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The Ache – Guayaki are indigenous hunter-gatherers from the tropical forests of eastern Paraguay.

They call themselves “Ache”, which means “people”. The word “Guayaki” is better known and represents an insulting term, meaning  » the rabid rats”.

Their spiritual beliefs place in a central place, Berendy, a deity associated with the roaring meteors.

When someone dies, the death is immediately announced by a woman and than spread among all the village’s women. The body is prepared carefully: first bent in a fetal position, the legs brought back against the chest, the forehead placed on the knees, the elbows close to the body and firmly bound by a liana.

The deceased’s hands are pressed against his temples, the fingers slightly spread, the phalanges folded, and to best maintain this position, the wrists and the head are surrounded with a liana.

The corpse is buried only after the end of this procedure.

Far away from the camp, they dig a small diameter pit, deep and oval shaped. The body is placed inside, kneeling position, face towards the ground.

Two mats protect the dead from the ground contact: one is installed at the bottom of the pit and the other above the body.

Precipitately and without specific ceremonies, they abandon the camp (while bringing along objects that once belonged to the deceased: the bows and arrows for a man, the basket and the mats, for a woman).

They leave with the aim of avoiding to the group, and more precisely to the family, any inconvenience caused by the dead’s ghost, who can henceforth haunt the forest and persecute the Aches.

Dwelling Ache-Guayaki

The burial is only the first step in the ritual.

Later, when they feel that the corpse is completly decomposed, they return to the exact place where the body was placed and start performing the second phase of the ritual. They open the tomb and remove the skull, carefully avoiding touching it. Then, they put the skull on the ground and break it with bows. At the end they burn the remains.

Whatever the circumstances of death, they always proceed with the adult’s skull hiting.

Ache-Guayaki People

Sometimes, the sick or elderly who cannot keep the rhythm of displacements are abandoned along the way. The group light the fire and leave them there, in prey to the jaguars or the vultures.

Two or three days later, the hunter (the husband, the son, or brother) returns to the exact place where they have abandoned the person, and if he discovers a devoured corpse with the skull exposed, he immediately breaks the skull.

The Ache fear particularly this type of death, which is not only brutal but not followed by any ritual.

Among the Guayaki, after the death of a mature hunter or warrior, one of his companions must honor the deceased by avenging him. The injustice experienced by the hunter when he died has to be compensated.

To accomplish that mission, they kill a child, usually a girl, who may be the dead’s child.

Ache-Guayaki People

Breaking and burning the skull are the last acts performed toward the dead. As we have already explained, they perform a first temporary burial for the decomposition period, then collect certain bones, representing the soul’s seat.

The bones are carefully collected, stripped of the pieces of flesh that can still adhere to them, washed, sometimes painted, and adorned with feathers, gathered in a container, and finally carried with great pomp to their final burial place.

They don’t perform specific ceremonies for the temporary burial. That is phase ephemeral.

The dead’s body is often buried at the ground level. They water that sort of tomb frequently to hasten the decomposition process.

The solemnities and other ceremonies are organized mainly during the second phase of the rite.

Sources :

Hélène Clastres, Rites funéraires Guayaki, Journal de la société des américanistes, 1968 (

Pierre Clastres, Chronique des Indiens Guayaki, Terre Humaine poche, 2001

Wikipedia, Guayaki  (

Bruno Boulestin, Pourquoi donc tous ces chasseurs-cueilleurs font-ils des tombes doubles, Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française, 2018 (

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Spiritualité Autochtone