Nivaclé - Orientation

Identification. The self-denomination Nivaclé means "human" in a generic sense. The Nivaclé are divided into five large subgroups: the first two have the common name of "Tovoc Lhavos" (River people) and are the "Chishamnee Lhavos" (people from above) and the "Shichaam Lhavos" (people from below). Then there are the "Yita' Lhavos" (Forest people), also called "C'utjaan Lhavos" (Thorn people); the "Jotoi Lhavos" (people of the esparto grass); and the "Tavashai Lhavos" (people of the savanna).

Location. Nivaclé territory covers a large triangle in Paraguay, the base of which is formed by the Río Pilcomayo and the vertex by Mariscal Estigarribia. There are a few Nivaclé living in the department of Tarija, Bolivia, and in the province of Formosa and the Chaco highlands of Salta, Argentina. The Tovoc Lhavos occupy both banks of the Río Pilcomayo. From the middle Pilcomayo, upstream, live the Chishamnee Lhavos and downstream, the Shichaam Lhavos. Deep in the thorny scrub forests of Mariscal Estigarribia are the Yita' Lhavos. The Jotoi Lhavos live in the grasslands of Mennonite settlements, and the Tavashai Lhavos live in the savannas that reach from General Diaz to Tinfunké to the north of the Patino swamplands. This territorial distribution has gone through great changes following the Chaco War (1932-1935). Ecologically and geographically the Chaco is an area of transition between the tropical forests of the north and the arid pampas of the south. The Pilcomayo, which originates in the Andes, shifts its bed frequently, flooding large areas. There the vegetation is relatively rich, but toward the north it becomes stunted, spiny, and serophilous.

Demography. Population estimates vary from 5,195 to 12,628 Nivaclé, but official records give a total of 7,030 for Paraguay. The greatest demographic concentration is in Mennonite settlements and around the Paraguayan central Chaco, where the 1981 census tallied 4,090; on the left bank of the Pilcomayo, 2,152; and in the vicinity of Mariscal Estigarribia, 361. It is estimated that there are 100 Nivaclé in the department of Tarija, Bolivia. In four sites of the departments of Rivadavia and San Martin in the province of Salta there are 526, and there are an indeterminate number in the province of Formosa, Argentina.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Nivaclé language belongs to the Mataco-Macán or Mataco-Mataguayo Language Family. There are small dialectal differences among the groups.

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