The Guarani Nandeva are an Amerindian group located in the Gran Chaco. Though most currently reside in Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina also have communities. They are considered one of Paraguay’s 17 to 20 indigenous groups. The following ethnonyms have been applied to them: Nanaigua, Tapiete, Tapii, and Yanaygua. The last Paraguayan indigenous census (2002) notes that there are 1,984 Guarani Nandeva, 957 females and 1,024 males, in 14 villages located in the Central and High Chaco. Most live in the Central Chaco, Department of Boqueron. The majority are classified as rural (98.1%). While they speak a dialect of Guarani and are placed within the Tupi-Guarani linguistic family, their native material culture and way of life resembles that of other non-Guarani Chaco groups (for example, the Nivacle and Manjui). Use of the native language is still vigorous in most communities.
Little is known about the Guarani Nandeva’s cultural history. It is unclear whether they were originally Guarani or if the Guarani, who undertook several migrations in search of the “land without evil,” acculturated them. Some scholars hypothesize that they are descendants of the Chane, Chiriguano, or Mataco Indians (or a combination of these and possibly other groups). The archaeology and history of the Gran Chaco, the greater environmental zone that includes the Paraguayan Chaco, reveal that this large area was an ethnic melting pot during pre-Hispanic and colonial times. Contacts between Bolivian, Argentinean, Paraguayan, and Brazilian indigenous groups were common.
Until after the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay (1932-1935), most Guarani Nandéva lived in the drier and largely uninhabited northern area of the Chaco. The Ayoreo, considered Paraguay’s least-acculturated group today, also lived in that area and sometimes had skirmishes with the Guarani Nandéva. Other traditional neighbors were the Toba and Manjui, and today the Chiriguano figure prominently as neighbors. The Guarani Nandéva were semisedentary agriculturalists who did much hunting and gathering. Some also kept a few goats and cattle. Survival required extensive knowledge of the flora and fauna and, most important, of water resources (where water was and how to obtain it). For instance, they used water stored in the bromeliad caraguatâ and the tuber yvy’â (Jacaratia sp.). They also harvested plants like the sachasandia (Capparis salicifolia), which, though toxic, could be rendered edible by baking. Such knowledge, however, is dwindling.
After the Chaco War, there was an expansion of cattle ranching in the region, and most Chaco tribes became sedentary. The Paraguayan military actually helped the Guarani Nandéva establish themselves in the frontier zone of Nueva Asuncion, since they sought to reaffirm Paraguayan control of the Chaco. But the Guarani Nandéva migrated to other areas once official support ceased. In time, incursion by nonnatives into native areas made it difficult for the Indians to maintain their previous way of life. Another event that brought more outsiders to the region was the opening of the Trans-Chaco Highway. This highway brought poor Paraguayans and Brazilians to the area seeking employment with the Mennonites or others as available.
Today the Guarani Nandéva continue to have a mixed economy, but it is one that increasingly involves the use of cash. In terms of wage-earning jobs, it is mostly the young men who have access to such jobs. The Guarani Nandéva, as the last census revealed, suffer chronic underemployment and unemployment. In the 1980s, some Guarani Nandéva participated in a prodevelopment and self-determination project sponsored by the Indigenist Organization of Paraguay (AIP); however, that project led mainly to the relocation of several Guarani Nandéva groups that had lived in worker villages of the Mennonite colonies. Today, they receive some assistance from the Association of Indigenous and Mennonite Cooperation Services (ASIM), a Mennonite nongovernmental organization that works with indigenous peoples advancing health care, education, and economic programs (mostly agricultural).
The Mennonites have promoted indigenous colonies, entities that are divided into villages comprising several households. The Guarani Nandeva community of Canaan, in the colony of Laguna Negra, is the most populous village. It has an elementary school where both Guarani and Spanish are taught, a bilingual basic health care provider, and a modest Christian church originally promoted by a Mennonite missionary who resided among the Nandeva during the early stages of the founding of the settlement. Canaan’s residents have kinfolk in other locations, such as the northernmost Guarani Nandeva villages of the High Chaco. When these relatives must seek medical help in Filadelfia or go there for some business or official transaction, they often stop in Canaan. Canaan can be reached from Filadelfia, the principal urban center in the Central Chaco, by a dirt road. Those who have great financial need will sometimes request financial assistance during Sunday church services. Much singing—accompanied by the playing of guitars and the beating of a drum made from animal hide—takes place during a religious service; males and females sing, and both display great receptiveness to music. Christianity has not eradicated the practice of shamanism. The Guarani Nandeva have some shamans and consult them when ill or in need of other services, for example, bringing rain.
Traditional houses were generally small and flimsy. They were made with several ingredients: mud, wood, and grasses. Current dwellings are made with a combination of materials, including wood, mud, bricks, and some cement. Though floor mattresses are now common, they formerly slept in hammocks the women made with caraguatd fiber or on mats of animal hide. They had few material possessions and wore scant clothing. Today, they wear Western-style clothing, which is often modified for rural living. Some keep a few goats, sheep, cattle, and chickens. The gardens, meager when compared with those of other South American lowlanders, generally contain various types of squashes, beans, corn, and watermelon. While men clear garden areas, women and older men generally are the ones most involved in the planting and harvesting of crops. Men hunt when feasible, but very rarely fish. Older male and female Guarani Nandeva will gather various wild products, such as hot pepper and cacti fruits.
- Gutierrez, R. (1995). Chaco ethnography, the case of the Tapietes of the Pilcomayo. Magazine of the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore, La Paz, Bolivia, 6, 74-106.
- Renshaw, J. (2002). The Indians of the Paraguayan Chaco: Identity and economy. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.