Nivaclé - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Nivaclé subsistence was based on hunting, gathering, fishing, horticulture, and herding. Minor hunting was collective and major hunting sometimes individual. Rheas are the most important game. Gathering and fishing are always collective except when fishing with large scissor-shaped barring nets. The Nivaclé cultivated their crops on cleared plots of forested land. In the swamplands, they grew two crops per year. Until the 1920s maize fields were said to reach to the horizon. The Nivaclé also planted sweet potatoes, squashes, manioc, and melons (including watermelons). Missionary prohibitions against the performance of their religious ceremonies did away with horticulture. Today there is a renaissance of agriculture for commercial purposes in cooperatives created at Mennonite insistence. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, the Nivaclé raised llamas ( Lama guanicoe and L. Glama ). Because of pillaging by Whites, the Indians lost their vast herds of goats and sheep.

Industrial Arts. Handicrafts in the form of ceramics, weaving, and braiding and dyeing with natural dyes lost their practical use and became items of trade. The Nivaclé have begun to make zoomorphic wooden figurines. The missionaries and Asociación Indigenista have furthered this trade.

Trade. Before contact, the Nivaclé traded intensively with neighboring groups, especially the Chorote. Since the 1920s there has been much trade in furs. Presently, cooperatives sell cotton, peanuts, maize, sorghum, and kafir ( Sorghum caffrorum, or Panicum c. , a plant originating in Africa but introduced through Asia), with the Mennonites as intermediaries.

Division of Labor. Nivaclé men clear the fields, plant, and weed; women harvest. Men hunt and carve; women cook. Men deal and trade and fish in the river; women fish in watering places with conical baskets. When men have a large catch, women help to carry and clean the fish. Women gather plants; men collect honey. Men braid and manufacture all their tools; women also braid, and they are the potters, spinners, and weavers. Women build and own the houses and the domestic animals that they care for, including the horses used by the men. Nowadays, the men have gained in prestige within the family because they are the wage earners. Now that the women have lost their herds, they are confined to their houses. Their status is further decreased owing to the male chauvinism of the Creoles and Mennonites, who only deal with men.

Land Tenure. Land boundaries, although fixed, were not rigorously guarded by local groups with fraternal ties. The breakup of this territorial distribution and the corresponding aspect of Nivaclé culture was the result of intensive contact with other indigenous groups and migration to the sugar mills; Bolivian military penetration and settlement; the Chaco War; the missionizing influence of the Oblate Fathers; and the establishment of postwar Paraguayan Creole cattle ranches as well as the stern evangelization by the Mennonites and the attraction presented by their work centers. Presently, according to law, each nuclear family has the right to 100 hectares of land, which translates into a total of 140,600 hectares. Thus far 79,801 hectares have been made available with certainty, and 60,799 are still outstanding.

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