Guaraní Children’s Books

This week, Bolivian author Mariana Ruiz explores the influence of the Indigenous Guaraní people on Bolivian children’ s books and introduces us to two writers from the Simba Guaraní community… 

By Mariana Ruiz Romero

El Gran Chaco is a vast dry forest that spreads across four South American countries: Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil and Bolivia. The Bolivian Chaco region is home to the Indigenous Guaraní people who are divided into two large groups – the Ava Guaraní and the Simba Guaraní – both of which are located in the Chuquisaca department towards the south of the country.

David Acebey was one of the first authors who sought to retell Guaraní tales in an easily accessible way in his 1992 publication Quereimba: apuntes sobre los ava-guaraní en Bolivia (Quereimba: Notes on the Ava-Gauraní people in Bolivia). It’s largely thanks to him that stories like El Zorro y el Tigre (The Fox and the Tiger) are well-known in Bolivia. His ingenious retellings are vivid and include dialogue and onomatopoeia, giving his texts a characteristic “flavour”.

Other Bolivian authors like Jorge Campero, Liliana de la Quintana and Mariana Ruiz have been inspired by Guaraní traditions, weaving these into their own interpretations.

Campero’s 2014 poetry anthology Jaguar Azul (Blue Jaguar) is inspired by the landscape of the Chacho, its smells, its animals and its legends. This collection won the Yolanda Bedrega National Poetry Competition and was adapted into a collection for children entitled Las huellas del jaguar azul (Footprints of the Blue Jaguar), published by Espacio Patiño.

Liliana de la Quintana is an author and consultant advocating for the rights of Indigenous children. She has published books in collaboration with UNICEF and Reforma Educativa. Her books aim not only to share Indigenous traditions – such as in Los caprichos del sol y la luna but also to reflect the struggles of the Ava Guaraní, many of whom still find themselves in situations of conflict and servitude, as told in her 2013 story Tejedoras de estrellas (Star weavers).

My own book Uma y el guardián de los animales (Uma and the Guardian of the Animals), published in 2013 by Editorial la Hoguera, pays homage to the way in which the Simba Guaraní live in harmony with their natural surroundings.

More recently, there has been a push towards a greater understanding of the Simba Guaraní, led by representatives of the Indigenous community themselves. Elio Ortíz García and Elias Caurey have represented the Simba Guaraní and, for many years, they have been considered guardians of their language. Along with their numerous publications in and about Guaraní language and culture, they also co-authored the first Bolivian Guaraní dictionary. Elio Ortiz García (1968-2014) was born in Tamachindi, in the province of Cordillera de Santa Cruz. He was a writer, social communicator and anthropologist. He was also an actor, and it was during the filming of the 2013 film Yvi Marey that he fell ill and passed away at the early age of 46. Elías Caurey was born in 1977 in Ipikuape, Guaraní territory, and this social investigator, sociologist and anthropologist continues to contribute to our knowledge of his culture.  

In 2014, Ortiz published his first children’s book called JOVI verdeazul (JOVI greenblue) in collaboration with Fundación Cinenómada, which was recommended by the Bolivian Academy of Children’s and Youth Literature. María Rivero’s beautiful illustrations accompany the text.

The Guaraní word JOVI brings together the two colours of green and blue and means “the colour that links us to our forebears”. Written in both Guaraní and Spanish, this book consists of short stories, tales of fantasy, myths and reflections on different aspects of Simba Guaraní life. The book develops around the central narration and the memory of the elder’s word, each story carrying a message which can be applied as much to our own individual lives as to our communal ones. Stories surrounding the roots of the Guaraní world, the importance of words, the god colibrí, and the origins of maize all weave together in entertaining and interesting ways. You can watch a reading of the text in Spanish and Guaraní here on YouTube.

In her review of this important work, Liliana de la Quintana says, “These stories reflect the importance of oral transmission, the wisdom of grandparents, the celebration of light that is captured in the arete, the fiesta where both material and spiritual are present, where there is sharing, where there is music and food…

Editorial 3600 published another book for younger readers by Ortiz in 2017: Irande, la muchacha que anduvo detrás del tiempo primigenio (Irande, The Girl from the Origins of Time). This work of fiction charts Irande’s maturity from girl to woman. At birth she was rescued by her grandmother Nanui so that she did not end up in a life of slavery like her parents. Weaving together oral history and sacred songs, the novel recreates the Guaraní world of the Bolivian Chaco at the end of the 19th century, shortly before the Kuruyuki rebellion, led by the mythical warrior Apiaguaiqui Tumpa.

Irande represents the strength and courage of the free Guaraní woman, and the stories she hears as she lives through the ritual of transition are beautiful and important for her future life. It is she who will guide her people during these times of change and uncertainty.

The Premio de narrativa en idioma originario Guamán Poma de Ayala is a Bolivian literary prize for works written in a Native language. The first year celebrated works written in Aimara; the second year highlighted texts in Quechua; and this novel won the third year award in 2014 for texts written in Guaraní. 

Despite this award, the publishers were concerned that it had not achieved even 10% of the expected sales so Elías Caurey – with financial assistance from Liliana Colanzi – translated the book into Spanish. In his prologue to the book, he explains that this activity was an adventure that challenged his limits as a writer in his second language and his own knowledge of Guaraní. Because Ortiz was no longer alive, Caurey was unable to consult him as he worked on the translation. Through his work, he sought to respect the words and phrases of his “Big Brother”, and Caurey is named as the co-author of Irande in the Spanish edition. Despite having authored several previous publications, this translation was Caurey’s first step into the world of children’s fiction.

While Elio Ortiz García may have passed away, his legacy lives on, sowing the seeds for further projects within the Guaraní community. There are plans to include Irande both in Spanish and Guaraní in schools, and a radio-novela in Guaraní is planned with the aim of sharing and preserving this beautiful Guaraní work.

Caurey has continued his journey with children’s books, and in 2020 Dum Dum Editora released his bilingual poetry collelction Ñeepotɨ kaa peguarä – Canto al bosque (Song to the Forest). This collection is inspired by the trees of El Chaco and the Guaraní legends that are woven amongst them. You can listen to some of these poems in their original language on YouTube. In October 2023, at the Intercultural Festival for the Revitalisation of Indigenous Languages that Caurey presented his latest book called Avati jape – El camino de Avati (Avati’s journey).

This article first appeared in Spanish on the website of the Bolivian Academy of Children’s and Youth Literature (ABLIJ). Read the original article here. Translated and adapted for World Kid Lit by Claire Storey. 

For any English-language publishers who may be interested in acquiring the rights to any of these books, please contact Mariana at ABLIJ and she will facilitate contact info@ablij.com

Mariana Ruiz is a Bolivian children‘s author who publishes articles about comics, art books and YA literature on Geekdad.com. She works closely with the Bolivian Academy of Children’s Literature and is constantly on the lookout for diversity in books.