Yuracaré

ETHNONYMS: Conis, Cuchis, Enetes

The Yuracaré Indians live in the region of the Sucre, Ichilo, and Chaparé rivers in the Beni and Cochabamba departments of Bolivia. Estimates of their population vary from 1,500 to 2,500. The Yuracaré are composed of two mutually hostile subgroups, the Soloto and the Mansiño; another subgroup, the Oromo, was killed off by the Mansiño. In the nineteenth century their territory ranged from 16° to 17° S and from 63° to 66° W and included part of the department of Santa Cruz. The Yuracaré language is an isolate. One of the earliest contacts between the Yuracaré and Whites took place in the seventeenth century, when the Yuracaré attacked Spanish villages in the regions of Mizque and Cochabamba. Missions were not popular among the Yuracaré, and the missionaries abandoned many of them. The Yuracaré population is now increasing after a great decline in the nineteenth century. Today, the Yuracaré live by subsistence horticulture, by foraging, and by selling handicrafts for cash.

The Yuracaré traditionally obtained their livelihood by horticulture, fishing, and hunting. In gardens located in fertile forest soil at some distance from their houses, the Yuracaré raise their staples—sweet manioc, maize, and bananas—as well as sweet potatoes, gourds, watermelons, hualusa ( Colocasia esculente ), papayas, pineapples, cayenne pepper, cotton, and tobacco. The practice of horticulture once occasioned magical practices involving singing and dancing and the observance of various taboos, such as the one prohibiting the consumption of peccary meat. It was also taboo to be in proximity to a field until the crops were ripe, and this is why fields were located away from the houses. Hunting was done with dogs, bows and arrows, snares, and traps. Men who hunted well gained prestige. The Yuracaré moved to a new location when the local supply of game or tembé palms was about to be exhausted, as well as when a member of the group died. Movement occurred when the tembé fruit was ripe (i.e., when a food supply was available while they were waiting for their crops to mature). Fishing was also important and was done with bows and arrows. In the early nineteenth century, Yuracaré people found the flesh of domesticated animals disgusting and did not eat them; later, they raised chickens. They traditionally did not use canoes but swam rivers on a piece of wood. By the twentieth century, however, they were renowned for making dugout canoes, which they used on long river voyages. They used cotton nets as well as baskets made of motacu -palm leaves for carrying and storage. Women made pottery but while so engaged were forced to observe a variety of taboos.

The traditional Yuracaré house was a large gabled roof that reached to the ground and was open at both ends. Later, they adopted the rectangular huts used by mestizos. Each village once had a men's house where men made weapons and ate and which women could not enter. The Yuracaré furnish their houses with mats that are covered with bark-cloth mosquito nets, and with bark-cloth hammocks that are used as cradles for babies. The Yuracaré dress in bark-cloth tunics, using bark from the bibosi and other trees. They once removed all of their body and facial hair but let the hair on their heads grow long.

Each Yuracaré group is made up of one or several nuclear families, and each is completely independent of the others. The political head is the family head, and his authority is limited to his own group. Most disputes, which usually involved sex or sorcery, were resolved through duels in which the disputants shot arrows (which could cause deep wounds but not death) at each other's shoulders. Suicide was a common response to incurable disease or humiliation.

Girls were secluded for four days when they entered puberty, following which they covered their heads for six months and could not speak to men. After this, however, girls had sexual freedom, although they usually married within a short period of time. A man could marry only when the intended bride's parents were convinced that he could support her. Marriage was largely endogamous within the group, and exceptions required the payment of a bride-price. Incest prohibitions extended only to relatives one degree removed. Polygyny was possible but rare. Divorce, which was easily obtained, was usually caused by the husband failing to provide well for his family. The Yuracaré killed all illegitimate and malformed children. In addition, abortion was common, and family size was strictly limited. When a Yuracaré was near death, he or she was taken to a special house in the forest. There, the moribund decided on the disposition of his or her property and accepted messages from others to the previously deceased.

Bibliography

Haenke, Thaddäus (1900). "Noticia de la vida y trabajos científicos de Tadeo Haenke.... Descripcin geográfica, física e histórica de las montañas habitadas de la nación de indios yuracarées. Parte más septrional de la provincia de Cochabamba." Anales de la Biblioteca Nacional 1:172-185.

Martínez, Pedro Plaza, and Juan Carvajal Carvajal (1985). Etnías y lenguas de Bolivia. La Paz: Instituto Boliviano de Cultura.

Orbigny, Alcide Dessalines d' (1835-1847). Voyage dans l'Amérique méridionale. Paris.

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