Ayoreo - Orientation

Identification. The Ayoreo call themselves "Ayoreóde," which is the plural form of ayoréi ( person ); the feminine form is ayoré. "Ayoréi" is also used to designate generically all beings of human appearance, including other native groups and criollos. Non-Ayoreo indigenous groups are generally called "Menenegóne" (i.e., "the poor ones" or "those who have nothing"). A different denomination and status is given neo-Americans (criollos and Europeans); they are referred to as "Konhióne," which may be translated as "foolish/stupid," "people who do things that make no sense or that are outside norms," such as marrying someone from the same family or addressing a woman they do not know.

Location. The extensive portion of the northern Chaco occupied by various bands of Ayoreo lies approximately between 16° and 22° S and 58° and 63° W, in Bolivia and Paraguay. Ayoreo territory exhibits a typical hinterland character since it is almost totally devoid of natural routes for internal circulation, such as rivers, groups of lakes, and Springs. Of greater importance for the life and movement of the group are the swamplands of Izozog and Otuquis. These hydric deposits determine the establishment of permanent camps in their surroundings. Given the wide distances they travel, however, bands of Ayoreo tend to become independent of these camps, up to a point, and subsist in the desert by extracting water from the tubers of the čipói. Orographical relief does not play a direct role in the lifeways of the Ayoreo as it is limited to three mountain chains in the extreme northern end of their habitat and some isolated hills in the central area. Salt mines, on the other hand, are important to the Ayoreo. The mines ( ečoi ) are located almost in the center of their habitat. They were a traditional locus of conflict between northern and southern bands of Ayoreo.

As is the case throughout the Chaco, the seasonal cycle is characterized by two periods—the dry season (May to November) and the rainy season (the rest of the year). In the latter, rainfall is abundant, with sudden downpours. In the dry season there is a noticeable wind pattern: winds alternate from the north and south, cold and warm, respectively.

Linguistic Affiliation. At present the Ayoreo and the Chamacoco or Ishír are the only ethnic groups in the northern Chaco that speak languages of the Zamuco Family.

Demography. The 2,500 Ayoreo live in a region with an area of about 333,000 square kilometers—the population density is 0.0075 inhabitants per square kilometer. This population sparsity is one of the reasons why, despite the habitat's relative lack of resources, the Ayoreo subsist within it in relative abundance. Except in rare cases, they do not suffer from either hunger or great want.

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