Maká - Orientation

Identification. The Maká are a group of South American Indians that used to roam in the Gran Chaco—the enormous plain that occupies part of the present-day republics of Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay—and today live in the city of Asunción del Paraguay. A suprasegmental trait distinguishing them from the rest of the inhabitants of the Chaco is that adult men and women wear their hair long without ever cutting it, even when in mourning.

Location. The Gran Chaco is an enormous wooded plain with a subtropical climate and a dry season (winter); average rainfall does not exceed 80 centimeters per year. Its inland location gives it great thermal range, with maximum temperatures easily reaching above 40° C, whereas the lowest are well below 0° C. It is a plain of alluvial origin covered with vegetation, frequently spiny, in which leguminosae predominate. The terrain's relief is proof of intense fluvial activity: dry riverbeds, ravines, and madrejones (temporary or semipermanent lagoons caused by overflowing rivers). The Bermejo and Pilcomayo rivers have scarred the terrain by shifting their courses. They run in a parallel fashion, traversing the central area in a northwest to southeast direction. The Pilcomayo disappears at its central course in an area of extensive swamps, lagoons, and marshlands. This is the area where the Maká once lived. At the beginning of the twentieth century, they formed two separate tribes, settled at the mouths of the Montelindo and Confuso rivers (right tributaries of the Río Paraguay) respectively, with an additional band, which was allied with the Pilagá, located to the south of the Pilcomayo. After the Chaco War (1933-1936), the Maká were resettled in the periphery of Asunción.

Demography, Although their population appears to have diminished in the past fifty years, the Maká still number about 600 individuals. It is unlikely that they ever numbered more than 1,000, which is approximately the population of the typical Chaco tribe.

Linguistic Affiliation. Maká belongs to the Mataco-Maká Language Family. In Maká phonetics, voiceless sounds predominate. Maká differs especially from Mataco in the universality of gender category and the presence of deictic markers along the lines of Gauycurúan languages.

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