The Abipón people were a branch of the Guaycuruan linguistic family who lived in nonsedentary bands between the Río Salado and the Río Pilcomayo in northeastern Argentina. Before the arrival of the Spaniards, the Abipones hunted wild game and harvested vegetable foods, such as carob bean, coconuts, and dates. By 1600, the Abipones had abandoned their previous sea-sonally-mobile lifestyle of hunting, gathering, and small-scale farming; they captured thousands of cattle and horses from the Spaniards, and within a few generations had transitioned into a nomadic horse-based society. The language, today considered by linguists to be extinct, resembled those of the Mocoví and Toba peoples, each differing from the others much as the Romance languages of Europe do. The societies of these three nations also shared similar cultural characteristics. In the 1750s the Abipones comprised three bands: the Rïïkahés, of the plains of the southern Chaco; the Nakaiketergehés, a woodland people; and the Yaaukanigás, once a separate riverine people whose original identity was lost after a conquest. The Abipones were immortalized in the famous Historia de Abiponibus equestri, bellicosaque Paraguariae natione (1784) by Martin Dobrizhoffer, a Jesuit missionary and gifted ethnologist who served with the Abipones in the 1750s and 1760s and wrote his work of comparative anthropology in exile in Vienna.
Like the Mocoví, mounted Abipones raided the encroaching Spanish farms, ranches, missions, and interprovincial commerce. In peacetime they traded with merchants and rural peoples of the upper Río de la Plata region. After 1640, in response to an increased Spanish military presence that sought to impose colonial authority, contact between the Abipones and the Spanish became increasingly violent. Around 1750, the changing Chaco ecology, the increase in violence between and among Spaniards and native peoples, the decimation of the native population due to disease, and the loss of access to cattle because of new practices of corrals and guards for livestock caused the Abipones, who numbered about 5,000, to join Catholic missions. The first Rïïkahé group settled in the San Jerónimo mission of Santa Fe in 1748. Jesuits also helped Abipones establish three more missions, and a fifth Abipón mission was founded after the expulsion of the Jesuits. When independence destroyed the missions, Abipones, many of whom were sedentary cultivators and herders, settled down between the Río Salado and Río Bermejo west of the Río Paraná, but quite a few Abipón men joined the armies of José Gervasio Artigas and later fought under other leaders in post-Independence Platine conflicts. In the 1850s, Italian Franciscans founded new missions for the Abipones in Santa Fe. After these missions were secularized in 1912, the Abipones slowly lost their tribal identity as they joined rural and urban lower classes of the provinces of Santa Fe, Chaco, and Formosa in Argentina.
Martin Dobrizhoffer, An Account of the Abipones: An Equestrian People of Paraguay, 3 vols., translated by Sara Coleridge (1822; repr. in 1 vol., 1970).
Alfred Métraux, "Ethnography of the Chaco," in Handbook of South American Indians, vol. 1, edited by Julian H. Steward (1946), pp. 197-300.
James Schofield Saeger, "Another View of the Mission as a Frontier Institution: The Guaycuruan Reductions of Santa Fe, 1743–1810," in Hispanic American Historical Review 65, no. 3 (1985): 493-517.
Lucaioli, Carina Paula. Los grupos abipones hacia mediados del siglo XVIII. Buenos Aires: Sociedad Argentina de Antropología, 2005.
James Schofield Saeger