- The Evueví of Paraguay: Adaptive Strategies and Responses to Colonialism, 1528–1811
The Evueví (commonly known as the “Payaguá”), a Guaycuruan tribe in southern South America, dominated the Paraguay and Paraná rivers for more than three centuries. Non-sedentary, similar in nature to the Chichimecas of northern Mexico and the Araucanians of southern Chile, the Evueví were riverine Indians whose life was seriously disrupted by the westward expansion of the Spanish and Portuguese in the Gran Chaco and Mato Grosso regions. This study will identify Evueví strategies for survival and analyze the nature of intercultural contact between the Indian and Spanish cultures. A study of the ethnohistory of the Evueví contributes to an understanding of the cultural adaptation of a non-sedentary indigenous tribe on the Spanish frontier whose salient features were prolonged Indian wars, Indian slavery, and missions. Such an analysis also provides an opportunity to analyze European attitudes and perceptions of a South American indigenous culture. Unlike other Amerindians, the unique characteristic of the Evueví was that Europeans perceived them as river pirates during the colonial era.
The early chroniclers of the Río de la Plata wrote extensively about the newly discovered natives of Paraguay. Ulrich Schmidel, a German explorer on Pedro de Mendoza’s expedition to the Río de la Plata in 1535, described the first European encounter with the Evueví in his chronicle, Historia del Descubrimiento del Río de la Plata y Paraguay. Ruy Díaz de Guzmán, the [End Page 461] first “Paraguayan” historian, wrote a similar account of the tribe titled La Argentina. During the seventeenth century, Spanish colonists lost interest in the cultures they were trying to subjugate. Wars against the Evueví and other Chaco tribes were often waged by illiterate men more intent on killing and enslaving the Indians. Colonial administrators who organized military expeditions against the Guaycuruans were the only ones who left written records describing the Evueví’s methods of warfare and the wars waged against them. The exception to the Spanish apathy about indigenous cultures were the Jesuit, Franciscan, and Mercedarian missionaries in the Río de la Plata. Of these religious orders, the Society of Jesus attracted highly educated men who left valuable accounts of the native cultures in Paraguay. Father José Sánchez Labrador, a Spanish Jesuit scientist, left an extremely rich two volume ethnographic study of the Mbayá and other Chaco Indian tribes, including the Evueví, titled El Paraguay Católico. Other Jesuits who described the Evueví culture include Dobrizhoffer, Fernández, Guevara, and Charlevoix.1
At the close of the eighteenth century, Captain Juan Francisco Aguirre devoted major portions of his diary to describing Evueví culture with the assistance of the Mercedarian missionary in charge of their conversion, Father Inocencio Cañete, a lecturer in the arts from the Convento Grande de San Lorenzo in Cordóba. Félix de Azara, also a member of the Spanish commission sent to the Río de la Plata to define the boundaries between Paraguay and Brazil, described the Evueví among numerous other tribes in his Descripción e Historia del Paraguay y del Río de la Plata. The nineteenth-century traveler accounts of Rengger, Robertson, Demersay, Marbais du Graty, Mansfield, and Washburn also contain rich descriptions of Evueví culture, and serve as a kind of “intercultural frontier” which reveals the relationship between European and Evueví cultures.2 [End Page 462]
In the twentieth century, a number of anthropologists have written about the ethnohistory of this now extinct Indian tribe. Anthropologist Max Schmidt interviewed the last known Evueví Indian, María Dominga Miranda, just before her death in the early 1940s. Schmidt annotated a collection of writings covering Evueví language, physical characteristics, material culture, navigational skills, and ceremonial rites. Olga Falkenhausen published a brief description of Evueví customs in Ethnos (Stockholm) in 1949 based upon eighteenth-century Jesuit accounts, the works of Félix de Azara, and L. Alfred Demersay, a French physician who visited Paraguay during the era of Carlos Antonio López (1840–1862). Josefina Plá, a naturalized Paraguayan poet, historian, and ceramist, wrote a popular article in 1963 titled “The Pirates of Paraguay,” for Américas...