After teen suicides, an Argentine tribe outlaws 'white' vices
>from the November 02, 2007 edition -
>After teen suicides, an Argentine tribe outlaws 'white'
>In a tropical corner of Argentina, a Guarani chief has set
>a 7 p.m. village curfew and prohibited alcohol.
>By Sara Miller Llana | Staff writer of The Christian
>Fortin Mborore, Argentina
>Every Saturday night Victoriano Espindola would dance,
>drink, and often end up in a fight. He lost his left eye in
>But now the 21-year-old spends quiet nights with his
>parents and six siblings in this indigenous village in a
>tropical corner of Argentina.
>The village is in the midst of a quarantine called for by
>the cacique, or traditional leader, after two teens shocked
>the community by committing suicide in September. All
>members now must be home by 7 p.m., alcohol is strictly
>forbidden, and all youths must attend traditional dance
>classes and consultations with elders.
>The cacique, Silvino Moreira, says that the white culture
>that surrounds the village on all sides has encroached on
>their Guarani culture and that they must protect themselves
>from all its many "vices," including alcohol, drugs, and
>even the radio. It's an issue indigenous groups worldwide
>have faced for centuries, but the unusually drastic
>measures Mr. Moreira has enacted are key to preserving
>their culture in today's world, say community members here.
>"When I was young, we sat around as a family when it got
>dark and drank maté [tea] together," Moreira says. "Now the
>youngsters want to go to the center of town, watch soap
>operas or play on the computer. Then they want to smoke and
>drink. We have to teach them about their traditions and
>strengthen our spirituality before we lose them."
>Fortin Mborore, a town of about 750 residents, is just
>miles from one of the most visited tourist sites in Latin
>America, the waterfalls of Iguazú. Homes, which dot
>expansive fields of red earth, are made of wooden planks.
>The village contains no stores, and its only school ends at
>the seventh grade. Most residents, who speak to each other
>in a dialect of Guarani, live by selling necklaces made of
>seeds to tourists at the waterfalls.
>Argentina's 'European' culture
>Argentina's capital city, Buenos Aires, is by most accounts
>the most cosmopolitan of Latin America. It is commonly
>referred to as the "Paris of Latin America." When
>discussing Argentina's genealogy, the starting point
>usually begins at European immigration at the end of the
>19th century. The nation's indigenous population, numbering
>between 1 million to 1.5 million, according to the National
>Institute for Indigenous Affairs, is much smaller than in
>neighboring countries. And while the indigenous have gained
>rights from Bolivia to Ecuador, here in Argentina they are
>There are almost 90 Mbya Guarani communities in the
>province of Misiones, where Fortin Mborore lies. But this
>community is particularly vulnerable because it sits at
>the "three frontiers" of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay,
>and its population constantly fluctuates. Residents here
>leave most days to sell their crafts at the waterfalls.
>They even invite tourists to the community.
>Teen suicides new to the community
>It is this collision of cultures that the community says is
>ultimately to blame for the suicides of the two teens, who
>both hanged themselves within a week of one another in
>September. "This has never happened before," says Rosendo
>Moreira, who coordinates the youth education program, which
>includes teaching traditional dance, their religion. The
>program also teaches respect for one another, their elders,
>and the forest in which they live.
>He says that as teens adopt the lifestyles of Westerners,
>even with such seemingly innocuous acts as surfing the net,
>they are more alienated from their roots and lose of sense
>of identity and purpose. "Our culture is sacred for us," he
>Edgardo Barchuk, a local reporter who covers the indigenous
>communities of Misiones, agrees that the effort is a
>positive step for a community whose loss of culture is
>evident, as teens are often found in the center of town
>drinking. "They sit in the very middle, surrounded by non-
>indigenous communities," he says. "They cannot handle
>alcohol the way whites can. This is an effort to save their
>Many of the young residents seem to favor the plan,
>although a few say privately that no one in the community
>would speak out against the cacique. "We forgot our
>religion," says Mr. Espindola. The hardest part for
>Espindola is a measure to turn off radios once it turns
>dark. "Now we are better off."
>A teenager's hard lesson
>Despite the fact that his cousin and good friend were the
>two young people who committed suicide, Delfino Benitez
>says the curfew, which requires that he be at home with his
>family each night at dusk, is unfair.
>Fifteen-year-old Delfino, who began drinking and heading to
>the center of town at age 13, says the shock of what
>happened has made the villagers realize how much they had
>lost. "It was hard to give up going out, very hard, but I
>support it," he says.
>When the community met in September to discuss the crisis,
>a group of teachers, police officers, and workers from the
>local hospital in Puerto Iguazú also signed the cacique's
>The local police round up teens found in the center past
>curfew and take them home, says Ramón Armando Irala, who
>heads one of the police departments in Puerto Iguazú.
>"Underage drinking is a problem in all of the state, but
>it's accentuated in Fortin Mborore because they are losing
>their roots," he says. "We fully support their initiative."
>Those in Fortin Mborore say that already, just a month into
>the experiment, family life has improved. "The adolescents
>need to sleep more and go to church, not drink and fight,"
>says Maria Felipa Espindola, Victoriano Espindola's
>mother. "Now we are all together. There is more happiness."
>Residents in the neighboring Mbya Guarani community of
>Yriapu . one of two in this immediate area . say they
>haven't experienced the same problems as Fortin Mborore.
>Raúl Correa says they still drink in their community but
>that it's always responsibly done. Whereas Fortin Mborore
>stopped their traditions, such as dancing, Yriapu didn't.
>He says it's in part because their community of 300 is much
>smaller. Even though he can't see his friends from Fortin
>Mborore in the evenings anymore, he supports the
>effort. "This is a preventive measure. The suicides could
>happen again," he says.
>IN many ways Moreira's measures have been just as hard for
>him to follow. The cacique has been drinking almost as long
>as he's been head of this village . some 17 years . but the
>recent suicides made him realize how dire the situation has
>"This is a hard change for the teens," he says. "You can't
>just say something and expect they will do it, you have to
>do it too," he says. "It's very hard for us. We have to
>abandon these vices."
>Last week, the community voted to extend the quarantine for
>another 60 days. "My vision is for my people to be free, so
>they aren't used by white people," says Moreira. He says he
>doesn't blame white culture but his tribe's inability to
>Despite lofty goals and enthusiasm, though, it is Moreira
>who admits that the task ahead will be a tough one.
>The police have brought adolescents who sneaked out of the
>community back home. Some older community members have flat-
>out refused to participate, says Moreira.
>As the sun sets on a Saturday night, the radios go off.
>Children begin streaming back to their homes. Fires light
>up and smoke hugs the surrounding forest like morning mist.
>There is hardly a sound. And then the Cumbia music comes
>wailing from a simple home, and Moreira does nothing but