Constructing Ava Guarani ethnic identity: The emergence of Indian organization

Henryk Gaska
Dept. of Anthropology, Catholic University of America
August, 2006


This study analyzes the processes of identity construction and the emergence of native organization in Paraguay, as these are entwined in the context of new national policies and legislation. The study focuses on the impact of state politics and national legislation, especially Law 904/81 and the National Constitution of 1992, on indigenous activism and mobilization. The dissertation analyzes the major elements of ethnic identity construction: territory, education, traditional religious system, and the Ava Guaranlanguage. A particular focus is the analysis of language revitalization since Paraguay is very often mentioned as a unique country that maintains the native language. Findings show that Paraguayan Guaranand the Ava Guaranlanguage ( Ayvu ) are two different languages with two different histories and world views.

In examination of the factors and actors of ethnic identity construction and emergence of the indigenous organization, the study attempts to bridge two social movement paradigms: resource mobilization and new social movement theory. Using Pierre Bourdieu's concept of field this study argues that among several indigenous and non-indigenous players in the field of Paraguayan indigenism native traditional leaders play a protagonist role. This dissertation emphasizes identity construction as one of the most important resources of Ava Guaranorganizations, and native associations as important actors of identity construction. The study offers a basis for understanding the dynamics of ethnic renewal in Paraguay, which has often differed from other Latin American nations.