The Yurakaré live in the foothill area between the lowlands of the Amazon Basin and the mountains of the Andes, in the heart of present-day Bolivia. This has been their habitat since the earliest written records of the Yurakaré, at the end of the 16th century. Their territory is situated at the fringes of the southeastern part of the Amazonian rainforest.
    Although the connection between the Yurakaré and this territory has been relatively stable over the years, it has not always been the same. Due to colonial pressure, the Yurakaré, who then occupied an area of the foothills somewhat closer to the current position of the city of Santa Cruz, were forced to retreat more and more towards the northeast along the mountain range, eventually arriving at the basin of the Sécure River, as a comparative study of the sources of the 16th and 17th with later sources shows (Hirtzel, forthc.). During the 20th century, the colonization of Andean ‘colonizers’ involved in the production of coca, led to another migratory movement of the Yurakaré, away from the foothill area proper downriver towards the Mojo plains (cf. Paz 1991 for general data, and CIDDEBENI 1996 for the history of some of the communities in the National Park and Indigenous Territory TIPNIS).

Current location

Today, most of the Yurakaré live in the Beni and Cochabamba departments, along the upper tributaries of the Mamoré River. A part of them lives along the Chapare and Ichilo Rivers in two zones that have been recognized as ‘Indigenous Communal Territories’ (TCO - Territorios Comunitarios de Origen): the TCO Yuracaré and the TCO Yuqui. The latter territory is named after a small group of hunter-gatherer Tupi-Guaraní Indians, that have been resituated there at the end of the 1960s, but that previously lived further towards the west. Neighbors of the Yurakaré in this area are Andean ‘colonos’ towards the south, and Trinitario (Mojeños) Indians to the north.
    A second major group of the Yurakaré lives in the area between the Rivers Isiboro and Sécure, which was declared a National Park in 1965 and later an Indigenous Territory in 1991. It is currently known under the name Indigenous Territory and National Park Isiboro-Sécure (Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro-Sécure - TIPNIS for short). The occupation of the Yurakaré of this area extends across its limits, towards the point of junction of the Isiboro and the Mamoré Rivers. In the National Park TIPNIS the neighbors of the Yurakaré are the Chimane, in the upper Securé area, and both along the River Sécure and Isiboro, they share the area with Trinitario (Mojo) Indians that have settled in the area from the 1950s onwards.
    Due to recent migrations that mostly took place in the second half of the 20th century, some Yurakaré live relatively separate from the aforementioned two zones. Some of them live in the upper Beni, mainly close to Covendo, where they live in the proximity of the Mosetén, others live along the River Maniqui where the population is mostly Chimane, or even further away in the Multi-ethnic Indigenous Territory (TIM - Territorio Indígena Multiétnico) where Chimane, Mojeño and Movima people live.
    Apart from all these communities there are a number of reduced Yurakaré communities south of the National Park TIPNIS and the TCOs Yuracaré and Yuqui, and in between the TIPNIS and these TCOs (Rivers Samusabete, Chipiriri, Uriyuta, Ivirgarzama and Sajta). Some of them have the title of Communal Territory (cf. Querejazu 2005). Nevertheless, this zone is massively and almost exclusively dominated by agricultural colonists that have descended from the Andes from the 1950s onwards, first on a small scale, and exponentially in the 1970s and 1980s, with the growth of coca-related economy. The Andean migration has provoked a large-scale regional change, in social as well as ecological respects, which has also affected the southern part of the National Park TIPNIS, where the majority of the inhabitants are now of Andean origin.



Topographical surroundings and scenery

The physical geography of the area that has been occupied almost exclusively by Yurakaré Indians until the beginning of the 20th century (cf. the locations of the communities and the missions as referred to by e.g. Jiménez Bejarano 1915 [1796] or later D'Orbigny 1844), is determined by its proximity to the eastern slopes of the Andes. The part of the Andean mountain range adjacent to the territory is not particularly mountainous, since the transition between the Andean slopes and the plains is rather abrupt; to the east of Cochabamba and the Tunari Massif are some of the steepest inclines of the Andes. The nearby summits of Tiraque, east of Cochabamba, where the formants of the Chapare River originate, measure over 4600 meters and are only 50 kilometers removed from a zone of no more than 250 meters above sea level.



Rivers of strong current flow through the foothill area that used to be occupied by the Yurakaré, which often bring along rocks from their Andean sources. When there is abundant rain in the Andes, the rivers of this area can become savage, as they have abrupt changes in height level. Rivers such as these are unfit for canoeing. In older times, the different Yurakaré communities established and maintained ties to each other to a large degree by means of the roads that ran parallel to the Andes, crossing the rivers by wading through them in the times of low water or otherwise with the help of buoys made from balsa wood (tojono) or small canoes. While the Yurakaré were renowned for their navigation skills at the end of the 19th century, it should be kept in mind that the two words that they use for ‘canoe’ (pojore) and ‘paddle’ (norpe) are both old loanwords from their Arawak neighbors of downriver.



Since the 20th century, an important part of the Yurakaré, on a scale never seen before, moved downstream, away from the Andean foothill area, thus changing their surroundings and scenery. As the rivers run away from the foothills, their current becomes slower, and their course is characterized by wider curves. On the outside of the curves, erosion is strongest, and the riverbeds become steeper while on the inside of the curves the sediments form broad sand beaches. In times of rain, the amount of water in the rivers combined with the weak slopes of the banks can lead to floods in the lowest areas. In the northern part of the territory currently inhabited by the Yurakaré, the forest forms a thin border along the rivers, and is surrounded by wide open spaces of savannahs and grass plains or pampas with some residual islands of woods.






Ecological regions.

Taking a broad historical perspective on the geographical situation of the Yurakaré, one can say that the part of the rainforest in which they live is situated in the centre of an area which is characterized by extreme ecological diversity, having different ecological regions, each with its specific flora and fauna and abiotic conditions. From the savannahs of the Mojos, it is not very far to the semi-deciduous and not evergreen forest of the Chiquitania,. On the southeastern part of the territory, the humid rainforest transforms into the dry forests forming the northern part of the Chaco. In turn, the climate and vegetation of the Chaco area, along the upper part of the River Grande and its formants, gradually transform into the area of the Interandean Valleys, whose general orientation goes from west-northwest to east-southeast. The Inter-Andean Valleys, having a  meso-thermic climate, form an ecological space mediating between the Highlands and the Chaco (Nee n.d.).
    Old historical sources indicate that the Yurakaré, although they lived in the tropical zone, were familiar with several of these surrounding ecological regions. In their travels towards the Andes (for reasons of trade or warfare) they did not only cross all the ecological strata of the humid forests of the Yungas and mountain area, they also reached as far as the Inter-Andean Valleys.



References:

CIDDEBENI (1996) [Diagnóstico comunal participativo de comunidades del Parque Nacional y Territorio Indigéna Isiboro Sécure]. Trinidad: ms.

D’Orbigny, Alcide (1844) Voyage dans l’Amérique méridionale. (Le Brésil, La République orientale de l’Uruguay, la République argentine, la Patagonie, la République du Chili, la République de Bolivia, la République du Pérou), exécuté pendant les années 1826, 1827, 1828, 1829, 1830, 1831, 1832 et 1833. Volume 3, first part. Paris: P. Bertrand; Strasbourg: V. Levrault.

Hirtzel, Vincent (in prep.) La division de soi: une ethnographie des Yuracaré du piémont andin bolivien. Ph.D. Thesis EHESS: Paris.

Jiménez Bejarano, Bernardo (1915) [1796] Diario de la entrada a las montañas habitadas de la Nación de Indios Yuracarés, que en el año 1796, hizo el R. P. Fr. Bernardo Jiménez Bejarano, Prefecto de Misiones del Colegio de San José de Tarata con los Padres Fr. Pedro Fernández, y Fr. Hilario Coche individuos de dicho colegio, Archivo de la Comisaría franciscana boliviana, 7(74) p. 49-53; 7(75) p. 77-81 ; 7(76) p. 113-117 ; 7(77) p. 142-147.

Nee, Michael (n.d.) Flora de la región del  parque National Amboró,  Bolivia. Available at: http://www.nybg.org/botany/nee/

Paz, Sarela (1991) Hombres de río, hombres de camino. Relaciones interétnicas en las nacientes del Río Mamoré. MA thesis Universidad Mayor de San Simón, Cochabamba.

Vries, Albert de (1998) Territorios indígenas en las Tierras Bajas de Bolivia. Un análisis de su estado en 1998. Santa Cruz de la Sierra: CIDOB; CPTI; SNV.