Isoso Folk Tales

CABI & Wildlife Conservation Society, Bolivia 2000.
Text: Environmental Education Unit, CABI.

Isoso design
Isoso tales

The guaraní-speaking Isoso people in the Gran Chaco wilderness of South America sustain a rich cultural heritage based on their hunting and fishing lifestyle and the cosmic connection to the biodiversity on which they depend.

Commissioned by the Wildlife Conservation Society for distribution to local communities and schools, this is a book of Isoso folk tales, most of which have been passed down the generations by oral tradition. As in European fables, the universal idiosyncracies of human nature are reflected in the antics of animal characters, all of which are part of the local wildlife.

Below are the cartoons I contributed to this book. Click on them to make them larger.

As the top predator in the Chaco the Jaguar naturally becomes a prime target for ridicule at the hands of lesser creatures. This theme is recurrent in Isoso folklore and makes prime cartoon material...

This Brocket Deer is wearing a traditional hunter's satchel called a "bokó"

As in European folklore, the fox is considered too clever for its own good - or that of others.

While courting a pair of doves, Fox suffers an unfortunate effect from drinking too much "chicha", a fermented drink made from corn.

Cultural note: In Isoso communities, etiquette demands that all visitors be offered an entire jug of chicha to drink on the spot. Each jug is about one litre, and the hospitality is unfailingly repeated in every community, as is also the offer of a full lunch, regardless of how many communities may have been visited beforehand. To refuse is considered very offensive. 

Isoso lore has it that foxes play dead to lure and catch their prey. Could this be true?

I have no idea what this means!

The Isoso people really don't appreciate Fox's company!

Isoso folklore includes vivid accounts of the Spanish conquest. Stunning testimony of the resilience of oral tradition.

Isoso version of La Fontaine's fable about the tortoise and the hare.

Note on process: the movement of the running bird (a Jabiru stork) is directly inspired by one of my favourite Asterix scenes, when Rome's top Olympic athlete is training in the forest and is easily overtaken by Asterix and Obelix full of magic potion (see Asterix at the Olympic Games). 

Vanity is frowned upon in the Isoso, as is weakness of any kind. Not surprising given the harsh environment.

The Isoso have their own version of how children come to be, and similar to other parts of the world, this involves a bird carrying a parcel...

A tale of two nests. Two species - a bower bird and a Rufous Hornero - mock each other's nests, but each nest is perfect for it's particular inhabitant, and each is yet another example of the outcome of millions of years of evolution by natural selection.

The Isoso people know this, in their own way.

Vida de burro copy

I forget the context for this one, but it definitely has to do with deforestation, a serious threat to the Gran Chaco today, and mostly at the hands of Menonite colonies hungry for more cleared land on which to sow monoculture crops such as soy.

Isoso design