northwest and Northeast of Argentina (Salta and
Misiones), on mixed occasions within the Mbyá nuclei; the Paĩ-taviterá, also called Kaiova or Kaiowa,
who inhabit Brazil and Paraguay; and the Aché who only reside in Paraguay (Bartolomé 2006; Mura
2006; Wilde 2007).
According to the map called Guaraní Reta (Grumberg 2009), the Guaraní people are more
than one hundred thousand in the region (approximately fifty-one thousand in Brazil, forty-two
thousand in Paraguay and six thousand five hundred in Argentina), with quite high and sustained
growth rates. At the same time, the Paĩ are the most numerous partiality as they comprise more
than forty-three thousand people. Respectively, the Mbyá and Avá add up to twenty-seven thousand
and twenty-six thousand, while the Aché are approximately one thousand two hundred in number.
In the Misiones province, in the Northeast of Argentina, live six thousand five hundred people who
define themselves as Mbyá Guaraní, in community nuclei located in a rural surrounding. Almost a
half is younger than sixteen years of age (3000). This proportion confirms the relevance of
performing investigations on the indigenous infancy in the region
Enfance & Cultures
Actes du colloque international, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication –
Association internationale des sociologues de langue française – Université Paris Descartes,
9es Journées de sociologie de l’enfance, Paris, 2010
Methodologically, I have decided to focus my attention on children from three to eleven
years old, approximately. Following the native categories relative to age, these include the Kiringüe
(also called kiri’i or kiringüe’i). This stage of life occurs during the first years of life, when the
children are most attached to their mother or the adult women, and the periods of change
associated with adult life.1
This investigation was carried out in distinct periods of field work starting in the year 2003.
The field study was performed in three indigenous communities of the Mbyá Guaraní ethnicity, I
will call them Yabotí, Kuña Piru and West Central2 with different characteristics with the objective
of understanding the representative mode of the diverse elements that influence the social
organization and the different modes of experiencing elements of identity in each case. Each one of
the locations has contributed elements that have illuminated the comprehension obtained of the
others. I have tried to take on the diversity of situations that the Mbyá population has to confront
with regards to school, by visiting a nucleus without access to the school system, another with a
public school with one turn and another with a private school with two turns. It also allows one to
see three distinct situations of relation with Spanish, one with extremely scarce competency in
Spanish, another with certain intermediacy and another with a large degree of bilingualism.
With regards to production, one of the groups sustains itself principally through hunting,
gathering and domestic production. The other two perform commercial transactions: in one they
dedicate themselves to the commercialization of artisan products and in the other the sale of their
labor force in the market. These three strategies of subsistence, developed in different ways,
represent the general strategies of the Mbyá community in the province of Misiones. As far as the
population, I visited nuclei with forty, on hundred and around three hundred people (a situation
quite variable not only between nuclei, but also in the different moments in which this investigation
was conducted).This gives a general idea of how the population of the region develops in the
region. I saw, also, nuclei with quite ample parcels of territory (hundred of hectares) - as is the case
of the Yaboti and Kuña Piru- and others with small parcels of land and high population density –
West Central.
3. Introduction to the Investigation
In the relations between adults and children, there is an exchange of various forms of
knowledge. I consider especially the forms in which the children interact, their activities and the
way in which they are located within society, as well as the transformations, continuities and
resistances that can result from their everyday social and spatial (Aitken et al., 2006).
Religious, is very relevant to any investigation with the Mbyá population. In this particular case, the
specific participation of children in ceremonies and the general value that is given to their actions
will be considered. With regards to education, I will focus on the intentions and demands of the
school and the school itself in the mark of Bilingual Intercultural Education. Play occupies la largest
amount of time in the children, it includes the tasks involved in exploring the world around them
and constitutes groups
I pointed out these three forms of knowledge for different reasons. On one side, because
through them the everyday experience of the children can be solidly recovered. On another because
they permit one to think about the particular qualities of each of the sites visited. Also, because the
tension between what the adults and children do are clearly expressed through them and at the
same time refer to the relations between the two groups. Lastly because they offer elements that
refer to the “way of being”, in the tension between the traditional and change.
Anthropology is interested in knowing and understanding as it embarks from the most
relevant aspects of the societies studied. In the beginnings of the discipline, some of the topics
most studied in relation to understanding were associated with linguistics. In a historical account of
this phenomenon, Bloundt (1975) considers that the acquisition of language and its role in
Enfance & Cultures
Actes du colloque international, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication –
Association internationale des sociologues de langue française – Université Paris Descartes,
9es Journées de sociologie de l’enfance, Paris, 2010
socialization are central questions of the nineteenth century literature, with an epicenter in the
proposals of Del Hymes (1961), where investigations into infantile language and cultural
observation and the personality of individuals intersect.
In this investigation, I pointed out how religious knowledge, academics and play all associate
themselves with the wisdom3 of the elders and the Mbyá language as a transmitter of certain
parameters. Here, some gender and age divisions are present. For the Mbyá population wisdom, in
general terms, do not have an individual channel of circulation – between people in a private
manner – but rather, in general is produced and installed communally in groups in which children
Knowledge and wisdom represent two discernible fields, one could think of their differences
through the potential subjectivity of objectivity in relation to the information. Some sustain that
knowledge constitutes the result of a personal experience: each subject finds himself with
information to which he approximates himself based on his affective and cognitive qualities.
Likewise, all activity of the subjects is endowed with affective and cognitive qualities that are not
transmissible, so knowledge is subjective. This subjectivity can be collective in the measure that
many subjects share and produce there knowledge in similar instances together. (Charlot 2006)
Wisdom, on the other hand, is presented as objective, and in this way it is assumed by the
subject. Wisdom is given and the subjects produce their knowledge when they confront
interpretative marks. So that wisdom is specific, and as such many different kinds of wisdom are
produced, with their respective specificity; as this same author resumes: “There is no subject of
knowledge and there is no knowledge outside of a certain relation with the world. (…) This relation
with the world is also a relation with oneself and a relation with others. It implies a form of activity
and, it would add, a relation with language and a relation with time” (Charlot, 2006: 103). As the
Brazilian anthropologist Santana de Oliveira (2006) sustains in the Guaraní populations the
horizontal transmission of wisdom is present ( more associated with the relation between equals),
contrary to the proposal of vertical transmission with which many times is associated with
academics. Also a dissociation of experiences is produced due to the children’s use of different
codes. Although there exists fields where verticality appears more apt, in these Strong connections
with equals are formed. Another facet is that in activities, such as play, where horizontality seems to
be the rule, these connections can develop asymmetries. Both reflections could be applied to
religious instances.
4. Experiences in the Opy
Religiosity for the Mbyá Guaraní is an important element as it offers elements to
comprehend a series of aspects of the social organization; it occupies a central place in the naming
of people, in the periods of transition through different ages. Infantile religiosity in the Mbyá
Guaraní presents a great deal of valuable elements. The place of infantile religiosity has recently
been pointed out by various anthropological investigations (Pires 2007, García Palacios 2005).
However, historians such as Gottlieb (1998) state that the anthropological explorations of religion
have tended to focus on the life, experiences and points of view of adults. According to this author,
the canonic works in this area of investigation have hardly anything to say about how religion could
affect the lives of children. Frazer, Durkheim, Weber and even Geertz have pushed infantile
religiosity to the side
In the same way, the classic authors related to investigations about the religiosity of the Mbyá
have put an emphasis on the population parting from juvenile rights of passage (Cadogan, Clastres,
Melià). Nonetheless, I already pointed out the everyday social space that the children have in the
religiosity of the Mbyá. I consider that the dances are carried out before the religious prayers are
intended to commence an invocation of the Gods, so that they will later listen to the words of the
Enfance & Cultures
Actes du colloque international, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication –
Association internationale des sociologues de langue française – Université Paris Descartes,
9es Journées de sociologie de l’enfance, Paris, 2010
In the following sequence of photographs taken by the children, the way in which the
bilingual aid produces a scene of dances in front of the elder is seen. The same recovers a great
quantity of elements from the dances prior to the religious ceremony: the music, the sequences of
children, the look of the elder, the dialogue with him, the gender roles and the forms of finalization.
Enfance & Cultures
Actes du colloque international, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication –
Association internationale des sociologues de langue française – Université Paris Descartes,
9es Journées de sociologie de l’enfance, Paris, 2010
In the sequence, the bilingual aid from the school is seen with a group of children. They are
performing a dance in front of the elder. The places, different gender and age roles can be seen.
Even, the established forms of dance and the use of musical instruments. Photo 1: the line of
children dancing behind an adult who plays the guitar. Photos 2 and 3 one can appreciate the
differentiation of gender: the girls to one side playing the takuapu. Photo 4: prepared to finish the
dances and greet the elder (out of camera).
But, at the same time, the children become conscious through these ceremonial experiences
of a series of pieces of wisdom that has been passed on throughout time. When at the beginning of
this text I reflected on the territorial situation of the Mbyá population, I did so keeping in mind,
Enfance & Cultures
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Association internationale des sociologues de langue française – Université Paris Descartes,
9es Journées de sociologie de l’enfance, Paris, 2010
among other things, that the value of the territory is manifested in these experiences. The following
accounts transcribed form part of the songs that the children produce in the setting of these
Mamo teta guireju (From what sacred place do you come?)
Mamo teta guireju (From what sacred place do you come?))
tetã ovy raji’i (Child of paradise)
tetã ovy raji’i (Child of paradise)
eike rechevy, eike rechevy (Come to me, come to me)
eike rechevy, eike rechevy (Come to me, come to me)
In the transcribed song, one sees how, through this sort of practice, relations that for part of
something sacred are established. The children begin to draw closer as a group to these pieces of
wisdom through expressions and experiences like the one cited above. As Ruiz recovers in his work
(1998, 2004), these stanzas take place accompanied by music produced by a diverse array of
instruments, such as the violin ( which, in the three cases studied was constructed at the ceremonial
site), woodwind instruments, the guitar (utilized with one chord less) and maracas. The instruments
are utilized by the adults who accompany the children. Generally, the songs are memorized by
some of the older children, and singing together circulate in the entire group.
In his review of the education of the Mbyá Guaraní, Bergamaschi (2007) holds that there exist two
central precepts: the importance of doing and the word. In this way, listening is a reverence: to
listen to the deities and their revelations through dreams, the aspirations and conversations of the
elder and to listen to those who are older, as the offer lessons and advice.
But in this case, the dances and songs also form par of a certain preparation for the religious
ceremony, to listen to the prayers and the songs of the adults.
ka’aguy ore mba’e (The forest are ours)
yvy ore mba’e (The land is ours)
yy ore mba’e (The water is ours)
Ñanderu oeja’mavy (Our God gave it to us)
pave’i roiko’i aguã (So we might take care of it)
In this fragment of a song some aspects appear that, resides incorporating religion, express
other pieces of knowledge of the Mbyá, referring to the natural surroundings and the way in which
it was produced and ought to be attended. Here appear the forest, the land and the water as an
inheritance from the Gods, something that is expressed in the Ayvu Rapyta. This version of these
pieces of sacred knowledge allows a rapid appropriation by the children. In the same way, it
establishes duties between the Mbyá and the Gods, who have willed these resources so that the
Mbyá might care for them.
I consider the religious ceremonies a kind of knowledge in practice (Csordas 2004), as the
most stable and consolidated manner, expressed through the body and the dances to invoke the
disposition of devotion, faith and royalty. The dances and songs have a melody, but are above all
exercises of the body were the group is expressed in corporal terms, a group that carries with it an
esthetic sense (Mauss 1967). In the next register one will see how, when the esthetic sense of the
dance is altered, the adults can intervene to aid the children in its production.
They dance in a circle for a while; the turn and spin. Those who dance are not always the same. When they
interrupt the music, they all stop,; when it starts up again, so do they. Later, the rhythm changes again, but
only the girls dance. It seems that they do not do it well; Armando goes to them to explain. He places them
Enfance & Cultures
Actes du colloque international, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication –
Association internationale des sociologues de langue française – Université Paris Descartes,
9es Journées de sociologie de l’enfance, Paris, 2010
with facing the same direction, one in front of the other, as if they were following each other, but at a distance
of one meter. Both have their arms extended (“like the wings of a bird” clarifies the elder). One walks forward
as she crouches; the other walks backwards and remains erect. They do this with two shot steps, changing
place between them and with the rhythm of the music. One attention grabbing and entertaining dance both for
those who see it and those who dance it remains. (Yabotí, 16/05/2003)
Here the adult indicates to the girls the proper way to perform the dance, establishing
relations between the practices of the children and the forms of the dance of a bird (tangarã) to
which in this case the dance ought to refer. The dances are not new every time, but rather form part
of a body that is transmitted from generation to generation. The same occurs with the songs that
are transcribed here: they are part of an oral tradition that is transmitted
The age and gender differences are expressed in many settings, one of which is the religious. Here
being child or the adult implies participating at distinct levels in the dances and prayers. Of course,
the children and adults participate in both cases. As was seen, while the children sing and dance, the
adults play instruments; while the adults pray, the children listen attentively. In the ceremonies in
which there are also healings, the children can also take part.
Either way, the focus is clearly on the children in the dances and in the prayers the adults. But, as is
seen in the following account, the participation of the children in adult activities (and vice versa) is
deeply rooted.
The desire of smoke is quite notable. At night, almost all of the boys have their tacuara-tipped ceramic pipe
(Cami, for example is two years old). In stead of tobacco, the children smoke yerba mate. Upon finishing the
ceremony, in which all present smoke, Armando thanks the children for having achieved nice smoke (tatachĩ
ponã). The smoke is used to cure. Armando cured his daughter and granddaughter blowing and breathing
smoke from his pipe near them. Pedro cured Teo, who cannot walk nor sit, in the same way. He blew with
great force over all of his body and asked help from the Gods. (Yabotí, 14/11/2006)
Smoking and producing smoke benefits the ceremony. Everyone smokes during this time
and the children too. Not only do they smoke, they dedicate themselves to maintaining the adults’
pipes lit. With respect to the gender issues, these are made more explicit upon entering into the
adult world. While the girls and boys completely share the dances, upon adulthood the religious
roles are clearly defined: the men are in charge of the prayers and the women of the choruses that
accompany the prayers. Regarding the instruments, each sex is in charge of certain ones: the
women are in charge of the woodwinds (takuapu) and the men of the guitar, violin, maracas and
In the prayers, as in the children’s songs, the territory, forest resources and relations of the
Mbyá with those resources is recurrent. So, in many dreams, the Gods intervene in the mobility of
the Mbyá, recommending to them not to go out or perhaps to visit someone.
In these days when Armando is not present, we found ourselves in the morning conversing with Camilo
(youngest son of Armando, in absence of other males in the family). Today he asked us about our dreams,
and it came to me – from what I had dreamt – that one of my siblings could have a cold or some slight
problem. He has decided not to go to the neighboring nucleus, due to his dream telling him he did not have to
go. He says that at night, all spirits leave their bodies while they rest, this is why they find and tell things. But
there are some tricky souls that play practical jokes or frighten, sometimes. That is why the interpretation of
dreams is important, so you do not believe everything. (Yabotí, 11/06/2005)
The Gods can advise about more diverse topics. They give their wisdom about these topics
and that allows one to listen, interpret and understand the possibility to follow the path indicated.
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This youth, interested in learning to interpret those messages, pays attention to the interpretations
of his father and upon hearing his advice learns to interpret dreams.
The scheme of ancestral mobility is not associated with issues regarding to taking economic
advantage of the territory, as occurs with other groups of hunter-gatherers, but rather religious
interests.(the search for land without evil). As Miguel Bartolomé (2004) sustains, the messianic
characteristic of the religiosity of the Mbyá has profoundly marked the social organization of this
population, although in actuality a series of variables generated the social transformations: point
and case, the ever closer proximity of territories, the impossibility of maintaining traditional forms
of subsistence related to the forest and, in this same sense, the slow incorporation in the work force
and participation in plans of government assistance.
To finalize, it is important to point out that Turing the religious ceremonies the children
dance, they call this activity jeroky. In one of the translations of the children jajeroky was
interpreted as “we dance” and “we will greet God”. Dancing, performing religious dances, jeroky
porã (dancing nicely) is quite clearly an element of the Group ties to the religious, which can be
interpreted in these two ways at the same time. The transcendental infantile experiences include
elements of play but are codes of association for the members of the group, and the Gods
5. Intercultural Education
Since its inception, the Argentine school system has had as its objective to work with diverse
populations. Part of its consolidation and development has been associated with migratory policies,
which would suppose a diversity of subjects. Puiggrós sustains that the central subjects in the
period in which the educative system began were “the oligarchic, free-market and agrarian
blockades from those at be in Buenos Aires, and the popular sectors comprised of rural workers,
artisans from city, the emerging industrial proletariat, the new middle sectors, immigrants,
anarchists, socialists, union advocates, radical liberals, radicals” (Puiggrós, 2006: 38).
But the consideration of the indigenous population and its particular diversity within the
education system is a process that, institutionally and in a very generalized form, took place a
century later. As Achilli sustains, “Turing the 90’s, in Latin America an impulse for indigenous
education as part of educative reform was expanded through the region. The same occurs in
Argentina, a country that historically has not recognized its native population” (Achilli, 2003: 343).
Although previously various experiences were verified throughout the country, the legality of them
will arrive after the firth developments, when Bilingual Intercultural Education forms part of the
constitutionally established Rights (reform of 1994). 4 In this plan, the National Ministry of
Education promoted the development of provincial plans: each province constitutes its own
projects and implements them, only when it considers them necessary in virtue of its population.
Upon implementation (in 2005) the Bilingual Intercultural Education program (BIE) has
shown the need to think of the intercultural aspects in the province of Misiones, after years of
homogenizing education, it constituted an interesting alternative and increased the role of the
On one side, from the Ministry exchange spaces for training between teachers and natives
were generated. “We needed to know more about them; there are things we do not understand and
the make the task at hand more difficult. The children arrive here without knowing any Spanish”
(teacher, El Dorado, 03/08/2007). On another side, a program for auxiliary formation was
established, implemented by anthropologists from the area who acted on behalf of the
incorporation of the Mbyá population to that setting. These developed tasks in the schools and in
their own nuclei. One student from the school, already a graduate, points out that the children now
“learn to value, they learn that school is important for the helpers that speak Mbyá and that helps a
Enfance & Cultures
Actes du colloque international, Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication –
Association internationale des sociologues de langue française – Université Paris Descartes,
9es Journées de sociologie de l’enfance, Paris, 2010
great deal. They are almost teachers and help, because the children can then know words. They,
then, realize the importance of studying”(West Central, 05/06/08).
What is more, renowned specialists were called to the job and were advisors for the program,
such as Gorosito and Melià and also the voice of the elders was recovered. This allowed the
teachers to count on more information referring to the characteristics of the population. At the
same time, the settings for training were also points of encounter between diverse subjects and
formed part of a larger problem. There they had the possibility to articulate their difficulties and
convert them into the program’s agenda. On another side, the implementation of the project
favored the formal recognition of the helpers, by way of positions generated the Ministry itself.
Finally, it contributed to the formation of new satellite classrooms where education takes place.
As expressed in the beginning, I performed a field study in three areas. Among the
differences that they possess with regards to access to education: in West Central, these has been a
school since the commencement of indigenous education in the Province (private and religious); in
the second case it deals with the first indigenous scholastic experience in the public sphere, and in
the third (Yabotí) there is no access to education. In the three experiences, the relation between
scholar information and the intercultural aspect has acquired diverse forms.
In the following fragment I point out an auxiliary experience:
There are ten children present (six girls and four boys); some appear older. Sonia (bilingual auxiliary,
daughter of the opygua) starts the class; a proposal to tell a story in Mbyá is made. It is the story of a
grandmother who cooked chipá which were later stolen by a monkey. The children ask for another story and
she always narrates in Mbyá. They go on recess and have a snack. Back from recess, Fernanda asks if they
have a grandmother. It is a little difficult for the children to speak, but she waits and goes slowly. So, the
children begin to tell who each other’s grandfather is. Some also say his name. there are two boys from the
same family. The grandfather of one is the father of the other (they are uncle and nephew). Mia adds that she
has two grandfathers and two grandmothers, some here and others in the locality of Leoni, this is written on
the blackboard. (West Central, 08/08/2007)
In this way, the children are able to come into contact with the complexity of writing in a
foreign language. The tale narrated in the indigenous language permits the children to understand
the story so they can, later, write in Spanish. They are first grade students. These first stages of
introduction to education are quite particular. In the following, I will recover a fragment where the
children reflect on the classroom of kindergarten.
When the children encounter a stronger connection with the school, in second and third
grade, they start acquiring particular perspectives about the topics. Here, they begin to ask the
teachers questions about the way the subjects are taught. Some teachers are more aware of these
aspects, and this is something personal, as their training has not given them tools to handle these
kinds of conflicts. So, after teaching the arrival of the Spanish in America, the second grade teacher
shows the production.
In the patio, Carolina (second grade teacher) showed me a notebook in which the children had drawn about
the conquering of America. The drawings were of some dolls with feathers on their heads and others, who were
coming from a boat, yelling “We are going to kill you”, while the feathered drawings screamed “Nooo” (the
screams were written). (Wes Central, 12/10/2006)
In some educative experiences, the difficulties are resolved consulting with the families. In
the case we will narrate a posteriori, there is no school rather a projected geared towards
alphabetization solicited by the group itself and of which I form part in my visits, as we explicated
in Chapter II. But the community surrounding establishes its parameters, the syllabus. The elder
tends to express which things the children ought to learn, and he takes care of the accommodation
of indigenous wisdom and Spanish.
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The moment of learning is special. The children sit at the tables and remember things they saw in August.
Some are ahead of others. They work on Mbyá, Spanish and Mathematics. The topic on which we worked
was words related to family. The elder told the names of each established lineage in Mbyá and we wrote them
in this fashion. (Yabotí, 14/11/2006)
In this case alone we could not have achieved what we would define as a translation, as the
categories referring to family varied, and the categories the elder suggested tackling were:
Cheramoi (grandfather)
Chejeryi (grandmother)
Chechi (mom)
Cheru (dad)
Chetuty (uncle)
Chechy’y (aunt)
Chekyvy kyri’i (younger brother)
Chekypy’y (younger sister)
Chekyvy (older brother)
Cheryke (older sister)
Che ramy moni (grandson)
Cheremiarirõ (granddaughter)
Chemebykyri’i / cheri’i /chepeẽ (nephew)
(Yabotí, 14/11/2006) 5
The scheme in Spanish had been: mom (mamá), dad (papá), grandfather (abuelo),
grandmother (abuela), brother (hermano) and sister (hermana). The remaining relations we
established according to the lineage scheme that the elder had indicated. In his indications it was
necessary to make these marks; this was done writing in Mbyá, his writing. Later, to learn the
categories in Spanish, it was necessary to explain that certain differentiations are not made.
Moreover, in this case, the class times are not as fragmented, rather the form part of the
continuity of the group. That is to say, from the time the children are sent, once they have woken
up and eaten something, they arrive at the site where they arrange the tables to work, generally
underneath the shade (depending on the climate). Then the begin to review their notebooks and a
studious atmosphere is generated, they begin to do homework, which are interrupted briefly by
various situations, a game, a request from an adult or meals. This does not mean the end of the
activity, rather until the time the children no longer wish to continue. The desire to work can
diminish according to the day, but the relevant aspect is that it makes the activity more dynamic. As
I stated, food enters onto the scene in diverse ways:
During the afternoon class, with the older children, we ate black bean stew, later Palms and after that
Chicken. At the end they brought us honeycomb toe at the honey with the bee larva inside. (Yabotí,
6. Children's play and the social dimension given to this activity.
With respect to play and the knowledge and wisdom that circulate within it, there is a great
variety of settings to approach, above all domestic and family. Play can take place between children
and adults, but without a doubt it arises from a code shared by those who establish the encounter
In relation to knowledge, a primary aspect is the way in which the games are learnt by the Mbyá
children. If nobody is born already in possession of such knowledge, the children dissimulate their
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ignorance of the forms of play and the way to include themselves in the circulation of such
knowledge, to increment their wisdom and even share it with others from an early age. Play appears
as an ample field of interaction between subjects in the process of socialization, where a confluence
of diverse forms of communication, reproduction of it and the reinvention of practices is had. In
this text I’m going to focuses in games that links relation between animals and Childs.
In this way relations are established with nature, as the focus of the game is to be able to
retrieve tangerines from the tree and consume them. But these are not the only games in which
connections with nature are established; in others a wisdom pertaining to the danger of certain
animals is manifested:
From below the table, two children come out making a dog-like noise. I ask them and the clarify that they are
chi’i (wild cats). They run and capture a little girl, Cami; they take her below the table. The others are kept
in the chicken-coop or in the treetops. They run again. Those who are in the treetops – they clarify that they
are the Mbyá – save Cami and take her to the chicken-coop; they lock her in there. She frees herself and goes
beneath the table with the chi’i, and the others chastise her. When the wild cats capture someone, the rest try
to save him or her. When the rest have left, Cami complains because they left her until last, and one of the
boys her age waits for her. During the game, three of the boys (eight and nine years old) climb the tree to pick
crabapples and in the ascent break a branch. Two of the older children chastise them, saying that is not the
Mbyá way. (Yabotí, 18/08/2007)
On one side, certain categories are established in relation to the characteristics of some
animal species and the possible danger they pose. In this way various meanings are seen as to how
one ought to treat animals: from their particular characteristics, the relations the Mbyá ought to
maintain with them are expressed. But, the way in which one ought to treat other natural resources
is also clarified: in this sense, the breaking of the branch with fruit is considered an improper harm
done by the Mbyá. The relations of the children with animals demarked in these jovial practices are
quite diverse:
At night some children go to their own houses to sleep (their parents are not there). The children play with the
animals. Jesi bathed her dog, dried him and brought him wrapped-up. Alejandra was with some very small
chicks in a hat, caring for them, but they died. When this happens, the girl takes them to the fire. They also
play with the piglets, who when touched fall down so they children might pet their bellies. (Yabotí,
The care of domestic animals is part of the play activities that the children perform as a
group. When faced with the death of small animals, as with the chicks or other animals, I have seen
the burning as a procedure; in the case presented in this register, the practice is repeated. Regarding
other animals, those considered to be dangerous, the children develop certain habits to employ
when confronted by them:
In the midst of the activities, when the children are doing things the scream of the chickens is heard.
The children warn that it is a wild cat. All run towards the site of the screams making noise, the cat
is seen fleeing. The chicken lays dead on the ground, the dogs, who had come running when the say the
children scream and run, chase the cat off a little into the forest. (Yabotí, 08/06/2005)6
Here the possibility of danger or confronting a dangerous animal is presented. The children
approach the animal as a group making a lot of noise to scare off the predator. They recover the
harmed animal and establish a group moment of reflection about what has occurred. These
experiences, aside from offering particular relations to the group, offer some elements to think on
regarding certain aspects of subsistence.
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In the same terms that surprised Jules Henry (1974), the scarcity of hostilities, the lack of
production of limits to violence in these activities, distinguishes significantly and necessarily the
process of development in childhood in this society. It would seem that neither in the family, nor in
the older groups, do relations of rivalry or hostility tend to arise. There is no exercise of authority
by way of the adult roles, which does not mean a lack of authority. As this occurs in the relation
between parents and children, there generally are no tensions between subjects of the same nucleus.
As such, the functioning relation between for example adults is of great friendship and the children
repeat this pattern in their practices.
7. Conclusions: The Three Areas of Circulation of Wisdom, Relations and Tensions
The Mbyá Guaraní children construct their wisdom for life in the domestic setting, including
when they move territories. In these places, they constitute groups of children that approach
distinct information about nature, or religion, or academics. I consider in all of these cases that the
children approach the everyday activities through play. Just as Nunes (1999) states, it is not a matter
of “serious games” because behind them are responsibilities relevant to the reproduction of life, but
rather activities of recreation and diversion.
In the religious settings the way in which the children approach the ways of prayer, and
through prayer to the ways of life, nature and their settings was seen. In education, I saw that the
proposals of the state varied, and that the children participate in a special way in school, imposing
thief rules of activity. In the games I saw how many aspects run together and are recreated.
Working with the kiringüe allowed me to work with children who move autonomously
through the territory and intervened in many different environments and constituted a group, the
community of play (Melià 1979; Larriq 1993). The community of play permits one to think of the group of
children as a community who promotes relations and connections which subjects will share in some
way as adults. They will be part of a community with values in common. That does not necessarily
mean that the same group with share activities with adults, just that community relation will be
established in one nucleus or another. We can think of the category of community play as a prelude
to the adult community dynamics of the Mbyá, because there organizing forms that later develop
into strategies of communal living among which I shall point out the establishment of consensus,
tactical agreements and collaboration are established.
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Categories relative to life stages
Mitã oikota va’e
Pytã /pytã’i
(Kuña pytã, Ava pytã, mitã pytã)
Kiringue, kiringue’i, kiri’i.
Ñe’enguchu ramota va’e
Iñe’engue ramo va’e
Kuña va’era
Kuña tai
Mitan ruchu
Karya Karai
Tujai kueve
Guaimi’i kueve
Mitã oikota va’e
Pytã /pytã’i
(Kuña pytã, Ava pytã, mitã pytã)
Kiringue, kiringue’i, kiri’i.
Before birth
New born
“He who is about to be a child”
“New”, “Brand New”
From the first stops until prepuberty (from 2 to 10 years old
“Child”, “Little Child”
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Ñe’enguchu ramota va’e
Iñe’engue ramo va’e
Kuña va’era
Mitan ruchu/ Kunumi
Kuña tai
Karya Karai
Tujai kueve
Guaimi’i kueve
Male, between 11 and 13 years
Female, between 10 and 12 years
Female, during menarche and
after. Approximately beginning
after age 13.
Male, after the deepening of the
voice. Beginning approximately
at age 14.
Female, starting from the birth of
the first child, approximately
from age 15.
Female, in general from 20 years
Male, in general from 20 years
“He whose voice is changing”
“She who is ready to hear the
“She who is ready to be a
“Young man”
“Young woman”
“Very old”
2 Map of the region where the locations of the three locations visited in the field study are indicated. Map of Argentina
where the province of Misiones is shown.
3 In English is very difficult to express what in Spanish are saber and conocimiento, or in French savoir and
connaissances. In this text I decided to use wisdom to refer to conocimiento and knowledge to refer to saber.
4 Article 75, clause 17, National Constitution of 1994: “To recognize the ethnic and cultural preexistence of indigenous
peoples in Argentina. To guarantee respect for their identity and the right to a bilingual and intercultural education,
recognize the judicial officials of their communities, possessions and communal properties of their traditional lands; and
to regulate the delivery of others apt and sufficient for human development; none of them will be alienable, transmissible,
nor susceptible to charges or embargos. To ensure participation in the Management of natural resources and all other
affected interests. The provinces can exercise these attributions concurrently.”
5The word Che at the beginning of each word indicates the ego.
6These scenes are habitual.
Citer cet article :
Noelia Enriz, « Mbyá children’s knowledge », in Actes du colloque Enfance et cultures : regards des sciences humaines et
sociales, Sylvie Octobre et Régine Sirota (dir), [en ligne]
http://www.enfanceetcultures.culture.gouv.fr/actes/enriz.pdf, Paris, 2010.

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