The indigenous Aché people of northeastern Paraguay were originally hunters and gatherers. In the 1970s, deforestation forced them into contact with Western civilization, thus sparking their traumatic transition to an agrarian lifestyle. The Aché community of Kuetuvy has managed to preserve its identity in a village deep in the colorful subtropical forest, growing vegetables and exporting organic yerba mate to the United States.
We arrive at the Aché community of Finca 470 in northeastern Paraguay in August, less than a month after the palace coup that deposed President Lugo. The President was impeached for the deaths that occurred during confrontations between the police and landless farmers in Curuguaty, just twenty-two miles from the Community of Kuetuvy.
During our threeday stay, the Aché offer us handicrafts like monkey tooth necklaces, plant fiber bags, mats, and wood carvings of local animals such as tapirs, armadillos, and jaguars. When some members of our group ask for bow and arrow sets, chief Martín Achipurangui manages to dig up two at home and he willingly sells them to us at a reasonable price. After meeting the Aché, now I wonder about the photos I see of them bristling with bows and arrows and sporting war paint.
The conflict was still going on when we were there picking yerba mate: the “carperos” (landless farmers) had occupied part of the land and started illegally cutting down trees; the community sought legal advice on how to proceed. In our presence, the Aché were discrete and reserved when speaking about the situation. A few of us learned a little about the matter and we even heard the buzz of chain saws disturbing the peaceful forest, but everything took a back seat to the harvest: the children didn´t have classes and there were visitors in the community.