Project

Time Is Up: Disappearing Ethnicity in Gerald Henzinger’s Project

Austrian traveller photographed life of Ayoreo – a Paraguayan tribe that lives in the forests and is under the threat of extinction because of deforestation

Gerald Henzinger, 39 years old

Lives in Vienna (Austria); received his education in IT; works in the educational technology sphere; has created travel photography since 2005; has been published in GEO, DATUM magazine and ProfiFoto.

Traveling in South America, I wanted to photograph the life of the Ayoreos – an asocial tribe, that lives in a forest without any connection with a “global world.” I spent there five weeks to experience the life far away from civilization.

The Ayoreos

The Ayreo’s history and life are tightly bound to forests, where they are born, live and die. My project is about people who, despite of living outside of civilization, still feel its pressure. The tribe I was shooting in Paraguayan forests has to fight for its rate of living – the deforestation of South America is very likely to cause widespread extinction of whole ethnic populations. We can’t just ask them to move out – people who grew up in forests won’t survive in the urban areas.


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/urugvai_02.jpg”, “alt”: “The Ayoreos in Gerald Henzinger’s Project”, “text”: “10,000 hectares are quite a lot for a normal person, but for Eroy it’s nothing. Chaco’s forests are disappearing very fast. The court found that the land belongs to those who cultivate it, but cultivation also means deforestation.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/urugvai_03.jpg”, “alt”: “The Ayoreos in Gerald Henzinger’s Project”, “text”: “Hunting still is very important for the Ayoreos, but destroying the forest has a bad influence on it. Today hunters got few cingulatas and found wild honey.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/urugvai_04.jpg”, “alt”: “The Ayoreos in Gerald Henzinger’s Project”, “text”: “When forests are devastated, tribes have to change their location. They are inclined to a sedentary life, but are forced to wander.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/urugvai_05.jpg”, “alt”: “The Ayoreos in Gerald Henzinger’s Project”, “text”: “Distances between the rustications are significant, but the means of transportation are very limited. Despite this fact, Ayoreos are good in trading – they have other people coming to their villages to buy clothes, footwear, canned goods and fruits.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/urugvai_07.jpg”, “alt”: “The Ayoreos in Gerald Henzinger’s Project”, “text”: “Investors are buying up the lands of Chaco to build livestock breeding complexes there. The Ayoreos are their only barrier. Lawyers use Spanish during legal arguments, which is unfair because only a few of Ayoreos speak the language.”}

Contacting the civilization

Tribal people surprised me with their strength of body and stamina. Plenty of aboriginals who live in the forests have never caught a cold. Contact with the outside world only tends to upset the balance in their lives and sap health. Since the 1950s, religious groups like the radical, evangelical “New Tribes Mission” have tried to track down the uncontacted Ayoreo in the North of Paraguay. They intended to introduce them to the Bible and turn them into good Christians, with fatal consequences. In the first contacts of 1961 and 1969 almost half of the Ayoreo died of measles or influenza within a few weeks because they had no immunity to these diseases. The survivors were manipulated by the missionaries to completely give up their way of life. All the knowledge and culture that had been transmitted from one generation to the next were suddenly rendered worthless.

Fighting developers

The Ayoreo have had to find their way in this world all by themselves. They are now forced to fight for the land, which had been granted to them by law, with crafty lawyers, big landowners, corrupt judges and other authorities. Time is running out, as the deforestation of Chaco is continuing at even increasing rate. Only very few NGO’s, however, support the Ayoreo. Relatives of the portrayed Ayoreo are still living in the forest. If the forest is gone, they have to turn to the “life of Coñones,” the white people, as well.


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/urugvai_09.jpg”, “alt”: “The Ayoreos in Gerald Henzinger’s Project”, “text”: “During the drought Chaco’s people experience the lack of water. In the areas with the groundwater occurrence, they use wind-driven pompes to pump-out the water. The only thing that matters is the wind itself. Chagabi checked the windmachine and stated that they will have the water.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/urugvai_11.jpg”, “alt”: “The Ayoreos in Gerald Henzinger’s Project”, “text”: “Gabida is the leader of the community. He lived in the forest since 1979, but missioners convinced him to move to the civilized world.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/urugvai_10.jpg”, “alt”: “The Ayoreos in Gerald Henzinger’s Project”, “text”: “Purukoidate. Lives in the forest from 1974.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/urugvai_01.jpg”, “alt”: “The Ayoreos in Gerald Henzinger’s Project”, “text”: “Purukoidate. Lives in the forest from 1974.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/urugvai_14.jpg”, “alt”: “The Ayoreos in Gerald Henzinger’s Project”, “text”: “Shortly before sunset tribals are making a fire. If they have guests, they ply it with more firewood.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/urugvai_08.jpg”, “alt”: “The Ayoreos in Gerald Henzinger’s Project”, “text”: “Apart from crackling flames one can hear a whish – women are doing crafts.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/urugvai_15.jpg”, “alt”: “The Ayoreos in Gerald Henzinger’s Project”, “text”: “Eroy is waltzing and cruising around the fireplace, talking with the tribals. 40 villagers are listening to him with profound interest. Eroy spent a couple of days to go round 8,000 hectares of forest they are fighting for with the developer who wants to deforest the area.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/urugvai_16.jpg”, “alt”: “The Ayoreos in Gerald Henzinger’s Project”, “text”: “When the Antarctic winter is coming, the weather is turning colder. Stars are shining much brighter than before and villagers are getting together. Women are wickering bags and breechings – pamui.”}

The power of nature

With these photographs I want to convey the idea that we have to take care of our environment. The Ayoreo tribals live in Chaco’s forests for hundreds of years. It’s a unique group of people that has a right to live the life they want. By intervening into their unique culture we risk to destroy it, and they understand it. This is the exact reason why aboriginals decided to isolate from the society – they just want to preserve their world.

I was amazed by how they treat nature. Forest is a sacred place for them, it gives them everything – shelter, food, health. The Ayoreo tribals are allied to nature, and nature returns the favor. Probably we should learn from them and finally realize that by devastating the nature we are devastating ourselves.

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