The Totobiegosode are an indigenous sub-group of the Ayoreo people who hail from areas between both Bolivia and Paraguay along the Pilcomayo, Parapeti, and Grande rivers. They are considered the most isolated of all Ayoreo; as as many as three hundred Totobiegosode have chosen to live in isolation. The groups name reflects this, translating as ‘people from the place of the wild pigs’.
Ayoreo peoples speak Ayoreo languages of the Zamucoan family which is especially small and is considered endemic to specific areas of Bolivia and Paraguay. Those Totobiegosode who remain isolated are thought to maintain traditional practices observed in other groups. Living in small villages along rivers and amongst semi arid lowland forests the Totobiegosode grow a number of crops including squashes, beans and melons. To supplement their subsistence horticulture economy the Totobiegosode also hunt and gather, ensuring a diverse diet. As semi-nomadic people groups of Totobiegosode practice these lifeways in different locales across the year.
Thought to be the only “uncontacted” indigenous people south of the Amazon basin it may be tempting to assume that this people have entirely avoided the attentions of those who would seek to ‘civilize’ and assimilate them. Unfortunately this could not be further from the truth. First contact with whites came in the 1940’s and 50’s during which invasions staged by Mennonite farmers were repelled and since around 1969 concerted efforts have been made by a number of groups to forcibly contact the Totobiegosode. Perhaps the key perpetrator of offences against this people is the US based fundamentalist New Tribes Mission. In both 1979 and 1986 this group forced contact upon those Totobiegosode in Paraguay who had actively chosen to reject it, the result was a number of native deaths due to direct conflict and also disease and an exodus to Bolivia. Many were also forced out of the forest into settlements as a result of this violation of Ayoreo autonomy, a phenomena repeated in the 90’s and in 2004 as groups were forced out of the forest due to continual invasion.
Today some protection is supposed to have been afforded to the Totobiegosode, with Paraguayan law supposedly recognizing their indigenous title to their lands. Despite this Mennonite farmers, Paraguayan and Brazilian ranchers have been allowed to buy up huge amounts of Ayoreo traditional territory and have blocked their attempts to claim title whilst operating illegal extractions from the forest and destroying vast swathes. Brazilian firm Yaguarete Pora and their attempts to clear two thirds of their 78,000 hectare stake in Totobiegosode forest are the most recent and high profile aggressors and their supposed plans for a nature reserve for the people have been widely derided.
Totobiegosode people who have already been forced into settlement are desperate to save their un-contacted kins people from the fate they have suffered. Settled Totobiegosode have been forced to live in individual family huts, unlike more communal traditional living arrangements. Unable to own land or claim their own they are forced to work as exploited labourers on the very ranches that are responsible for their dispossession in order to feed their families in an unfamiliar cash economy. To compound these issues the New Tribes Mission maintain a base nearby to the newly settled Totobiegosode and have suppressed many traditional customs and beliefs. Unless their lands can be saved and their autonomy respected the as yet un-contacted Ayore-Totobiegosode will face the cultural annihilation already being suffered by their brothers and sisters.. Photo from http://lastdaysoftheincas.com