ETHNONYMS: Pacaguara, Pacaguara de Ivon, Pachuara
Identification. The name "Chácobo" is of foreign origin. They refer to themselves as "Nó?ciria," which means "we who are truly ourselves." They have been mistaken for a subtribe of the Pacahuara along with the Sinabo, Capuibo, and Caripuna.
Location. In previous times the Chácobo core habitat was the northern margin of Lake Rogo Aguado and the upper course of the Rio Yata between 64° and 65° W and 12° and 13° S in northeastern Bolivia. Today the Chácobo are settled in two main concentrations: one on the middle course of the Río Yata and the other on the margins of the Ivon, an affluent of the Río Beni. This area includes dense forest and savanna. The climate is tropical with two marked seasons: a dry winter and a rainy summer that lasts from October to April, with precipitation fluctuating between 150 and 180 centimeters.
Demography. In 1845 the Chácobo were estimated to number about 300. According to the literature, in 1970 the population was 170. In the 1980s the total population of the two Chácobo concentrations was about 300.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Chácobo language belongs to the Panoan Family. Together with the Pakahuara, the Chácobo form the remaining two groups of the Southeastern Panoan tribes.
History and Cultural Relations
The early history of the Chácobo Indians is unknown. The first account referring to their existence dates to 1845. The information, provided by missionaries and explorers who traveled through the area during the last decades of the nineteenth century, focuses on the aboriginal peoples' location rather than describing their culture. Documents from 1863 found in the Archive of La Paz refer to the first effort to missionize the Chácobo. Later Jesuit references show that the Chácobo rejected any "invitation" to join the missions, preferring their freedom. Unlike other tribes of the Bolivian Oriente, the Chácobo repelled every early attempt at missionization. Because the northern region of the Llanos de Mojos was an economically uninviting area for colonizers, the Chácobo and most of the neighboring tribes maintained their traditional way of life up to the beginning of the twentieth century.
Until this time, sporadic contacts with outsiders were initiated by the Chácobo Indians only to obtain iron tools. During the last decades of the nineteenth century, however, the discovery of the excellent quality of the rubber tree Hevea brasilienis in the Río Beni region led to the establishment of White populations in those areas considered "uncivilized" or "vacant." And with the White settlements began the extinction of the peoples of the Llanos de Mojos. Extermination came through murderous raids and epidemics that devastated people without resistance to Europeans' diseases. Unwilling to work for rubber patrons as cheap manual laborers, Chácobo Indians migrated to the north of their original area, where they found protection in the open savanna. In reaction to the constant advance of the White population, the Chácobo pattern has always been to move inland rather than either to defend their territory or to share it with White or Creole people. Thus in 1955 the Chácobo were living along the Río Benicito, an area rich in fish and game and isolated from White commercial activities; during the following ten years, missionaries of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (a Protestant organization) moved a portion of the Chácobo population of the Benicito to the Río Ivon, and the rest moved from the Benicito toward the Río Yata. In 1965 both concentrations were still living in these same areas.
The Chácobo traditionally maintained friendly relations with the Cayuvava and the Movima; the former used to visit Exaltación, the closest Jesuit mission to the Chácobo area. As of the 1980s, there is a Chácobo who is married to an old Movima woman. This is the first and only intertribal marriage. Chácobo avoided any kind of contact with the Sirono, whom they considered to be extremely aggressive. Although the Chácobo knew about the existence of the Esse Ejja and the Araona, no contact was established. Currently, Chácobo interact with the Pakahuara, whom they ridicule and consider to be inferior.
The Chácobo cluster on the high margins of streams and rivers to protect themselves from the flood tides. In the center of each village stands the men's house (hóni shóbo ), easily distinguishable from the women's houses (yóshra shóbo ) by its octagonal shape, lack of walls, and larger dimensions. In aboriginal times, all initiated men, single or married, were assigned two specific poles on which to hang their hammocks to sleep overnight. Men also spent most of their leisure time in the hóni shóbo drinking manioc beer, talking, and joking. Women were not allowed to enter, except to sweep it. Today, the hóni shóbo is neither an exclusively male domain nor a place for sleeping. Although it has became a public meeting spot for men, women, and children, the hóni shóbo is still the place where adult men mainly socialize. Women's houses are located around the hóni shóbo. In previous times, a women's house sheltered eight or nine nuclear families. Today each nuclear family has it own house. Unlike men, women spend most of their time inside doing household chores and rearing the children. In Chácobo villages involved in the tapping of rubber, a third kind of building called the karáma shòbo (house of rubber) can be found, which is usually 50 meters away from each household.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Chácobo subsistence is based on swidden agriculture, complemented by hunting, fishing, and gathering. The primary crop is manioc, used mainly for manioc flour and beer. The second major cultigen is maize. They also grow bananas, sugarcane, papayas, and tubers such as sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas ), valusas (Colocasia sp.), and air potatoes (Dioscorea latifolia ). Every year, each nuclear family clears, burns, and plants a new garden. Because of the limited fertility of the soil, old gardens are seldom replanted. The fallow period is estimated to be fifteen to twenty years. Today, shotguns are used for hunting. Traditionally, Chácobo used the bow and five different kinds of arrows, including two for catching fish. The favorite big-game animals are the tapir, the wild boar, and the peccary. Several varieties of monkey, deer, and turkey also provide meat. During the rainy season, fishing is still done with a bow and arrow. During the dry season, an efficient technique based on the drugging of fish with the poisonous barbasco vine is used. Only women and children use fishhooks. Brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa ), nuts of the motacu palm (Attalea princeps ), and fruits of the coquino (Ardisia sp.) and paquio (Hymenea sp.) also contribute to the Chácobo diet. Since the 1960s the Chácobo of the Río Ivon have been involved in the tapping, collecting, and smoking of rubber. This new activity is performed seasonally, without cutting into the time allocated for traditional subsistence activities.
Industrial Arts. Chácobo Indians have excelled as feather workers. Up to the 1970s they dressed in their traditional costumes. Bright and colorful feather headdresses, armbands, and a nasal ornament were their most precious adornments. The use of rich personal embellishments (red and black body paint), black seed necklaces and bracelets, and earrings made of capybara teeth contrasts with the absolute lack of ornamentation on objects such as hammocks, weapons, and pottery.
Trade. Chácobo did not maintain trade contact with neighboring Indian groups.
Division of Labor. Chácobo society shows a clear division of labor. Women's work traditionally included collecting firewood, carrying water, harvesting and processing either manioc or maize to make beer, spinning cotton thread for stringing hammocks, weaving baskets, molding clay pots, and taking care of their children. The large number of tasks carried out by women contrasted with the great amount of free time enjoyed by men. Although men's involvement with rubber tapping balanced the former situation, men still devote much time to socializing.
Land Tenure. Traditionally, the Chácobo had no concept of private ownership of land; as soon as their territory was occupied, they moved inland. In 1965, through the intervention of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, they were given a land grant of 43,000 hectares by the Bolivian government. Each Chácobo is an owner of this land, which cannot be sold unless there is consensus to do so.
Kin Groups and Descent. Traditional Chácobo society was organized into nine unstratified exogamous clans. What the older literature names as Southeastern Panoan tribes are actually the names of some Chácobo clans that have now disappeared. Inherited through the father's line, clan affiliation was identified through distinctive facial designs painted on the men's foreheads or on the women's pubic aprons. Affiliation to a particular clan did not imply ritual privileges or the holding of land. Although nowadays the elder Chácobo are still aware of their clan affiliation, the clan system neither regulates marriage nor enhances internal cooperation as it formerly did.
Kinship Terminology. Chácobo kinship terminology follows the Iroquois system for classifying cross and parallel cousins. For the ascending first generation the terminology is bifurcate-collateral.
Marriage. Marriage between parallel cousins is considered incestuous; marriage between cross cousins is the preferential form. Of the possible cross cousins the last choice is the father's sister's daughter. A Chácobo groom realizes that he has been accepted as a future husband when his bride cooks the meat he has previously brought her and they eat it together with manioc flour prepared by her. Parents seldom interfere in their daughter's marriage, unless the groom is considered "lazy." The new couple establish their residence in the house of the woman's parents. The son-in-law is required to help his father-in-law in minimal household tasks. Four or five years later, the couple build their own house and the light noninstitionalized bride-service ends. Although monogamy is the predominant marriage rule, polygyny is frequent for mature men.
Domestic Unit. Although Chácobo constitute temporary uxorilocal extended families, the domestic unit is still the nuclear family. The household tasks that the son-in-law has to perform for his wife's father while living with him do not conflict with the time needed for a young husband to work on his own garden or on his own rubber trails.
Inheritance. After death, Chácobo belongings are either broken or buried with the dead person, except for shotguns and iron tools, which are inherited by a son. Land or ritual privileges are not inherited.
Socialization. Chácobo parents are patient and tolerant, giving their small children great freedom. At the age of 7, whereas boys are allowed to move freely, girls are required to stay home helping their mothers with the daily housework. This pattern of women staying inside the house and men outside it repeats itself throughout the Chácobo life cycle.
Social Organization. Inequality between men and women is a remarkable characteristic of Chácobo society. Chácobo social life is male centered. Women are mere spectators at rituals, ceremonies, and in the decision-making process. Although age confers power to both genders, old women never enjoy it to the same degree as their male counterparts.
Political Organization. Traditionally, Chácobo society had a loosely defined chieftain institution. Any aged man showing potential for leadership could be recognized as a chief. What seems to be a constant is that chiefs were also powerful shamans. Today, chieftainship goes to literate young men who are in the rubber business. Although these young men are the ones who represent the Chácobo to the outside world, community decisions have to be approved by the elders.
Social Control and Conflict. Sources of tension are an uneven distribution of food, suspicion of adultery, and witchcraft. The settlement of White families involved in the processing of rubber has also provoked new sources of friction. Unless a controversy affects the community at large, conflict is often hidden. Chácobo rationale for this negative attitude toward publicly venting personal conflicts is based on the fear of witchcraft. In this sense, witchcraft works as a powerful form of social control.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. The main figure of Chácobo cosmology is Káko, a mischievous culture hero who transformed the old world and shaped it into what it is today. Not only Chácobo material culture, but also their behavioral norms and customs were established by him. Another figure of Chácobo cosmology is Ashina, a stingy old woman who owned the fire and all the cultivated plants. Through ingenious tricks, Chácobo people stole them from her and began planting and cooking their own food. The Chácobo world is inhabited by frightening spirits called yushíni. Chácobo classify them into two categories: yushíni of the dead and yushíni of the forest. Through the shaman's activity, however, animals, plants, and objects can be bestowed with yushíni. Since yushíni are potential spiritual helpers for shamans, the latter can employ them to harm others. Strange noises in the night, unrecognizable figures in the dark, and extraordinary events are explained as the result of the yushíni's presence.
Religious Practitioners. Shamanism is still strong among the Chácobo. Although it is said that men and women can both become shamans (yóbeka ), it is mainly a male institution. The initiation process is based on the chewing of tobacco in the area of the Río Ivon and on the ingestion of Banisteriopsis caapi in the area of the Rio Yata. The chewing of tobacco or the ingestion of B. caapi allow the shamans to contact their spirit helpers (yushíni). Because of the high risk involved in interaction with the yushíni, only aged people are able to acquire the status of yóbeka. Since shamanic power enables them to heal as well as to harm, they are perceived as ambivalent figures. Parallel to shamanism, there is a female institution called kebiákato that counterbalances the power attributed to men. Female adolescents are initiated by older women into the art of chanting specific songs (kebíchi ) used either to cure or to harm. Some of these kebíchi are considered so dangerous that even the most powerful shaman can not cure the victim.
Ceremonies. The Chácobo traditionally celebrated the first harvesting of manioc and maize with collective ceremonies. If the harvest was an exceptional one, people from the other concentration were also invited. The ceremonies were conducted in the men's house, where a large clay pot containing manioc or maize beer was placed in the center. Adult men, holding gourds filled with beer surrounded the pot and waited until the shaman gave a signal. Then all of them put their index fingers in the beverage and licked the beer off. This ritual guaranteed the casting out of the yushíni contained in the crops. Nowadays, this ceremony is a private one—each household invites the shaman and offers him beer prepared from the first harvest. During these ceremonies men danced around the pot of beer. Each of them had his left arm around the man on his left and played the panpipes held in his right hand. Women were allowed to enter the men's house to follow the shaman as he circled the pot of beer, beating his clay drum and chanting to his spiritual helpers.
Medicine. Chácobo use plants to heal minor diseases. Odor, taste, and color are the active agents that render these plants effective. If the results of the healing are not successful, a serious illness is diagnosed and the intervention of a yóbeka or a kebiákato is required. Western medicine is used only in combination with a traditional treatment.
Death and Afterlife. Death is conceived as the result of external agencies (such as the yóbeka, the yushíni, and the kebiákato) that become controllers of an individual's self. Whenever these external agencies start acting upon the individual, he or she loses control of his or her own self and dies. Then, the individual's self undergoes a metamorphosis and becomes a yushíni. It is said that the yushíni of the dead person roams about among the living trying to hurt them. Through strict taboos, the Chácobo establish and maintain clearcut boundaries between the domain of the dead and that of the living.
Balzano, Silvia (1986). "Acerca de la institución del kebíchi entre los chácobo del Oriente Boliviano." Scripta Etnologica (Buenos Aires) 10.
Kelm, Heinz (1972). "Chácobo 1970: 'Eine Restgruppe der Südost-Pano im Orient Boliviens.'" Tribus (Stuttgart: Veröffentlichungen des Linden Museums) 21.
Prost, Gilbert (1983). "Chácobo: Society of Equality." Master's thesis, University of Florida.