Making a Pai Tavytera altar in the Ita Guazu community in Amambay, Paraguay.

altar guarani indians

The wood altar is the central institution in the religious beliefs of the Pai Tavytera. The altar is considered a sacred sanctuary and a focal point of the community. The altars usually resides in the homes of the spiritual leaders of the Pai Tavytera Indians or important leaders. The altar is a place where the community gathers around for worship or to discuss matters that are important to the community.

altar anotated

The altar is 52" high and includes two 43" wooden rods (3) that represents deities or saints. From those rods hanges a gourd (1) that is utilized to baptize the children, and the shaman's gourd rattle (2), the most important item for the shaman to start his prayer that is a song and a dance to communicate with the spirits. Part of the altar is a 29" bamboo staff (4) that is used mostly by women to give rhythm to the rituals. The altar is marked by dots (5) on a similar motif of the rock art found in the area.

inspecting the altar pai tavytera indians guarani paraguay

This altar was made by Don Leonido and Na Silvia Arce, from the Ita Guazu community of Amambay in late 2013. The altar was made with money raised on a kickstarter campaign for the Solar Map Project with the intention to be donated to the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian.

prime materials

Here Don Leonido returns from the jungle with a tree he cut out to make the altar.

making the altar

Carving the base of the altar.

altar pai tavytera indians guarani paraguay

Don Leonido and his wife Na Silvia blessing the altar in from of traditional Pai Tavytera Hut in the Ita Guazu Community.

Pai Tavytera Indian house burned to the ground in Amambay, Paraguay


start fire panambi house guarani Although normally politically peaceful, the area of Amambay has not been immune to the strife that has been rocking the area. This morning, the large traditional Pai Tavytera meeting house, the "Oga Yekutu" that had been built on the grounds of the governorship in the city of PJC, was burned to the ground amidst a political manifestation.

Oga JEKUTU is a traditional ceremonial thatch roof house of the Paí Tavyterá. This one was built in the property adjacent to the headquarters of the Governor, and served as meeting place for the various tribes in the city, and as an embassy of sorts for the Paí Tavyterá in their dealings with the Governor's office.

This incident, unprecedented in our area, comes after increasing turmoil on both sides of the Paraguayan/Brazilian border relating to the native indians. Although responsibility for this tragic event in disputed, and so far we are happy that there are no fatalities or injuries to lament, it demonstrates the fragility of the Pai Tavyetra culture in the larger Paraguayan society.

We are following the situation closely and await new developments, and instructed our photographers in the field to have caution, and avoid any type of behavior that could have negative repercussions to their safety, the safety of our Pai Tavytera collaborators, as well as the continuity of the Solar Map Project.

guarani indian paragauy fire house

paraguay indian house burned to ground

pai tavytera amambay house traditional guarani


Ka'aguy Póra Forest Spirit


amambay covered fog hill

Yesterday, I was out gathering footage in a remote area of the forest.  The shadows and fog shrouded the land in mystery. Suddenly, I heard a woman crying. I thought it was my imagination, but just to be sure, I set my camera down and strained my ears for any sounds. Then, in the distance, the crying echoed once again. Was it a wild dog? Was it a wolf? Was it a woman in distress? Or was it the wind?

Paraguay Amambay Mist explore

Our guide warned us to move carefully through the forest and to beware the treacherous Ka’aguy Póra, a forest spirit who harms those he believes will do evil to the forest. As we silently moved through the forest, I wanted to search for the sound’s source, but our guide insisted that we respect Ka’aguy Póra and leave the sound behind us.

hill amambay

Today, I told my story around the city. Many of the city’s inhabitants confirmed our guide’s story of the forest spirit. However, one local told me that the strange, spine-tingling cries had not come from a wild dog, a wolf, a woman, the wind, or a spirit that protects the forest. According to the local, this sound had no supernatural origin that it in fact was the call of a rare forest bird whose song mimics a woman’s cry. The bird in Guaraní is called guánguînguê, "old woman cry."



The guánguînguê is a nocturnal bird that hunts at night.  In the day it perches into wood branches, it's great camouflage make it look like a wood stump. The story goes that there was a boy who had a sick mom. One day his mother was very ill, but the boy decided to go to a party instead. The old woman called and called her child, she sent many others to fetch him from the party. The boy did not want to hear the people that came to get him, and he replied " I will have my entire life to cry about her, just let me party!"  and soon his mother died , and the boy was cursed by the gods, and turned into a bird that forever will cry from sunset to sunrise until the end of times.


IMG_0454 (1)

While back in the office reviewing the shots from the day before, I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd brought a piece of the forest back with me. It was then I came across an image that made me freeze and that haunting cry from the day was captured there in my camera lens. A paw print carved into the stone, in the same hills I visited. It made me think of the all the sound this people might have heard in their primordial forest whey they made that carving into the rock. And how the carved paw print, still resonates with people thousand years into the future.

In that moment I was privileged to share an experience with a people who once inhabitants this beautiful and mysterious land thousand of years ago.

rock art paraguay arte rupestre