DER Documentary

Asking Ayahai: An Ayoreo Story

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by Lucas Bessire
color, 41 min, 2004

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The film focuses on the personal journey of Ayahai, an 80-year-old Ayoreo elder, whose life spans the period of dramatic transition for the Ayoreo of South America's Gran Chaco as they moved from nomadic hunter/gatherers to wage laborers. Currently a part-time panhandler in Santa Cruz, his story is common to many lowland indigenous peoples.

Ayahai's testimony of the critical contact moment with Westerners is juxtaposed with the memories of Dr. Charles Ramsey, another Octogenarian who was one of the first missionaries to reach Ayahai's group in the 1950's. The change and adaptation Ramsey praises has come at an expensive price for the Ayoreo. Since that first meeting, the Ayoreo have been discriminated against at all levels of Bolivian and Paraguayan society and face debilitating poverty.

Interviews with urban Ayoreo and other Bolivian city dwellers reveal the opposition they continue to face as they attempt to survive on their own land.Only during a village screening of the unfinished film with the filmmaker does the Ayoreo community gain an opportunity to discuss and respond to the opinions of the non-Ayoreo in Santa Cruz.

The documentary challenges stereotypical images of lowland indigenous peoples like the Ayoreo with a humanizing portrayal of their lived experience, while raising questions of interest to a wider anthropological audience concerned with the politics of memory, representation and native rights in Latin America.

Although a growing body of ethnographic and pictorial representation exists in Spanish, French and German, very little has been published on the Ayoreo in English, and even less has been filmed. Supplemented by traditional songs, the film puts a human face on a transnational tribal peoples struggle for self-determination.

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Documentary and Ethnographic Film Festival, Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil, 2004
Festival Interuniversitaire de Films Ethnographique de Montreal, Canada, 2005
Latin American Film Festival, Holland, 2005
Northeastern Anthropological Association Ethnographic Film & Video Festival, Lake Placid, NY, 2005
Latin American Film Festival, Finland, 2005
10th Mostra Internacional do Filme Etnografico, Brazil, 2005

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Supported By Massachusetts Cultural Council National Endowment for the Humanities National Endowment for the Arts