Behold the Black Caiman: A Chronicle of Ayoreo Life

In 2004, one of the world’s last bands of "voluntarily isolated" nomads left behind their ancestral life in the dwindling thorn forests of northern Paraguay, fleeing ranchers’ bulldozers.  Behold the Black Caiman chronicles the journey of this small group of Ayoreo people, the terrifying new world they now face, and the precarious lives they are piecing together against the backdrop of soul-collecting missionaries, humanitarian NGOs, late liberal economic policies, and the highest deforestation rate in the world. Drawing on ten years of fieldwork, Bessire highlights the stark disconnect between the conditions of Ayoreo life for those out of the forest and the well-funded global efforts to preserve those Ayoreo still living in it. By showing how this disconnect reverberates within Ayoreo bodies and minds, his fragmented and experimental ethnography takes aim at the devastating consequences of our society’s continued obsession with the primitive and raises questions about anthropology’s capacity to further or impede Indigenous struggles for rights and dignity. The result is a critique of dehumanizing violence, a timely update to the classic literary ethnographies of South America, and, above all, a call for scholars and activists alike to rethink their notions of difference.


2015 Gregory Bateson Prize, Society for Cultural Anthropology

2015 Society of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology Book Prize

Second Prize, 2015 Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing, Society for Humanistic Anthropology