ETHNONYMS: Ignacio, Lorenzano, Moxo, Trinitario, Zamuco

The 17,000 Mojo Indians live throughout the lowlands of south-central Beni, a department of Bolivia. Concentrations may be found in the towns of Trinidad, San Ignacio, San Lorenzo, and San Loreto. Approximately 5,000 speak the Mojo language, which belongs to the Arawakan Language Family. First contacted in 1580 by the Spanish, who were amazed at the size of their fields, the Mojo fought off two attempts to conquer them in the early seventeenth century. In the 1660s the Jesuits began to establish missions among the Mojo, and by 1715 there were fifteen of these. After the Jesuits were expelled from South America in 1767, the Mojo were left unprotected; they were exploited by the government, and many were captured by slave raiders. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many Mojo were forced to work for rubber tappers—gathering rubber, working as servants, and transporting rubber on rivers. In the process of working in the rubber trade, the Mojo became dispersed, which is the reason for their current extensive range. As a result of these exploitive contacts with Whites, the Mojo population fell dramatically. Not a few Mojo became believers in the nativist religion, Lomo Santa, the tenets of which included opposition to Whites. The Mojo became sedentary in the 1950s and now live primarily as subsistence farmers, raising manioc, bananas, and maize and selling a small surplus of these crops.

Traditionally, the Mojo were successful hunters, fishermen, and agriculturists. They planted sweet manioc, maize, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, arracacha ( Arracacia esculenta , an aboriginal root plant), peppers, papayas, bananas, sugarcane, tobacco, gourds, and cotton. Men hunted individually for monkeys and birds in the forests. In the open plains, groups of men with dogs used drives to hunt deer. In the wet season, men would scare the animals from the islands on which they had taken refuge, and others in boats would club them as they tried to swim away. They caught jaguars in pitfalls, but it was the chief's privilege to kill them. Most fishing was done when the floods receded, leaving fish exposed in small pools or on dry land. The Mojo domesticated ducks, which were eaten at the conclusion of drinking bouts or when a man wished to thank another who had helped him work his fields. They made their garments out of the bark of the bibosi tree, and women also spun and wove cotton, which had a natural red color. Mojo pottery was tempered with sponge ashes, the spicules giving the pottery great resistance.

The power of the Mojo chief ( achiaco ) was informal, depending on his personality, although he was shown great respect. Chiefs who were also shamans had much greater power than those who were not. The chief's power was greater during war and while hunting; during those pursuits his orders required strict obedience. During war, he had to work to ensure success by observing several taboos; for example, he could not cut or even comb his hair.

Mojo marriages were fragile and were entered into with little or no ritual. Postmarital residence was patrilocal. Although polygyny was accepted, it was rare. It was possible for a man to marry a woman and her daughter. A man could punish his wife for committing adultery, because her actions were believed to endanger his hunting luck and his life. If a woman died in childbirth her infant was buried with her since children could only be nursed by their own mothers. The father of the second-born of twins was believed to be a spirit, and twins had to marry other twins or remain unmarried. The Mojo practiced secondary burials.

Of great importance to Mojo religion, jaguars were the object of cult worship. Men injured by jaguars became shamans with extraordinary powers, which they used to protect the village from jaguars. Persons who killed jaguars enjoyed special prestige.


Castillo, Joseph (1906). "Relación de la provincia de Mojos." In Documentos para la historia geográfica de la República de Bolivia, serie primera: Epoca colonial , edited by Manuel V. Ballivián. Vol. 1, Las provincias de Mojos y Chiquitos , 294-395. La Paz: J. M. Gamarra.

Nordenskiöld, Erland (1924). The Ethnography of South America Seen from Mojos in Bolivia. Comparative Ethnographical Studies, no. 3. Gothenburg: Elanders Boktryckeri Aktienbolag.

Parroquias de Moxos (1988-1989). Historia cultural de Mojos. 2 vols. Trinidad, Bolivia: Parroquias de Moxos.

Riester, Jürgen (1975). Indians of Eastern Bolivia: Aspects of Their Present Situation. Copenhagen: International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.

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