Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • You and your people have long eked out a humble living off the land in your isolated corner

  • of the world.

  • Then one day you make contact with modern man, and suddenly disease ravages your community,

  • killing most of your family.

  • A sci-fi plotline?

  • It was actually life for a small tribe in Paraguay - only just over sixty years ago.

  • The Ache tribe made their home in eastern Paraguay, and they managed to avoid regular

  • contact with the outside world until the second half of the twentieth century.

  • The outside world's main awareness of them came from the writings of Spanish Jesuits

  • starting in the early 17th century, as the new settlers caught glimpses of the nomadic

  • tribe of hunter-gatherers.

  • While some Ache were briefly captured by missionaries and brought to a Jesuit facility, they all

  • died within months of disease and little information was gathered.

  • However, the writings were able to create a basic picture of this uncontacted tribe

  • and how they live, including their culture, economy, and faith.

  • And much of it was largely unchanged from before the arrival of European settlers.

  • While the Ache were all hunter-gatherers, they were not one unified tribe.

  • In fact, there were multiple Ache groups that didn't have peaceful contact with each other.

  • Their diet mostly consisted of fruit, venison, roots, and palm pith.

  • They frequently attached small stones to their lips for a dramatic visual effect, and their

  • economy consisted largely of trading edible goods.

  • While they briefly encountered the Jesuits in the 17th and 18th century, the religious

  • group was expelled in 1768 without any long-term impact on the Ache culture, and there is a

  • large gap of information of how the Ache evolved until the end of the 19th century.

  • Then, in 1908, everything changed.

  • The world was opening up, and scientists both local and foreign were increasingly interested

  • in isolated groups like the Ache.

  • Most observed them from afar, including famous Paraguayan naturalist Moises Bertoni.

  • But Federico Maynthusen, a German immigrant, was the first to make contact in 1908 and

  • was able to gather modern information on their culture and language, raising the interest

  • of locals.

  • The outside world was creeping in - and it rarely had good intentions.

  • As development came closer to the Ache territory, local farmers and colonists occasionally clashed

  • with them - but there was no formal contact yet.

  • But the Ache's days of isolation were coming to an end.

  • It was 1954 when the Paraguayan government underwent a seismic shift.

  • The staunch anti-communist Alfredo Stroessner staged a military coup against the sitting

  • President.

  • He quickly gained absolute control of Paraguay, winning one-party elections and filling the

  • courts and legislature with his supporters.

  • Paraguay quickly became a one-party state, his political opponents were captured or killed,

  • and he kept the country in a constant state of emergency that allowed him to rule as an

  • absolute dictator.

  • There was not an area of life in Paraguay that he didn't want to control - and that

  • included the most isolated regions.

  • 1959 brought the modern world to the Ache's door.

  • Manuel de Jesus Pereira was the first to make contact with the Ypety Ache tribe.

  • Once they had been pacified, he used them as guides to track down other isolated tribes

  • and make contact.

  • While contact with the Ypety and Yvytyruzu tribes was relatively peaceful, it didn't

  • bring good things to the small communities.

  • They were less than a hundred individuals when they were found, and as they were studied

  • by local anthropologists, they proved very vulnerable to unfamiliar diseases and more

  • than half of each small tribe died in less than ten years.

  • But contacting the Northern Ache would prove more complicated.

  • While the Northern Ache had avoided contact, they had frequent conflict with local loggers

  • and ranchers.

  • They occupied a large region near the San Joaquin mountains, with over 550 members of

  • their tribe.

  • Stroessner encouraged Pereira to remove this group from the area, and so Pereira moved

  • what was left of the smaller tribes to what would become the Cerro Moroti reservation

  • and trained them in the use of modern weapons.

  • When a group of them were attacked by some Northern Ache while hunting, they were able

  • to capture a Northern Ache woman thanks to their shotguns.

  • For the first time, Pereira had a way into this most isolated tribe.

  • It took a month, but Pereira and the Ache working with him were able to convince her

  • to lead them to her tribe's base.

  • The Northern Ache were convinced to surrender and move to the reservation, but they were

  • only one of the Northern Ache groups in the forest.

  • In the 1970s, there would be at least ten removals of Ache populations from the region

  • to the reservation, many of which soon died from respiratory ailments.

  • The small and isolated tribe was being decimated by illness, and their original way of life

  • was threatened.

  • Time moved on, but one woman would not be silent.

  • She never knew her original name, because she was at most five in 1967 when the world

  • came coming.

  • The little girl who would come to be known as Margarita was living in eastern Paraguay

  • when she was kidnapped by colonists and sold as a domestic slave.

  • She barely remembered the early years with her tribe, and was soon given a new name by

  • a woman who told her she was her mother.

  • But while this woman insisted Margarita was her daughter, she treated her as anything

  • but.

  • Margarita wasn't sent to school like a girl her age would be, and instead was forced to

  • work as a cook and maid for a woman who never showed her any affection.

  • The outside world was no more welcoming.

  • As Margarita was brought outside, she started to realize how different she was from the

  • people who surrounded her.

  • People on the street called her slurs used to insult indigenous people, and she had none

  • of the papers used to identify citizens of Paraguay - only a name that seemed to come

  • out of nowhere.

  • She was one of countless indigenous children kidnapped and given to local families.

  • While Margarita lived with this family, the Ache's way of life was being systematically

  • dismantled - with almost the entire population of the Northern Ache being confined to small

  • reservations with poor living conditions under Stroessner's regime.

  • But Margarita had not forgotten her roots.

  • When she turned eighteen, she was finally able to get away from the people that claimed

  • to be her family.

  • She wanted to find her roots - but she had no way to know where to start.

  • The good news was that the Church in Paraguay had ongoing contact with the Ache tribes,

  • and by 1980 many of the clergy had taken a more progressive view than their ancestors.

  • A local Priest and the missionaries he worked with heard her story and offered to help her,

  • and Margarita was able to make contact with her fellow Ache people for the first time

  • in over a decade.

  • She met with her family, but soon learned that her parents had both died and two more

  • of her siblings had also been taken by the same farmers who kidnapped her.

  • But there was another obstacle in the way of reconnecting with her people.

  • Any traces of the Ache language she knew as a little girl were long gone, and she had

  • no way of communicating with her remaining siblings.

  • Margarita dedicated herself to learning the Ache language, and soon became deeply involved

  • with her tribe.

  • She learned how they lived now, recreating a version of their old hunter-gatherer way

  • of life on a small patch of land given to them by the government.

  • While they still foraged for food, they had taken to agriculture as a way to produce more

  • food - as the government did not give them the resources they needed to survive.

  • Much of their ancestral homeland had been given over to farmers and loggers, and much

  • of the forest had been cut down for building supplies.

  • Now that Margarita knew the truth, she would not be silenced again.

  • Things were changing in Paraguay, and while the Ache's numbers had dwindled, there was

  • increased attention to their plight.

  • Stroessner was toppled in a coup in 1989 and fled the country, and his successor, General

  • Andres Rodriguez, liberalized the country somewhat and allowed for free elections.

  • Under his tenure, Paraguay would ratify the Indigenous and Tribal People's Convention's

  • C169 law, which regulated the treatment of indigenous people.

  • And for the first time in decades, the Ache people had the tools by which to make a stand

  • for their rights.

  • But it would be a long battle.

  • Margarita, now known as Margarita Mbywangi, had continued her involvement with her family

  • and tribe and eventually became a tribal chief.

  • She continued to learn and make up for lost time, and became a powerful force in the community.

  • Her activism and poetry raised awareness of the Ache among the people of Paraguay, but

  • she was up against significant opposition.

  • Stroessner had overseen the sale of all of Paraguay's land to private sources, primarily

  • developers, and the government couldn't afford to buy it back to return it to the

  • Ache people.

  • Margarita Mbywangi would need more power to make a change - and she was about to get it.

  • 2008 brought another sea change to Paraguay with the election of former Bishop Fernando

  • Lugo to the presidency, making him the first President in 61 years to not be a member of

  • Stroessner's Colorado party.

  • One of many leftist leaders to rise to power in South America in the 2000s, Lugo promised

  • changes when it came to how the government treated its indigenous citizens - and to carry

  • out those changes, he needed a strong Minister of Indigenous Affairs.

  • Lugo was determined it wouldn't be business as usual - and he had an unconventional idea

  • for the role.

  • The appointment of Margarita Mbywangi as a government minister came as a surprise to

  • many.

  • While she was a prominent figure in the fight for the rights of the Ache, she had never

  • held any government position before and was not a prominent member of the party.

  • But she quickly went to work despite the controversy, spending her tenure advocating for increased

  • land rights for the Ache, conservation of Paraguay's forests, better access to food

  • and water, and the rights of indigenous people worldwide.

  • Her tenure came to an end in 2011 when she was pressured to step down - only a year before

  • Lugo would be removed from office in a controversial impeachment.

  • Her time in the government was over - but her voice would not be silenced.

  • Mbywangi's profile had been raised massively by her position in Lugo's government, and

  • she spoke all around the world before powerful organizations like the World Land Trust.

  • Of special concern to her was the welfare of the remaining uncontacted tribes around

  • the world.

  • Even into the 21st century, there are around a hundred remaining tribes of uncontacted

  • peoples, most of whom have only been seen by neighboring tribes or by video footage

  • from the air.

  • While they exist in India and New Guinea, as well as around South America, one location

  • plays host to more than half of the world's uncontacted tribes.

  • And it just happens to be one of the most ecologically diverse locations on Earth.

  • Divided between nine nations and containing over 3,000 indigenous territories, the Amazon

  • rainforest is home to millions of species, including one in five bird species worldwide.

  • While the vast majority of species in the Amazon are insects, it contains over 100,000

  • vertebrate species.

  • But they, and the people who make it their home, are threatened by increased development.

  • While the laws governing the rights of indigenous people are better than they were at the time

  • Margarita Mbywangi was taken from her family, the pro-development government of Brazil has

  • many activists for the Amazon worried.

  • Margarita's fight continues - and so does the story of the Ache people.

  • The government has given increased sovereignty to the Ache, returning to the Northern Ache

  • a forest reserve in 1991.

  • There are currently six Ache communities recognized by the government, and while they are small

  • in number, they are one of the fastest-growing indigenous communities in Paraguay.

  • While they struggle against harassment and incursions from locals including those seeking

  • to claim their land, they continue to fight for their rights - including both fending

  • off landless peasants with bows and arrows, and filing a claim of genocide against the

  • Stroessner regime with an Argentinian court in 2014.

  • The Ache's isolation from Paraguay's larger society may have ended, but their actions

  • since have proven that whether using an ancient weapon or a modern court filing, they're

  • not ready to let the modern world eliminate their way of life.

  • For more on the most isolated citizens of the world, check outUncontacted Tribe

  • With Only One Member - Man of the Hole”, or watch this video instead.

You and your people have long eked out a humble living off the land in your isolated corner

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B1 paraguay margarita tribe indigenous contact government

What Happens When Hidden Jungle Tribe Meets the Modern World

  • 5 1
    Summer posted on 2021/06/21
Video vocabulary