Anthropological understandings of past relations between peoples in the interior of South America have been constructed from limited readings of the historical sources. A case in point: the linkage of a hypothesis about the westward migration of Guaraní speakers in search of a “Land-without-Evil” to the Pantanal region on the upper Paraguay River was based on the reading of a single document from the period of exploration. This reading does not stand up when the larger corpus of written materials from this period is taken into account. Interview texts and narrative reports tell about travel from the Pantanal west to the Inca frontier to raid or trade for metals and to free captives taken on previous trips. Those who have suggested that the “Land-without-Evil” explains the dispersal of Guaraní speakers to the foothills and lowlands just east of the Andes adhere to the idea that linguistic relatedness is a conduit for the transmission of culture across all speakers and through time. What is problematic is that the classification of South American peoples on the basis of language was a product of European exploration. When the documents are read for what they tell us about what happened in real time and space, other ideas about social and political groupings and about the movement of peoples and languages begin to emerge.

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