Paraguay: From Forced Labor to Indigenous Leader

When Margarita Mbywangi was five years-old, she was taken from her parents and sold several times into forced domestic labor in the homes of the Paraguayan elite. This was a common occurrence in the Aché indigenous communities in Paraguay during the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989). These practices were ways that landowners could remove the Aché from their ancestral lands and take over their lands. As a result of these kidnappings, many young Aché would find themselves far from their homes and far from their indigenous roots.

Mbywangi is currently taking part in the Rising Voices project Aché djawu (The Aché word) [es], and she recently wrote a short blog post [es] about her life:

Yo Mbywangi me contaron que nací en Kuetuvy en el año 1962, a los 5 años me robaron de mi madre en la época de la dictadura, crecí en una familia paraguaya hasta los 16 años, a la edad de 20 años volví con mi familia aché en la comunidad Chupapou en 1980. No encontré a mis padres, sólo encontré a mis hermanos.

I, Mbywangi, was told that I was born in [the community] of Kuetuvy in 1962. When I was five years-old, I was stolen from my mother during the time of the dictatorship. I was raised by a Paraguayan family until I was 16 years-old. And in 1980, when I turned 20, I returned to my Aché family in the community of Chupapou. I was unable to find my parents. I was only able to find my brothers.

Margarita Mbywangi

When Mbywangi finally returned home in the early 1980s, she became a nurse and also became a mother. She continues in the blog post:

En el 81 tuve mi primer hijo y dije, ahora sí tengo un compañero, en ese dia estuve completa. Pasé aquellos años criando mi hijo y atendiendo la salud de la gente de mi comunidad.

In 1981, I had my first child and said to myself, now I have a companion and on that day I felt complete. I spent those years raising my son and attending to the health of the people of my community.

However, in the decades later she became more politically active in defense of indigenous rights. She was once a candidate for the Paraguayan Senate and was even placed in jail for her role in protests to defend natural reserves from illegal logging [es]. In 2008, Mbywangi received an invitation from the administration of former President Fernando Lugo to become the Cabinet Minister for Indigenous Affairs. She became the first member of an indigenous community to hold that position.

As part of the Rising Voices project, Mbywangi has begun to use the collective blog to share her experiences. She also has opened up a Twitter account (@MargaMbywangi), but is still becoming accustomed to updating it on a regular basis. In this video, she talks about the importance of sharing her story with other indigenous communities and the global audience at large.

She closes her blog post by explaining her name in the Aché tradition:

Me encanta que me llamen Mbywangi porque es el nombre que me puso mi mamá de sangre, y Margarita me puso mi segunda mamá aunque no fui reconocida por ellos como hija. Sólo tengo mi nombre y me siento feliz con los dos nombres que tengo.

I like it when they call me Mbywangi because that is the name that my birth mother gave me, and Margarita is the name that my second mother gave me, even though I was not recognized by them as a daughter. I only have my name, and I feel happy with the two names that I have.


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