Nivacle documentary

Posted on November 5, 2010


This is an interesting mini-documentary from Fortunato Films in Argentina, Nivacle: Recuerdos de guerra (War memories), which interviews a few older Nivacle men and women in Argentina about their life histories.  The documentary shows a mix of modern and archival video footage, contrasting modern life with ‘how things used to be’.  The documentary is in Spanish/Nivacle with Spanish subtitles.

Chulupi – Nivaclé: Recuerdos de Guerra / Pueblos Originarios
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Some of the highlights for non-Spanish speakers:

  • Kanakha (Faustino Ramos) opens the show by explaining that Chulupi is not a Nivacle word (it’s a word from another indigenous language to describe the Nivacle people).  Nivacle means ‘person’.
  • Kanakha talks about escaping from Paraguayan soldiers (I think this was during the Chaco War) and going to Argentina
  • Josephina Moreno talks about how her mother was ‘like a man’ and would look for honey and go fishing; and how they moved from place to place looking for food.  She’s weaving with chagua during the interview and says the chagua she’s using now is not the same as what she used to use in the Chaco.
  • Josephina Moreno talks about walking from La Paz to Tartagal, where they worked in logging and in sugar cane fields, both adults and children.
  • Te’unteja (Teresa Ramos) tells her story in Nivacle with translation from her granddaughter Fante’e (Julia Filiberto).  She is specifically asked to talk about how the Nivacle used to scalp their enemies (of course the documentary dwells on this aspect of Nivacle culture…).  She says they used to cut off the heads of their traditional enemies, the Wichi, and hang them up and dance around them.  She says that after the missionaries came they stopped fighting with each other and got along better.  While she is talking she uses the ‘inhaled yes’ I described earlier several times (see ~12:55 and ~13:00).
  • The next part talks about the role of women in dancing and singing during the scalping of enemies.  Kanakha describes how conflicts would start up: if you met someone from an enemy tribe while you were away from camp looking for food or fishing, you would kill them.  You don’t say ‘hi’ or ‘good day’, you just try to kill each other.  Josephina says it didn’t matter if it was a man, woman, or child, they would be killed and their head hung.  It was the same on both sides for the Nivacle and the Wichi.
  • Jacinto Roque and Kanakha reminisce some more about scalping, and talk about painting your face with coal and the celebration that would follow a battle where women would sing naked.  The guys would take a good look and the women would call them ‘pigs’.  The guys would say they weren’t pigs, they were men of war.
  • The documentary then goes back to Te’unteja and Fante’e and shows them working through the different stages of weaving with chagua.
  • Josephina says that her grandchildren don’t know how to speak Nivacle, and it’s her fault because she rarely speaks her language in front of them and they learn Castellano in school.
  • Kanakha reflects that it used to be a beautiful time, when they were working, fishing, planting together with the chorotes and the wichis as brothers, and this was thanks to the Evangelist missionaries.

Fortunato Films has also produced mini-documentaries about the Pilaga, Wichi and Chorote – other indigenous groups in the Argentinian Chaco – which you can check out here.

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Posted in: Cultural notes