<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Indigenous Survival Under Empire, Expropriation and Ethnocide

Matrix Cultures















































































Indigenous Survival Under Empire, Expropriation and Ethnocide

The 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.

The 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.

These 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 Alaska.

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 beloved forests.


Xengaray: lament and tears

We, who were the Ashé
will never again go out
among the great columns of the forest

Our girls
who were innocent targets
grow with the rain
those we’ve left behind
heads folded over crossed arms

Our girls
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.

Our daughters
are now in the houses of the biggest ranchers
have now been totally subdued.
Already now
our mothers, slender women,
have been buried
magnificent anteaters,
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
now happy.

our war-fallen grannies
now exalted,
now have been abandoned,
and they were numerous…

Now, our daughters
fine-looking women,
didn’t the great earth cover them?
I who am no longer among the forest columns,
still know nothing to comfort me.

our daughters
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.

Our daughters
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.


The 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,” Online: www.ateneoguarani.edu.py/costumbres.php?/tema=culture&id=1 Accessed: August 18, 2005]

Earlier 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.