Nivaclé - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. There are no social classes, but there is a fine line in status differentiation—those having the highest standing are expected to render the greatest service to the community. The preeminence of women has decreased with the loss of the herds. As of the late twentieth century, prostitution with Creole and White men is causing havoc. Young people are dazzled by Western glitter, and the old people weep over their loss of freedom. A deep and heartrending generational trauma is beginning to develop.


Political Organization. Nivaclé political organization is based on distribution and the territorial clan. In leadership the caanvacle, warrior, is most prominent; he acquires status according to the number of scalps he has taken in combat. More than five scalps of various ethnic groups makes him an uj caanvacle, a great chief. His authority is restricted to martial activities. The tsôt'aj has a relationship with the masters of the animals and the forest. At the beginning and end of the day, he harangues the people. He plans and directs work. As the interpreter of the general consensus, he is what ethnographers have come to call the "peace chief." Nowadays, local councils are being formed, a syncretism between the former council of the elders and the Western parliamentary system.


Social Control. Gossip, giving the cold shoulder, and ridicule, as well as the fear of punishment for violating taboos, have been the most common forms of social control. Traditionally, the price for a crime or sorcery was blood vengeance carried out by the victim's clan. In disputes about love, men performed song duels. In many other instances the informal council of elders intervened. Since before the Chaco War, legal matters have been in large part in the control of missionaries or military commanders. Today, the law establishes the value of indigenous customary law "in all that is not incompatible with the principles of public order."


Conflict. Until about 1930 there was conflict with neighboring ethnic groups, especially the Toba, over hunting and fishing grounds and cattle. At the end of the 1940s a "crisis cult" developed, with Pentecostal and healer characteristics. Originating after an earthquake in northern Argentina, the movement extended to Mennonite settlements. Hardly had the cult come to an end, when in 1960, there was an uprising over land rights in the Mennonite colonies. From 1974 to 1978 the Marandú Project supported Indian ambitions of self-determination but it became perverted by the machinations of the Paraguayan dictatorship, which corrupted the principal native leadership with large sums of money given to the Asociación de Parcialidades Indígenas (Association of Native Indian Groups). In 1980 there developed another crisis cult, supported by the Mormons. A group of Nivaclé had migrated to one of their ancient tribal grounds, where they were not allowed to remain because the area had become private property. At the root of these crisis cults are interethnic friction and the struggle for land, in which the Indians have the Oblate Fathers as their main allies.

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