Under Empire, Expropriation and Ethnocide
maladaptations of patriarchy and domination have been a problem for thousands
of years, The European conquest of the Americas, Pacific, Africa and Asia
has been the most dramatic instance in history, in its sheer scale, its
duration, and its acceleration under corporate "globalization."
Atrocities of genocide and enslavement are horrific no matter what kind
of society is targeted. Patrilineal, bilateral and matrilineal peoples
were overrun, stripped of their lands, often enslaved, decimated and destroyed
in this series of massive invasions.
sociopolitical contrast between conqueror and colonized is especially
striking in the case of the matrix societies. Their unwarlike and non-hierarchical
orientation rendered them especially vulnerable, as can be seen from the
fate of the Yukaghir of Siberia, the
Eyak of Alaska, and many other peoples. More recently, the matrilocal
Rungus Dusun of Sabah, Malaysia, were forced off their lands, which were
taken over by plantations of coconuts, palm and rubber trees. Both the
forest and their culture were destroyed.
ethnocides are still underway, driven by the corporate domination of world
economies. Oil extraction is poisoning the lands of the Ijaw in the Nigerian
delta. Oil corporations are also ravaging the eastern foothills of the
Andes, an area where some matrix peoples live, and also threatening indigenous
areas in Colombia such as the lands of the U'wa. The Machiguenga and their
sacred gorge of the upper Urubamba river, the Pongo de Mainique, are endangered
by corporate interests going after a huge natural gas deposit. There are
countless other cases, from logging in the Amazon and Malaysia and western
Canada, nuclear detonations in the Pacific, uranium and coal mining in
the US Southwest, and now the imminent threat of oil drilling in north
One of the most extreme instances of genocide committed against a matrix
culture is the Paraguayan decimation of the Ashé (Guayakí)
in the 1970s. The impenetrable forests of eastern Paraguay had protected
the sovereignty of this aboriginal people long after settlers had overrun
the Chaco region to their west. Now the non-Indian Paraguayans hunted
them down with heavy arms, murdered and drove them off their lands. They
confined captives in “colonias” (concentration camps) where
half the prisoners died from systematic violence and disease.
Big landowners, many belonging to the right wing military, forced some
of the Ashé people into slavery on their gigantic plantations.
The people faced beatings, starvation, torture and sickness. Women and
girls were continually raped, abused and tortured by landowners, soldiers,
or other white men. Estate owners became notorious for making sexual slaves
of Ashé women and girls as young as six or eight years. The life-spans
of these captives were not long, and some died terrible deaths. Pieces
of girls’ bodies have been found in the walls of some white rancher’s
houses. The trauma of those who survived such captivity can only be imagined.
The Ashé voiced their despair in powerful laments based on women’s
traditional chants for the dead. Their heartbreaking poetry is filled
with ancient themes, such as the reference to the transformed ancestors
as “magnificent anteaters.” The refrain, “heads folded
over crossed arms,” referring to the Ashé method of burial,
is sounded again and again as a symbol of the death of their murdered
kin. These modern laments mourn not only the dead—“and they
were numerous”—but also Ashé freedom, independence
and self-determination. They give voice to horror at the atrocities inflicted
on their people: the killing of young and old, the violation of women
“in the great white houses,” and the destruction of their
lament and tears
We, who were the Ashé
will never again go out
among the great columns of the forest
who were innocent targets
grow with the rain
those we’ve left behind
heads folded over crossed arms
who were pretty flowers
the whites used to trample them
and snatched them away
to the great house white like the sun,
those ones whose heads were folded over their crossed arms
Now my daughters are in large white houses
now never again will we greet each other
with the beautiful greeting of tears.
are now in the houses of the biggest ranchers
have now been totally subdued.
our mothers, slender women,
have been buried
now they have been totally abandoned.
Now, our fathers who were,
—now they are magnificent anteaters—
far away, they were trampled down.
Our sisters who were,
now they are a multitude of women,
now they are magnificent anteaters,
now they have been left behind,
and they were numerous.
Our war-fallen mothers
now they are magnificent anteaters.
brutally they were left far behind;
magnificent anteaters, they are
our war-fallen grannies
now have been abandoned,
and they were numerous…
Now, our daughters
didn’t the great earth cover them?
I who am no longer among the forest columns,
still know nothing to comfort me.
women in their prime
now they are in the great houses of owners
who snarl at them so that
many will labor at
the white man’s work.
pretty girls now,
now are in great owners’ houses,
totally subdued with much snarling.
With our mother [the mistress]
in her great house white like the sun
many of our daughters hold on,
our dear old war-fallen mothers
now exalted, now magnificent anteaters
have been left trampled,
and they were numerous.
Our ancestors, our ancestors
we have left them far away
heads folded over crossed arms.
Our very ancient grandmothers
we have left far behind, banished,
heads folded over crossed arms.
high respect for women among the matrilineal Ashé shines through
in the laments for their dead. Also, the tradition of chanting was highly
developed and valued. Ashé people learned the rules of chanting
desires, deeds, and lamentations around the fire from childhood. The Guayaki
of Yñarô were among a minority of world cultures which fostered
polyandry. Male jealousy was and favoritism toward a man's biological
offspring was frowned on: “Husbands must take care of all their
wife’s children without exception.” [“Techapyrâ:
la educacion tradicional y aculturada de los ninos ache guajaki,”
Accessed: August 18, 2005]
I referred to extremes; those who inflicted these crimes on the Ashé
were the military lords of the Stroessner regime, finally overthrown in
1989 after decades of abuse. Among them were Nazis who had fled to South
America after WWII, some of whom acted as government consultants for genocidal
policies aimed at Indian people. It is hard to imagine two more different
cultures than the white-supremacist-and-male-dominant military lords of
Paraguay, and the matrilineal and matrilocal forest culture of the Ashé.