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Indigenous Peoples Of The Gran Chaco

No onda qadvidaxaquine na qadalamaxat alhua.

Amtena lha ka hunat.

Nouiyi enatxoroma lava.

Welcome to our land, is the greeting in Q’om, Wichí and Moqoit, the three major indigenous nations in Argentina’s Gran Chaco region. These communities make up 17-25% of the population in some districts in Chaco Province, and in Formosa, they account for 11% of the province’s inhabitants. They are some of the largest native populations left in Argentina and among the poorest people in the country.

The Gran Chaco indigenous are divided into two ethnic-linguistic families. The Guaycurú includes the Q’om, Moqoit, Abipón and Pit’laxá nations. The Mataco-Mataguayo is represented by the Wichí, Chorote and other peoples. The Q’om (Toba) live in eastern and northern Chaco Province and in central Formosa. Moqoit (Mocoví) dwell in southern Chaco Province, whereas the Pit’laxá (Pilagá) reside in northeastern Formosa.The Wichí (Mataco) inhabit Chaco’s El Impenetrable and western Formosa.

These nations fought strongly against the Spanish, who could found missions only along the Río Bermejo. At the end of the 19th century, the Argentine government began a campaign to “purify” the lands of indigenous populations, thus opening the region up to immigration and economic exploitation. One of the last massacres, La Masacre de Napalpí, occured at El Aguará, Chaco, in July 1924. Over 200 indigenous were killed.

The Gran Chaco indigenous produce fine artisan work. The Wichí weave chaguar and caraguatá (bromeliad fibers), carve palo santo, and make ceramics and seed jewelry. The Q’om make baskets from palm and totora (bullrush sedge). Pit’laxá artisans create baskets of carandillo (a type of palm). All three nations also weave wool. The Moqoit work in wood and ceramics.

Some communities are closed to visits by outsiders, in an attempt to preserve their unique cultures. They object to being a “zoo” attraction and being targets of unfair trade practices by merchants who haggle for a low price and then sell the crafts for a fortune. If possible, contact organizations or communities first to see if you may visit indigenous villages. Otherwise, when arriving at a village, talk with the cacique (leader, elder) first. Bring a gift, such as pencils, for the entire community. An interesting time to visit is Semana de los Pueblos Indígenas, April 19-25. The first day is marked with sporting competitions, a communal meal and other activities.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to The Gran Chaco: When to Go and Safety.

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

02 Jul 2010

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