Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
This is the Land-without-Evil, an apocalyptic vision of time and the body familiar
to anthropologists, especially through the writings of Hélène Clastres (1995), and
ethnographers of the early and mid 1900s. 5 In the process, they reject the passivity of
their elders, who seem to have been bludgeoned into accepting the continual assaults
and violations of their dignity as human beings that have become part of everyday
Guarani life in Itaóca.
In this chapter, I discuss the importance of childhood agency in conditions of social
inequality. I want to understand how the Guarani Nahndeva and the Guarani Mbyá
of southern Brazil map the world they live in, by looking at the children's critique
of human society as expressed in their enactment of daily life. I elect the autonomy
of the children's universe as my basic proposition and argue, with Hardman
(1973:87) and other social theorists, that children should be studied as people “in
their own right, and not just as receptacles of adult teaching.” A call for children
to be understood as social actors, who fashion their own worlds in the midst of
excruciating circumstances, has been advanced by various anthropologists (Chin
1999; Hart 1979, 1997; James et al. 1998; James and Prout 1997; Nunes 1997).
The kids' world appears, in these studies, not merely as a small-scale replica of
the adults' quest for survival, but as a relatively autonomous domain, regulated by
its own sound reasoning. Acknowledging the importance of children as agents of
their own destinies can show social scientists, administrators, policy makers, and
health professionals where investments can be made in order to improve the quality
of life of populations confined to the bottom rung of the social ladder. The emphasis
on childhood agency also brings theoretical and methodological contributions to the
social sciences, and especially to anthropology, where children are still seen “as a
defective form of adult, social only in their future potential, but not in their present
being” (James et al. 1998:6).
The anthropological literature about Tupi peoples - the first to be contacted by
Portuguese colonizers along the Brazilian coast - conveys a great deal of information
about “native” children. Infants are invariably defined as “miniatures of an adult
world” (Fernandes 1951:224) or as “small scale adults” (Baldus 1937:44). In the
chapter “Individual and Family” of the classic Fundamental Aspects of Guarani
Culture , Schaden (1974:60) classifies as “almost negligible the infant Guarani culture.”
Children's activities, including their play, are reduced to imitations of their elders'
actions, and no agency is ever granted to the little ones: they are social only in their
future potential as grown-ups. Guarani culture and the cultures of other Tupi groups
appear as a homogeneous whole shared by all the children, who are expected only to
learn and accept the set of traditionally sanctioned norms that determine behavior. 6
The present ethnographic essay reveals that this is not true for contemporary Guarani
children in southern Brazil. The energy of the kids' performances aptly conveys their
perceptions of the dehumanizing situation they face on the reservation, and strategies
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