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A name which has given rise to considerable confusion and dispute in Argentine ethnology, owing to the fact, now established, that it was applied at different times to two very different peoples, neither of which now exists under that name, while the vocabulary which could settle the affinity of the earlier tribe is now lost. The name itself, meaning "inhabitants", conveys no ethnic significance, being a term applied indiscriminately by the invading Mátaco from the east to the tribes which they found already in occupancy of the country.

The Lulé of the earlier period appear to have been the tribe more definitely known under their Quichua name of Cacana , "mountaineers", occupying the hill ranges of the upper Salado river in the provinces of Catamarca and Western Tucuman, Argentina. They were of the stock of the Calchaqui, the southernmost tributaries of the historic Quichua of Peru, from whom they had absorbed a high degree of aboriginal culture. Owing to their relations with the Quichua on the one hand and with the neighbouring Toconoté (also Tonocoté), or Matará, on the other, they were familiar also with these languages as well as their own, a fact which has served much to increase the confusion. By the Jesuit missionary Alonso Bárcena (or Barzana) the Lulé (Cacana) were gathered, in 1589, into a mission settlement on the Salado, near the Spanish town of Salavera or Esteco. The Matará, or Toconoté, were evangelized at the same time. Here, within the following twenty years, they were visited also by St. Francis Solano. In 1692 the region was devastated by a terrible earthquake which destroyed the towns of Esteco and Concepción, together with the missions, in consequence of which the terror-stricken neophytes fled into the forests of the great Chaco wilderness north of the Salado, and became lost to knowledge, while the grammar and vocabulary which Father Bácena had composed of the Toconoté language disappeared likewise.

The Lulé of the later period are better known, being the principal of a group of cognate tribes constituting the Lulean stock, formerly ranging over the central and western Chaco region in Argentina, chiefly between the Verlado and the Vermijo, in the province of Salta. Although the classification of the Argentine dialects is still incomplete and in dispute, the following extent or extinct tribes seem to come within the Lulean linguistic group: Lulé proper (so called by the Mátaco), calling themselves Pelé , "men", and believed to be the Oristiné of the earliest missionary period; Toconoté, called Matará by the Quicha, and incorrectly identified by Machoni with the Mátaco of another stock; Isistiné; Toquistiné; Chulupí, Chunupí, or Cinipí; Vilelo, called Quiatzu by the Mátaco, with sub-tribes Guamica and Tequeté; Omoampa, with sub-tribes Iya and Yeconoampa; Juri; Pasainé.

In general, the Lulean tribes were below median stature, pedestrian in habit, peaceful and unwarlike, except in self-defense, living partly by hunting and partly by agriculture, contrasting strongly with the athletic and predatory equestrian tribes of the eastern Chaco represented by the Abipone and Mátaco. The still wild Chulupí of the Pilcomayo, however, resemble the latter tribes in physique and warlike character. In consequence of the ceaseless inroads of the wild Chaco tribes upon the Spanish settlements, Governor Urizar, about the year 1710, led against them a strong expedition from Tucuman which for a time brought to submission those savages who were unable to escape beyond his reach. As one result, the Lulé were, in 1711, gathered into a mission called San Estéban, at Miraflores on the Salado, about one hundred miles below Salta, under the charge of Jesuit Father Antonio Machoni. Machoni prepared a grammar and dictionary of their language (Madrid, 1732), for which reason it is sometimes known as the "Lulé of Machoni", to distinguish it from the Cacana Lulé of the earlier period. San José, or Petaca, was established among the Vilelo in 1735. In consequence of the inroads of the wild tribes, these missions were temporarily abandoned, but were re-established in 1751-52. In 1751 the cognate Isistiné and Toquistiné were gathered into the new mission of San Juan Bautista. In 1763, Nuestra Señora del Buen Consejo, or Ortega, was established for the Omoampa and their sub-tribes, and Nuestra Señora la Columna, or Macapillo, for the Passainé, both on the Salado below Miraflores, and all five being within the province of Salta. The 1767, just before the expulsion of the Jesuits, the five mission of the cognate Lulean tribes had a population of 2346 Indians, almost all Christians, served by eleven priests, among them being Father José Iolis, author of a history of the Chaco.

Notwithstanding the civilizing efforts of the missionaries, the Lulé shared in the general and swift decline of the native tribes consequent upon the advent of the whites, resulting in repeated visitations of the smallpox scourge -- previously unknown -- the wholesale raids of the Portuguese slave-hunters ( Mamelucos ), and the oppression of the forced-labour systems under the Spaniards. The mission Indians were the special prey both of the slave-hunters and of the predatory wild tribes. On the withdraw of the Jesuits, the mission property was confiscated or otherwise wasted, while the Indians who were not reduced to practical slavery fled into the forests. At present the cognate Lulean tribes are represented chiefly by some Vilelo living among the Mátaco on the middle Vermejo and by the uncivilized Chilupí on the Picomayo.

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