Cultural Overview

The Yuquiare most likely descendants of remnant groups of Guarani warriors and their followers who frequently traveled from what is now Paraguay into Eastern Bolivia in search of captives. They bear cultural and physical similarities to Parguayan peoples such as the Ache Many of these forays were occurring at about the time of the European conquest, which may have disrupted movement through the region and ultimately trapped several of these groups in the Bolivian lowlands. The Yuquiare also linguistically related to other TupiGuaranispeaking indigenous peoples in eastern Bolivia now known as the Guarayo, Chiriguano, and Siriono

With a long-standing history of warring with virtually all other groups sharing their territory, the ancestors of the people now known as the Yuqui continued to retreat into the more remote areas of the lowlands to avoid hostile encounters. Their numbers were probably never large to begin with, but further reduction of the Yuquipopulation occurred when colonists moved into Yuqu i territory and encounters became more frequent. This reduction in population no doubt contributed to Yuqu ideculturation, or a gradual loss of cultural content.

The process of deculturation is the most probable explanation for the apparent inconsistencies that mark Yuquiculture. At the time of contact, they were true foragers. Even the Sirion,o often described as a "classic" hunter-gatherer people, seasonally planted crops. The Yuquidid not engage in any form of horticulture, yet they maintained common Tupi-Guaraniwords in their vocabulary for domestic plants: did (manioc) (Manihot esculenta) and ibachi(corn) (Zea mays). They also had a more formal system of leadership than one would expect to find among a foraging band. Leadership was inherited through males and there was a "line" of male leaders that was generally followed. In addition, and perhaps most remarkable of all, the Yuqu ihad a hereditary caste system of slaves, something unknown among foragers. At the time of sustained and peaceful missionary contact with the first group of Yuquiin the mid-1960s, there were only 43 people remaining in the band. Yet they had managed to sustain a system that designated certain individuals as slaves (Enembaco) and others as masters (Saya). Since their numbers were so depleted, Enembaco and Saya often had to intermarry, but rules of patriliny prevailed: children of Saya fathers were Saya; children of Enembaco fathers were Enembaco.

Until the time of contact and sedentarization, the Yuquinot only had no functional relationships with any outside groups, but also considered other Yuqui bands, from whom they had split a few generations earlier, enemies and evil spirits. Thus each band of Yuqui probably only three or four in existence by the 1970s, thought of itself as the only living people on earth.

The band rarely camped in any one place for longer than 3 days. These camps were compact, with the entire group sleeping in a tight circle of hammocks for protection against jaguars or other intruders. The Yuquibuilt no structures and had lost the ability to make fire and so it had to be carefully preserved.

Yuquimaterial culture was also limited. To a large degree this is true for all people who are nomadic. Nonetheless, the inventory of material items the Yuquipos-sessed was extremely sparse. Women were string-makers, working with the shredded bark of the imbai tree (Cecropia spp.) which was twined into string for making hammocks, baby slings, bowstrings, and bindings for arrows. Men made bows and arrows that were over 2m long and constructed from black palm wood (Bactris spp.) Arrows were of only two kinds: a barbed arrow used for smaller game, and a large lanceolate bamboo "bleeder arrow" fashioned for large game. The arrow shaft of both arrow types was made from arrow cane (Gynerium saggitatum), and the arrow was fletched with the wing feathers from any large bird. The only other tool known to the Yuquiwas the guachi, made from an agouti incisor (Agouti paca) and used to make notches at the base of the arrow where the bowstring engaged. Both men and women could also quickly weave palm mats, fire fans, and hastily but poorly made palm-leaf baskets to transport meat or fruit after a foraging excursion. Hair was cut with slivers of bamboo, and honey was carried in palm flower sheaths (the bracts), both of which were discarded after use. Although pottery was not in use by the Yuqui at the time of contact, older Yuqui women possessed the knowledge to make small undecorated coiled-clay pots that were fired by placing them in cooking fires.

The Yuquipracticed no visual or decorative arts and had no musical instruments, although they engaged in chanting during storms and when a member of the group died. The chants consisted of the repetition of two notes, a higher and lower, with stress placed on the first note (hunh-hunh, hunh-hunh, hunh-hunh, etc.) and had no words. There was no tradition of verbal arts such as storytelling, other than what occurred on the day's hunt or engaging in camp gossip. It was forbidden to mention the names of the dead so there was no oral history beyond the parental, or infrequently grandparental, generation.

The Yuquíwore no clothing other than the baby sling that hung across the shoulders of the women.

The Yuqui subsisted primarily on game, fish, fruit, and honey. Meat was the most prized item in their diet and they expressed hunger with two different verbs: "meat hunger" (eyebasi) and hunger in general (toria i). As colonists moved into the area in larger numbers, the Yuquíraided farms for corn, manioc, or other food crops, often at great risk to themselves.

In addition to their paucity of material culture, the Yuquí had no religious specialists and their cosmology was fragmented. They speak of the sun as a ball of burning tapir fat and the stars as the splashes of burning fat from the sun. The moon is congealed fat in the bottom of a pot. The Yuquíare animists, believing that both people and animals are "animated" by spirits that are deemed to play an ambivalent role in the lives of the living. Spirits are believed to have the capacity to heal or harm people and are generally feared. The Yuquíbelieve that the forest is inhabited by spiritual beings that can take the form of animals and are considered malevolent.

In 1986 and 1989, two additional bands of Yuquí were contacted by mission teams and brought to Biá Recuaté The acculturated first group quickly attempted to enslave the second, and then the third. Missionary intervention prevented these old patterns from becoming reestablished. All three groups are now intermarried.

Since contact by New Tribes missionaries in the late 1950s, the Yuquíhave been exposed to the teachings of Christianity. Although the missionaries consider their work among the Yuquíto be largely unsuccessful in that the Yuquí have not embraced the strict rules of conduct that the missionaries teach, the Yuqui consider themselves to be staunch "Creyentes" ("Believers"—the term used in Latin America to signify Protestant evangelicals).

Following contact, the Yuquígradually became more trusting of outsiders, and violence toward outsiders as well as among themselves diminished. The mission provided them with clothing, housing, mosquito nets, and firearms, all of which were readily adopted by the Yuquíand which are now considered necessities. The men have also learned to fish with hook and line and nets. Yuquídiet has changed considerably since contact, and includes items such as rice, corn, wheat flour, potatoes, onions, noodles, sugar, cooking oil, salt, spices, and other prepared or canned foods that can be purchased at the community store or from local people in the area. Nonetheless, male status is still tied to the ability to hunt, and foraging remains a major part of daily activity. Although the missionaries and others have attempted over the years to teach the Yuqui to farm, they dislike this activity and have never produced crops so as to predictably contribute to their dietary needs. Those few Yuquimen who have successfully raised crops such as rice and corn often prefer to sell them for trade items than store them for later use. The Yuquiuse Bolivian currency and the large majority prefer day labor to farming in order to raise cash to purchase market commodities.

In 1992, a Presidential Decree provided the Yuqui with an Indigenous Territory of 115,000ha that has contributed to their cultural survival. However, their small numbers and pressures from the larger society to assimilate into the lowland peasantry may eventually overwhelm this struggling remnant population of foragers.

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