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A Roman Catholic Missionary Attempt in the Chaco Boreal (1925–1940): Father Walter Vervoort as an Ethnographer

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This essay seeks to throw light on the missionary efforts undertaken by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), a Roman Catholic congregation, among the Nivaclé in today's Paraguayan Chaco (Chaco Boreal), between 1925 and 1940. Based on current anthropological knowledge, it assesses a series of ethnographic observations made by Father Walter Vervoort, OMI, a paradigmatic missionary of the time. Besides, it considers various ambiguities, paradoxes, and mediations in the relationship between Indians, missionaries, and the military in a socio-political context dominated by the Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia (1932-35). Finally, the analysis problematises the issue of cultural codes and of intercultural contact in a missionary context, while encouraging a reflection on both the wanted and unwanted outcomes of an equivocal missionary and civilizing endeavour that created some misunderstandings and, to a lesser extent, led to a certain degree of compatibility in the relationship between the missionaries and the Indians. Cet article porte sur l'action missionnaire que les Oblates de Marie Immaculée (OMI), une congrégation catholique romaine, entreprirent entre 1925 et 1940 parmi les Nivaclé dans ce qui est aujourd'hui la région du Chaco au Paraguay. Se basant sur les derniers développements en anthropologie, le texte évalue une série d'observations ethnographiques faites par le Père Walter Vervoort, OMI, un missionnaire paradigmatique de son temps. Il explore en outre les ambigüités, les paradoxes et les médiations dont était faite la relation entre Indiens, missionnaires et militaires dans un contexte sociopolitique dominé par la guerre du Chaco entre le Paraguay et la Bolivie (1932-35). Enfin, l'analyse problématise la question des codes culturels et du contact interculturel dans un contexte missionnaire tout en encourageant une réflexion sur les conséquences volontaires et involontaires d'une entreprise missionnaire équivoque qui créa des malentendus et, dans une moindre mesure, entraina un certain degré de compatibilité dans la relation entre missionnaires et indiens.

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