Chiriguano - History and Cultural Relations

Present-day Chiriguano are the descendants of Guaraní people who migrated from Brazil, and of the Chane, an Arawak group. The Guaraní initiated a series of massive migrations that are known to have begun at the end of the fifteenth century. These migrations were driven by the desire to acquire metal objects and by messianic motives—the search for a mythical "land without evil"—and augmented because of internal conflict. Upon entering Bolivian territory, the Guaraní encountered the peaceful Chane. They reduced them to slavery, took their wives, and thus initiated a process of intermarriage. The result of the fusion of the Guaraní with the Chane is what we know as the Chiriguano. The Chiriguano were fierce warriors who conquered other ethnic groups and were not subjugated by the Inca Empire. Their relations with the Spanish and the Creoles were marked by warfare and uprisings, some of these characterized by their messianic tradition. The encounter with Whites, however, led to a drastic decimation of the population through warfare, slavery, and disease. Chiriguano were employed by White settlers on their large estates.

In 1892 the last great uprising took place, conducted by a Chiriguano known as Apiaguaiqui Tumpa, who was believed to possess supernatural power. He decided to fight against the settlers and reinstall the traditional Chiriguano life-style, but the local government sent in troops from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Apiaguaiqui was killed, and the uprising was suppressed. The Chiriguano have been subjected to concerted efforts at conversion. Since colonial times the Jesuits and then the Franciscans have established missions throughout Chiriguano territory. At first the Chiriguano burned the missions, but eventually the Franciscans were successful in establishing a vast network of mission stations that lumped groups together and instituted schools and agricultural production. In the nineteenth century (as a result of the political and economic situation of Bolivia), the missions underwent a period of economic and organizational crisis and finally collapsed. Present-day Chiriguano are divided into two major groups: the Ava Guaraní, who inhabit the foothills of the Andes, and the Izoceño, who inhabit the Izozo region and are considered to have a greater Chane influence in their culture. The two minor groups include the traditional Simba, who inhabit a village in the Andean foothills, and the Chane of Argentina, who are completely Guaranítized. Chiriguano communities have few mestizo inhabitants; although permitted, intermarriage with Whites and mestizos is infrequent.

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