Identification. Until they were contacted in the late 1960s, the Yuqui were thought to be a disjunct group of Siriono, a lowland Bolivian indigenous people with whom they share many cultural traits. It was not until a Siriono speaker was asked to try to communicate with the Yuqui that it was discovered that they are a distant ethnic group.
The origin of the name "Yuqui" is unknown but has been used since the colonial period by the Spanish-speaking local population, along with "Siriono," to designate the Yuqui people. It may be a Hispanicized approximation of the Yuqui word "Yaqui," which means "younger relative," and is a frequently heard term of address. The Yuqui refer to themselves as "Mbia," a widespread TupíGuaraní word meaning "the people." Like the Siriono, the Yuqui are now aware that outsiders refer to them by a name formerly unknown and meaningless to them and have come to accept this as their designation by "Aba" (outsiders).
Location. As foragers practicing no horticulture whatsoever, the Yuqui ranged over a large territory in the western regions of lowland Bolivia in the departments of Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. Sightings of Yuqui over many years indicate that their territory originally formed a large crescent beginning east of the old mission town of Santa Rosa del Sara, running south beyond the town of Buenavista, and then extending north and west into the Chapare region near the base of the Andes Mountains. Today what are probably the last remaining three bands of Yuqui are settled at a mission station on the Río Chimore (64°56′ W, 16°47′ S). The original home range of the Yuqui consisted of varied habitats including savanna, deciduous tropical forest, and multistratal rain forest. Their present environment is multistratal forest and is located near the base of the Andes at an elevation of 250 meters. It includes riverine and interfluvial areas marked by rainfall averaging 300 to 500 centimeters per year. There is a dry season during the months of July and August, which is marked by cold fronts ( surazos ) ; the temperature may briefly drop to as low as 5° C. Otherwise, annual temperatures for the area normally range between 15° and 35° C. The Yuqui at the Chimore settlement forage over an area of approximately 315 square kilometers.
Demography. There is scant knowledge as to what size the Yuqui population might have been at the time prior to or immediately following the European Conquest because little was known about them until the mid-twentieth century. According to their own reports, the Yuqui have experienced severe depopulation owing to disease and hostile encounters with local Bolivians. As of 1990, the entire known population of Yuqui consisted of about 130 people. Although not out of the realm of possibility, it is now unlikely that uncontacted bands of Yuqui are still living in the forests of eastern Bolivia.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Yuqui speak a Tupí-Guaraní language that is closely related to other Tupí-Guaraní languages in lowland Bolivia such as Chiriguano, Guarayo, and Siriono. It appears to be most closely related to Siriono, with which Yuqui shares a large vocabulary, but the two languages are not mutually intelligible. Recent linguistic analysis indicates that the two languages may have diverged in the 1600s, coinciding with the movement of Europeans into the area.