Collection Description

Brief Culture Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Mataco are Native Americans who live in the northern and central Gran Chaco from Bolivia to Argentina. The Mataco language belongs to the Macro-Guaicuruan language family. The Mataco are primarily gatherers, fishermen and hunters, and supplement foraging with a simple agriculture. The northernmost Mataco developed a fishing industry, based on seine fishing. In other areas, lumbering and unskilled day labor provide the Mataco with cash.


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South America --Southern South America



OWC Code


Collection Information

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Number of Pages


Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in this eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

The Mataco file consists of eight documents, two of which are translations from Spanish (Pelleschi 1897, no. 1), and Métraux 1944, no. 4), one from French (Dijour 1933, no. 7), and the remaining five in English. The works of Pelleschi, Métraux, and to some extent Karsten (Karsten 1932, no. 2) complement one another and provide an excellent background for a study of the traditional Mataco culture (relevant to the periods of the authors' fieldwork ranging from approximately 1875 to the late 1930s). In 1995 a new monograph was added to the file by the ethnologist Jan-Ake Alvarsson (see Alvarsson 1988, no. 9), reviewing previous literature on the area, and providing additional reconstructive information on the Mataco before the colonization of the area as well as updating the existing ethnographic data. This document, used in conjunction with the works of Pelleschi, Métraux, and Karsten, should provide the reader with a relatively complete overview of Mataco culture and society. Other works in the file provide information on Mataco folktales, marriage customs, suicide, and curing ceremonies.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

This culture summary is from the article "Mataco" by Jan-Åke Alvarsson in the Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Vol.7. 1994. Johannes Wilbert, ed. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall & Co. The synopsis and indexing notes were prepared by John Beierle, August 1996.

Collection Indexing Notes

clusters -- groups of NOWETLHELEY or households -- categories 592, 621

HIYAWU' -- the shaman -- category 756

LHAMETWO -- "word keeper"; an "Indian Pastor" whose primary task is to read the Bible to the villagers at the recurrent meetings -- category 794

NIYAT -- the village spokesman -- category 622

NOWET LHAMHIYA -- the household head -- categories 592, 554

NOWETLHELEY -- the family group or household -- category 592

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