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Reasons for suicide amongst the Guarani-Kaiowa analyzed

SEJUP (Servico Brasileiro de Justica e Paz),
Number 299, 15 January 1998

The lack of land and the extremely poor life conditions are the principal causes for suicide amongst the Kaiowa and Nandeva subgroups of the Guarani Indians in the State of Mato Grosso do Sul according to a book published by the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) in late December. It is entitled Why are the Guarani and the Kaiowa committing suicide. The book treats of the living conditions of the Indians in question. They live on small pieces of land totally unsuitable for agriculture and are forced to work in nearby sugar-cane plantations to survive. They earn very low salaries and frequently spend long periods away from their families.

244 suicides were recorded in these sub groups during a twelve year period. 20 cases were recorded during 1997 and 56 during 1995. During the last two years a decrease in the number of suicides has been registered.. This according to CIMI, is due to the winning back by the Indians of areas which formerly belonged to them. During the last 20 years, 10 areas (a total of 19327 hectares) have been returned to the Guarani. What this means concretely is shown in four areas returned to indigenous ownership - Jaguapire, Jarara, Jaguari and Paraguassu. No suicides have taken place in any of these areas since they have been returned to Indian ownership.

CIMI shows in its' recently published book that 200 years ago this indigenous group occupied 25% of the present day State of Mato Grosso do Sul. Today the 24649 members of the group live in 22 villages and occupy 1% of the state - an area of 39432 hectares or 1.6 hectares per Indian. Between 1915 and 1928 the Guarani began to suffer attacks from settlers who arrived in the area to open ranches. CIMI believes that it will be possible to eliminate incidences of suicide amongst the group by demarcation of their traditional area and the recuperation of their cultural values and manner of living. At the moment the group is demanding the return of nine areas which formerly belonged to them; they also demand the expansion of other areas which they currently occupy.