ETHNONYMS: Ava, Caaguá, Caingua, Caiwá, Kaa'wa, Kainguá, Kaiowá, Kaiwá, Kayova, Montese, Paï, Paï-Cayuä, Paï-Tavyterä, Paingua, Pan, Tavytera

Approximately 14,000 Paï-Tavytera live in dispersed communities in eastern Paraguay, mostly in the department of Amambay, and across the border in Brazil on several small reservations in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Eight thousand to 10,000 live in Paraguay and about 6,000 in Brazil.

The Paï-Tavytera are Guaraní speakers who, over centuries of interaction with the dominant society, have maintained their distinctive language, culture, and religion.

The ancestors of the present-day Paï-Tavytera were probably the Itatin Guaraní, who were settled by Jesuit missionaries in the seventeenth century in the reducciones of eastern Paraguay. Not all the Itatin accepted settlement. Some who were settled returned to tribal life after slave raiders from Sao Paulo decimated the missions, forcing the Jesuits to move south with the remnants of their flocks. In the eighteenth century the tribal Guaraní became known by the general term "Caaguá" (there are numerous variants of this name) or "Montese." "Paï-Tavytera" is the name given today to the most northerly of the Guaraní tribes in eastern Paraguay. They distinguish themselves from two other Guaraní tribal groups, the Chiripá and the Mbyá, who are somewhat different in language and custom.

After the War of the Triple Alliance in the 1870s, the population of Paraguay was greatly reduced. This caused vast areas of eastern Paraguay to be left for many decades as public lands or latifundia, used only for lumbering and collecting yerba maté or "Paraguay tea." Indian labor was exploited in these extractive industries but the Paï-Tavytera were otherwise left largely undisturbed. Although in contact with the dominant society, they were little influenced by it. In contrast, the Paï-Tavytera on the Brazilian side, where they are called "Kaiowá," have been, since the late nineteenth century, subjected to an official policy of concentration, missionization, and acculturation. In recent years, however, the lands around the dispersed Paï-Tavytera communities in eastern Paraguay have been occupied by colonization projects or individual settlers, reducing opportunities for hunting and fishing. Many of these communities have gained collective title to their land, making them largely self-sufficient. Most Paï-Tavytera men, however, work on farms outside their communities for at least three months of the year.

The habitat of the Paï-Tavytera is subtropical forest with some open country. They practice slash-and-burn agriculture with relatively short fallow periods—between three and five years. Both traditional and adopted varieties of maize are grown. It is culturally their most significant crop and is planted only one or two years in the same plot, whereas manioc is planted for several more seasons. They plant fruit trees (including citrus), bananas, and pineapples, as well as cotton and medicinal plants near their houses. Some introduced crops such as rice and soybeans are grown, primarily for sale. The total cultivated area per family is 1.5 to 6 hectares. They keep chickens, pigs, and occasionally cattle; most communities have horses and donkeys.

Although hunting is no longer as crucial to subsistence as it once was, it is a favorite occupation of men and boys. They use shotguns, rifles, and various kinds of traps. Preferred game animals are tapir, pacas, agoutis, armadillos, deer, and monkeys. Fishing is less important than hunting. Hooks and lines, bows and arrows, nets, and fish poison are used. Because it is consumed daily, yerba maté is the most important product gathered. In addition, a number of other wild fruits are collected, and many different kinds of wild honey are distinguished and actively sought.

A traditional house provides a home for an extended family and also serves a religious and ceremonial function. It has a thatched roof rising from the ground and three entrances—on the north, the east, and the south, with a wide patio at the eastern entrance. Inside are an altar with religious paraphernalia and jars for storing chicha beer. Most people, however, live in smaller houses of the type common to rural Paraguay. The house is furnished with benches, homemade beds and hammocks, gourds, and other utensils. Pottery is made only by women and basketry only by men.

Traditional clothing is worn only on ceremonial occasions. Festival dress includes cotton diadems with toucan feathers for both men and women, feather bracelets and anklets, and cotton sashes and ponchos. The face is painted with urucú , a red vegetable dye derived from annatto ( Bixa orellana ) seeds. The lower lip is pierced to accommodate the distinctive lip ornament or labret made of resin.

Paï-Tavytera communities are autonomous, and the chief is a religious leader who delegates part of his political authority to his assistants. These officials have considerable influence, especially in matters relating to outsiders. Important decisions that affect the whole community are never made without discussion in the community council, which consists of all adult men and women. Deliberations continue until a consensus is reached. Communities police themselves to a great extent, except for cases of murder, when the suspect is handed over to Paraguayan civil authorities. Young men serve as policemen and messengers.

Family relations are defined by the extended family composed of bilateral kin. Young couples may live with the parents of either spouse before establishing an independent household.

The most important Paï-Tavytera ritual is the boys' initiation, which takes place every few years, when there are enough boys in the age group between 10 and 14. The celebration, which involves the whole community, requires the preparation of a great deal of food and especially chicha. The boys are isolated in a special hut for a month, where they fast and are instructed in ritual songs and dances. On the day that the boys' lips will be pierced, the whole community assembles, the boys are painted by their fathers and taken to a house where they are seated on benches in rows. In preparation for the lip piercing, chicha is given to the boys until they are drunk to the point of insensibility. As each boy receives his labret, the audience applauds and the boy is carried off to his hammock to sleep and recover. After initiation, the boys are full members of the community. At the time of first menstruation, girls are kept in seclusion for several weeks, and their hair is cut short. When the hair has grown again to shoulder length, they are eligible for marriage.

Paï-Tavytera religious belief includes an extensive pantheon with a creator god who became weary of his own creation and went up to the sky, leaving the further organization of the world to his son. When the son, in turn, went up to heaven, he left his wife on earth, pregnant with twins. The many adventures of these twins provide subjects for myths and cautionary tales.

The Paï-Tavytera worship their gods by singing, dancing, and invocation. Maracas (gourd rattles), flutes, and musical bows are used as instruments, along with stamping tubes made of a bamboo section closed at one end that make a dull thud when pounded on the ground. Used only by women, these tubes mark the rhythm of the dance. Drinking chicha beer is central to every religious ceremony as well as to secular festivities. Leaders insist that knives and other potential weapons be left at home so that any fights occurring as a result of excessive beer drinking will not have serious consequences.

An important element in Guaraní religious thinking is the belief in a "Land Without Evil," a paradise that can be attained on this earth as well as in heaven. The many migrations of the Tupí-Guaraní peoples, often led by messianic prophets, have been associated with this belief. The Guaraní believe in an approaching apocalypse—monsters and fire sent by the gods to destroy the earth and all its inhabitants.

The Paï-Tavytera believe that each person has two souls. One is a spiritual soul, centered in the throat and manifested through speech. When a person dies, this soul goes up to heaven. The other is the soul of the body which, during a person's life, is his shadow. When a person dies, this soul remains on earth and may be incarnated in an animal. This soul, or ghost, may attempt to seduce living relatives and is hence regarded as dangerous. The PaïTavytera have a strong sense of immortality, and family and friends comfort the dying with talk of those who have gone before, whom they may expect to meet again. The dead are buried with all their personal belongings; their houses are often burned to destroy the corporal souls that may lurk there.

The Paï-Tavytera regard epidemic diseases as punishments of the gods. Only prayer and ritual can effect purification. Evil spirits can also cause illness, especially to those who do not protect themselves with prayer and flute playing. Most feared are sorcerers, men or women who work unknown evils by introducing noxious objects into their victims' bodies. Only the sorcerer who casts the particular spell is able to remove it, so he or she must be found. When a sorcerer is identified, he or she may be expelled from the community or killed. Many health problems, however, such as toothache, cuts, local infections, and other minor ailments are thought to issue from natural causes. For these discomforts, the patient may consult a healer—a man or woman with an extensive knowledge of medicinal herbs.


Maybury-Lewis, David, and James Howe (1980). The Indian Peoples of Paraguay: Their Plight and Their Prospects. Cultural Survival Special Report No. 2. Cambridge, Mass.

Melia, Bartomeu, Georg Grünberg, and Friedl Grünberg (1976). "Los paï-tavyterã: Etnografía guaraní del Paraguay contemporáneo." Suplemento Antropológico (Asunción: Universidad Católica Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, Centro de Estudios Antropológicos) 11(1-2): 151-295.

Métraux, Alfred (1958). "The Guarani." In Handbook of South American Indians , edited by Julian H. Steward. Vol. 3, The Tropical Forest Tribes , 69-94. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 143. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.

Monteiro, John Manuel (1992). "Os guarani e a história do Brasil meridional: Séculos XVI-XVII." In Historia dos indios no Brasil, edited by Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, 475-498. São Paulo: Editora Schwarez.

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