The Cavineños

Cavineño is an indigenous language native of the Cavineños, which is a Bolivian indigenous group from the area of the Amazon. The population of this group is estimated to be around 2,000 people. The people live mainly in the northern side of the Beni Department and in the south of the city of Riberalta. Even though this group has been exposed to many different cultures over time, it has preserved its indigenous identity.


In 1764 the “Franciscana de Esmeralda” Mission was founded by members of Cavineño decent. This was done with the purpose to avoid interethnic conflicts, especially with their neighbors, the group Ese Ejja. The mission was previously called  “Puerto Cavinas”  and the responsibility was later transferred to the missioners Marynoll, they were able to obtain 72,000 hectares of land for agriculture.

Previously, those lands were considered property of the priests, resulting in the commercialization of a portion of it during 1970. However, before the group of Maryknoll left in 1973 the land got reverted the to the state. The Cavineño people later claimed their right to these lands, but the Consejo Nacional de Reforma Agraria gave 30,000 of the best portions of the land to the Fuerza Naval Boliviana (Bolivian military).

During the 70’s, the Instituto Lingüístico de Verano (Summer Language Institute) arrives to the Cavineño communities. The institute was an evangelic organization that focused primarily in developing support programs to prepare bilingual indigenous teachers and also assist them in the subject of health.


The economy is primarily based in agriculture of chestnut and wild fruits. The administrations of these lands are usually done by family members. The harvest consists mainly in itinerary agriculture, also called “roza y tumba” system, which is a subsistance agriculture. Complementary activities of the community are hunting, fishing, gathering and storing fruits andwild products such as açaí, majo and cane.

Culture and Language

Formerly, the Cavineñean ethnic group was made up of clans and lineages, but now the structure is based on the extended nuclear family as a principle of social organization. Their community is no longer nomadic as they have found stable resources to survive. Despite the cultural changes they have suffered, the Cavineño still conserve their beliefs, especially those related to the mountain spirits and the waters. Before the arrival of the missions, their community used to practice an animistic religion based on deities of the forest, having as main spirits the “ishausa” or natural spirits and the “chikihua”.

The population of the Cavineño keeps their original language alive, and it is recognized by the Political Constitution of the State. The language is practiced among their territories. The language originally belongs to the Tacana linguistic family.

Some words in  Cavineño:

I – yquie

You – mitya

He – yumequie

No – aijiama

Yes – héFire – etiqui

Sun – iyetti

Water – ena

How are you? – jitdamiquie

Good – jitda

What is your name? – Aiacanaimi?

Where are we going? – ¿Eje queja ecuana cuaya?

What things can we eat? – ¿Ai piji tuque yatse araya?

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