The Pilagá communities are the oldest peoples in the current territory of Formosa, like the Qom and Wichí.
Together with the Abipones, Mocovíes, and Qom, they lived from the XVI century – Pilcomayo river in between – in front of what today is the Republic of Paraguay.
They are located mainly in the Patiño department, in the marshlands, and on the right coast of the Pilcomayo River.
This river is the cardinal axis of the Pilagás and is a marker of Pilagás’ identity.
According to the proximity or distance from the water, two groups are identified: “the Pilagás of Nawagán,” closer to the Pilcomayo River, and “the Pilagás of the marshlands”, on the marshlands system. The Pilcomayo River is also a vital food source, providing fish and vegetables. Therefore, fishing is, together with gathering wild fruits, hunting, and “meleo”, one of the main provisioning activities.
In the wetland area, “nívaq” or fish in a generic way and shad (Prochilodus Platensis), in particular) are obtained.
The Pilagás communities were hunter-gatherers and grouped in extended families until well into the 20th century. They traveled through the same territory, recognized by the names they gave to the places.
Pilagá families used to go to the river in winter and the bush in summer. The elders still remember the seasonal “marches” and the abandonment and subsequent burning of the camps: “In the past, the Pilagás used to eat what was in the bush. For example, the women and men abandoned their homes. Our house was not made of bricks; it was an awning where we lived. So when people left, they would burn it. They would set it on fire, and then the place was left. They would leave where there were animals. There was no community; when they arrived at a place, they would stay 5 or 6 days and leave again”. (Rogelia, from Qom Pi, 2007).
Currently, the Pilagá population resides in 21 communities in the province of Formosa.
These settlements are organized as civil associations with legal status and recognized by the provincial government. They have recognized land tenure and are permanent settlements. They are located, on the one hand, near the Pilcomayo River and, on the other hand, near the towns that were created following the railroad route and National Route No. 81.
The journeys within each community or to the bush (“vyak”) are made for collecting honey and various resources, fishing, and hunting.
The movement to the urban area is related, among other things, to the search for temporary jobs, the sale of handicrafts, health care, administrative procedures, and the collection of subsidies.
These communities are politically grouped in the Federation of Communities of the Pilagá People.
The Federation was recognized in 2012 by the National Registry of Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations (RENAPI) of the National Institute of Indigenous Affairs (INAI).
The Pilagá language (“pitelaGa laqtaq”) belongs to the Guaycurú linguistic family.
In this sense, the Complementary Survey of Indigenous Peoples (ECPI in Spanish) 2004-2005 established that 89% of the Pilagá population surveyed speak their language daily, which is transmitted in the domestic sphere and intergenerationally and, to a lesser extent, in the schools that are part of the Intercultural Bilingual Education Modality (EIB).
In 1997, leaders, bilingual teachers, linguists, and anthropologists agreed on elaborating a Pilagá orthographic system that differs from Spanish and the alphabet proposed by the Mennonite missionaries for the Qom and Pilagá.
These initiatives solidify the writing and transmission of the language.
The women go into the Formosan bush in groups to collect the fibers, cut the central leaves, and dry them in the sun after shredding them. Generally, they have to walk several kilometers into the forest to get the best leaves.
They can collect up to 100 leaves they carry on their backs or others on their heads to return home. Large products may require up to 120 leaves or more.
Once the leaves are converted into ribbons or threads, the design of bread baskets, table centerpieces, pot holders, sewing baskets, baskets with handles, basket holders, envelopes, wallets, and any other cultural object that the fiber allows begins.
The craftswomen combine two basic weaves: the open weave made with the twisting of a fiber bundle; and the sewn weave, achieved with a lighter-weight bundle joined by a mattress needle with a greener strand of the same fiber.
On both basic procedures, new searches of forms and details are observed: crosses of smooth leaves, vertical braids, and alternating forms of rhomboidal stitching, among others.
In this way, the evolution of an ancestral feminine activity is evidenced. Pilagá basketry surprises by mutating from the basic circle to rectangular shapes, from a carandillo basket to another identical one made with defibrated plastic bottles, and from a small bread basket to a standard size, solid and heavy bassinet.
They are all unique handmade pieces made of natural fibers.
They have a wide range of products such as placemats or placemats, bowl holders, purses, baskets, and many others.
The Pilagá artisans work mainly with the carandillo leaf. However, they also use totora reeds and other fibers.
The process is entirely manual, from collecting the fiber, cleaning and drying to weaving, which is done using ancestral techniques passed down from generation to generation.
The Pilagá women extract the carandillo palm leaves from the forest. They usually walk several kilometers into the forest to get the best leaves.
They can collect up to 100 leaves and carry some on their backs and others on their heads to return home.
Large products may require more than 120 leaves.
Each of their creations constitutes a material record of their culture and cosmovision.