ETHNONYMS: Choroti, Soloti, Tsoloti, Xolota, Yofuaha, Yowuxua, Yoxuaxa
Identification. The name "Chorote" or "Choroti" is probably of Chiriguano-Guaraní origin and is used in the Argentinian and Bolivian-Paraguayan Chaco. The Chorote call themselves "Yoxuaxa," which probably means "those who eat doves." In contemporary settlements on the Río Pilcomayo they are also identified as "Téuak Lhele" (river people) and "Lhimnal Lhele" (forest people), alluding to their native ecological niches.
Location. Until the second half of the seventeenth century the Chorote lived in the southern Chaco on the right bank of the middle Río Bermejo. Punitive expeditions during the late colonial period forced the displacement of the Chorote to the left bank of the Pilcomayo. Today they are found on both shoulders of the middle Pilcomayo and in the central-western Paraguayan Chaco. The climate is tropical of the dry-rainy type, characterized by marked seasonal precipitation.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Chorote language belongs to the Mataca-Macá Family of the Macro-Guaycurú Stock. At present there are at least two dialects: one predominates in the Pilcomayo area and the other in the interior of Paraguay.
Demography. In 1980 the Chorote population was estimated at 1,200, with 830 in Argentina and 370 in Paraguay. Estimates made in the 1920s varied between 2,000 and 2,500 persons.
History and Cultural Relations
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the ethnic groups whose territories bordered on that of the Chorote were the Toba, the Chiriguano, and the Tapieté to the west and northwest; the Ayoreo to the north; the Nivaclé to the east and southeast and the Mataco-Guisnay to the south. With the exceptions of frequent intermarriage and commercial and military alliances with the Nivaclé and the Tapieté, Chorote relations with the surrounding groups continued to be hostile during this period. Then expeditions sent out by the Bolivian government to reconnoiter and pacify Chaco territory added to the growing pressure exerted by cattle ranchers, resulting in opportune extensions of intertribal alliances to resist occupation. Spreading occupation reduced indigenous lands, however, and brought the Indians into permanent contact with the dominant society. The Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia (1932-1935) impelled the Chorote to move continuously, and, at the end of the war, they were forced to settle in evangelical missions in Argentina and Mennonite settlements and Catholic missions in Paraguay. Because of systematic demands by native minorities of the Chaco, which began in the 1950s, government legislation was implemented in the 1980s for the recognition of native communities' territorial rights. Some land has been ceded to indigenous peoples through Law 23302/1984 (Argentina) and the Estatuto de Comunidades Indígenas (Statute of Indigenous Communities) Law 904/1980 (Paraguay).
In aboriginal times the Chorote had two types of settlements: semisedentary villages for the rainy season and temporary camps for the dry season. The most densely settled villages were established on the bank of the Pilcomayo or the lakes of the interior, on cleared land above the flood level. The huts were arranged in a circle, and access openings were oriented toward a central plaza where ritual and sports activities took place. In contrast to the marked tendency toward concentration and sedentary life-style characteristic of the rainy season, there was the contrary practice—during most of the dry season—of fragmentation into family units and more prolonged and continuous shifting, using temporary camps. In settling the Chorote in missions and prevalently multiethnic settlements, the ideal circular pattern of ancient villages was often replaced by a linear-type pattern at the same time that dome-shaped huts were partially replaced by dwellings made of modern materials.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Chorote were basically hunters and gatherers, but they complemented their subsistence needs with fishing and horticulture. In hunting, tapir and three kinds of peccaries constituted the main prey. Collecting honey and gathering wild fruits also provided a good part of the Chorote diet. The most widely disseminated cultigens were several kinds of pumpkins, bitter manioc, and maize. Socioeconomic activities followed a characteristic seasonal rhythm of abundance and scarcity. The time of greatest abundance of resources was from September until February, facilitating the convergence of various bands in the semisedentary villages for the collection of wild fruits and the performance of agricultural tasks. After a period of great scarcity, which compelled the bands to divide and lead an intensely nomadic life, fish became relatively abundant during June and July. This allowed the river people and, to a lesser degree, the forest people, a secondary permanence on the banks of the Pilcomayo. With contact came the incorporation of new cultigens and domestic animals such as chickens, pigs, goats, and sheep. Raising animals partially compensated for the reduction in game caused by the advancing frontier of colonization.
From the beginning of the twentieth century, temporary wage earning in the sugar mills of northwestern Argentina definitively incorporated the natives into the market economy, creating new needs for them. Prolonged stays in the mills directly exposed the natives to the dominant society's forces of change, dazzling them with and making them desirous of new goods. Since that time, they have adopted manufactured food, alcoholic drinks, weapons, sewing machines, bicycles, watches, and so forth. In the 1960s the mechanization of the mills reduced the demand for less-qualified workers. Some Chorote reoriented themselves toward temporary work in agro-industrial enterprises in Mennonite colonies of the Paraguayan Chaco. For those who reinstalled themselves in villages of the middle Pilcomayo, commercial fishing provides a source of income that, as opposed to wage earning, facilitates permanent residence and the strengthening of community relations. The sale of handicrafts also adds some income.
Industrial Arts. Traditional handicrafts include pottery, woodworking, net making, and weaving.
Trade. In aboriginal times the Chorote acted as intermediaries in an extensive net of commercial relations that connected the groups of the Chaco with those of the southern Andean piedmont. During the first decades of the twentieth century, together with the Nivaclé, they monopolized the commercialization of old iron throughout the entire Chaco.
Division of Labor. Before contact Chorote men were responsible for hunting, collecting honey, fishing, and horticulture, as well as the manufacture of tools and weapons. Warlike and commercial activities were also basically male tasks. Women gathered wild plants and harvested the crops for processing and storage. They built the huts, prepared the meals, and raised the children. Nowadays they continue to make bags, pottery, and some clothing. However, because of the decline in natural resources and the greater importance of male work—wage earning and commercial fishing—female tasks have become restricted to the home.
Land Tenure. In ancient times each band had hunting, gathering, and fishing territories that were recognized, although sometimes disputed. The advance of the cattleraising sector forced the Indians to share their lands with Creoles whose principle livestock (cattle, horses, mules), apart from destroying Indians fields, has changed the distribution of natural resources. The Chaco War and the consequent sale and concession of large tracts of land by the Paraguayan government forced the Chorote to concentrate in missions. The missionaries were able to rescue some land for the Indians and ensure their survival. In the 1980s the Argentinian and Paraguayan governments began giving land titles to various indigenous communities.
Kin Groups and Descent. Chorote society was formerly divided into bilateral, exogamous bands, consisting of a small number of extended families. Members of each band considered themselves to be related, although kinship links appear to have been more created than real in the sense of being genealogically traceable. The essential functions of each band were regulating marriage, maintaining autonomy, and exercising some control over interpersonal conflicts or those between extended families. The latter could generate fissioning processes within bands. Intensified contact with White society and settlement in missions and colonies produced the fusion of different bands in the same village. In the few surviving villages with a circular plan, two factions that are distributed relatively symmetrically coexist, and the members of each tend to marry those of the opposite faction. It is not clear whether this is a survival of an ancient dual organization or, what is more probable, a recent convergence toward dual principles because of a social and dialectal convergance of riverine and forest groups.
Kinship Terminology. Chorote kinship terminology, which is of the Hawaiian type, is characterized by its range of classificatory principles.
Marriage and Family
Marriage. Marriage within the band was traditionally prohibited. The scope of exogamy extended to friendly ethnic groups, especially the Nivaclé and the Tapíete. After resettlement, the tendency to ethnic exogamy expanded to include other indigenous groups as well as Creoles, especially in multiethnic villages. Divorce continues to be accepted, and can be initiated by either spouse.
Domestic Unit. The domestic unit together with age-grades were the essential articulations of the social system. Heads of families were traditionally able to impose their decisions on the leader of the band. The matrilocal extended family, normally including three generations, continues to predominate; there are also patrilocal units and nuclear families. The emergence of the nuclear family is a consequence of migrant work and wage earning since the beginning of the twentieth century.
Socialization. Children were and are raised permissively and their personal autonomy is furthered. As repositories of knowledge and guides to behavior, grandparents were formerly the main socializing agents. Such preeminence must be linked to the system of hierarchical age-grades, according to the principle that age confers status and prestige. The confrontation of formal education with the informal education imparted by elders has resulted in a progressive displacement of enculturative responsibilities to the parental generation, given the fact that the latter interact more smoothly within the regional/national context.
Social Organization. The core of traditional Chorote social organization was a system of hierarchical age-grades. The successive grades (children, youths, adults, and elders) had specific roles, obligations, and privileges. The elders regulated and oriented the remaining age-grades. Women occupied a position of relative equality with men. The growing interaction with the regional society has affected the traditional division of labor between the sexes, however, lowering women's influence and status.
Political Organization. Despite a marked tendency toward egalitarianism, political fragmentation, and the autonomy of each domestic group, in ancient times two levels of chieftainship coexisted: a local or band level and a supralocal or subtribal level. Although the office of the first type tended to be hereditary, the election and eventual substitution of supralocal leaders depended on band leaders and the heads of domestic groups. Their decisions in this regard were based on the negotiating ability and warrior prestige of the candidates because this type of leadership tended to define itself in the context of intergroup hostility, which made the candidate's coercive ability a determining factor. Even so, the power of both types of leaders was based more on consensus than on coercion, as indicated by the requirements of equanimity, generosity, and oratorical talent. Permanent interaction with the dominant society slowly undermined traditional chieftainship. Outsiders frequently imposed local leaders, although these were chosen in part for their linguistic skills and their abilities to mediate in economic, political, and/or religious affairs.
Social Control. Traditional Chorote society furthered personal autonomy and offered its members several options for manifesting dissent, making social control quite flexible. Furthermore, by permitting the overt expression of feelings and states of mind—changeable as these might be—the probability of uncontrollable episodes was greatly diminished. Impositions by the dominant society have tended to restrict the variety of stratagems an individual can rely on, making for a more rigid system of social control. Frequent accusations of sorcery are one consequence of the inflexibility of the imposed forms of social control.
Conflict. In aboriginal times interethnic hostilities were the most violent type of conflict and had as their main objective the obtaining of enemy scalps. Scalps and other trophies gave their owners prestige, allowing them to compete for supralocal leadership. Intraethnic fighting expressly excluded scalping and was oriented toward more immediate and profitable objectives like control over fishing sites. Beyond the local group, relations with other Chorote units varied constantly between aggressiveness and alliance. This tendency toward fragmentation reaffirmed the principles of autonomy and local personal initiative. The fragility of internal bonds, together with the persistence of old interethnic rivalry, kept the Chorote from mounting a cohesive resistance movement against invading settlers. In this context, the Chorote formed relatively stable alliances only with the Tapíete and the Nivaclé, opting for occasional coalitions with the Chiriguano, the Toba, and the Mataco. Conflicts over landownership and exploitation of natural resources persist, mainly in the form of disputes between the native population and Creole settlers.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. The core of traditional religious belief is expressed through a dialectic between principles of chaos that existed in mythical times and principles of order in contemporary times. This dialectic between processes of disintegration and reintegration involves the social as well as the natural order. The synthesis between native and Christian belief—internalized through systematic Anglican and Pentecostal evangelization since the 1940s—is clearly a redifinition of such processes in ethnic terms. The sinfulness of the "ancient beliefs" is compared to the virtue of the "new beliefs."
In its native form, the Chorote religion may have been without the concept of a Supreme Being. Recognized, however, were a group of deities that personified the dialectics of chaos/order, through the fusion—in the same deity—of a "trickster" profile with characteristics typical of demiurges. The polarization between what is divine and diabolical, encouraged by Christianization, resulted in a hierarchical ordering of ancient deities. Such an arrangement is the outcome of emphasizing either the demiurgic or trickster aspect of a deity.
Religious Practitioners . Religious roles were traditionally acquired either through the deliberate channel of shamanism or nondeliberately through reaching old age. In actual practice, one recognizes a difference in power between officiating "shamans" and "old men," and in their ability to cure and divine. The training of indigenous pastors by Anglican missionaries, who often assigned them political responsibilities as well, led to a rivalry between modern religious leaders and traditional ones and between religious and secular leaders. These rivalries, combined with the lack of persistent fellowship among the constituents, have led to greater factionalism.
Ceremonies. The Carob Festival, which was held in spring, at the same time that many other wild fruits ripen, was the most important traditional ceremony. Its purpose was to promote natural and human renovation and to enhance intergroup sociability. Among other constituent rituals of this festival were those pertaining to fermented drinks, scalps, victory dances, and dances of the young people. Missionaries were shocked by the festival's orgiastic aspects and succeeded in suppressing it. A fundamental rite of passage was the female initiation, which signaled a young woman's achievement of social and sexual maturity. The ceremony contained a dual set of symbols, through which the initiate experienced the antithetical processes of death and gestation and the contrast between the undifferentiated status of adolescence and the differentiation characteristic of adulthood.
Medicine. Sickness results from either the manifestation of some vital principle eventuated by shamanic malevolence, the transgression of a taboo, or from the invasion of the body by a harmful agent emitted by a shaman. The curing ritual, in which shamans and elders cooperate, features magical flight, fighting between helping spirits, chanting, blowing, and massaging. Although harshly repressed by the first generation of missionaries, shamanic practices have been revived since the 1980s and coexist with certain practices of Western clinical medicine.
Death and Afterlife. Death and sundry illnesses are ascribed to certain dualistic deities and particularly to shamans. Death is the means of access to a definitive state of being and power, implying the transformation of the deceased into one of a class of mainly negative deities (Mamo ) that live in a monotonous and dark subterranean world.
Braunstein, José A. (1983). Algunos rasgos de la organización social de los indígenas del Gran Chaco. University of Buenos Aires, Instituto de Ciencias Antropológicas, Trabajos de Etnología, 2.
Cordeu, Edgardo J., and Miguel de los Ríos (1982). "Un enfoque estructual de las variaciones socioculturales de los cazadores-recolectores del Gran Chaco." Suplemento Antropológico 17:131-195.
Sifferdi, Alejandra (1984). "Los niveles semánticos de la cosmovisión chorote." Jour nal of Latin American Lore 10:87-110.
Wilbert, Johannes, and Karin Simoneau (1985). Folk Literature of the Chorote Indians. Los Angeles: University of California, Latin American Center.
ALEJANDRA SIFFREDI (Translated by Ruth Gubler)
"Chorote." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chorote
"Chorote." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chorote
"chorote." A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/chorote
"chorote." A Dictionary of Food and Nutrition. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/chorote