Wednesday, January 9, 2013

La Historia III - Los Indios y los Missioneros

Well, so far we've got

La Historia I about the establishment of the Spanish Empire
La Historia II about the Paraguayan colony and the Spanish settlement of South America

The part of the story which I have neglected to tell is of the native inhabitants of the lands that were to become Paraguay. The information I've come across has been incomplete or inconsistent, but I'll do my best to give a good summary of what I've figured out.

Before the arrival of Europeans, South America was inhabited by many native peoples with very different ways of life. The had some degree of contact with one another, especially when one group would migrate or invade the territory of another. That could cause them in turn to migrate into the territory of a third group and so on.

The best known people are the Inca, who originated in Peru and by 1450 had an empire stretching from Ecuador to Chile. I've already written about how the Spanish incorporated much of the structure of this empire into their South American dominion. The Inca were agricultural and obviously advanced organizationally, though they never developed either writing or the wheel.

Tupi-Guarani is a language family that included many groups of people in eastern South America, stretching from the Amazon and the north of modern-day Brazil to the Rio de la Plata. Mostly they were semi-sedentary, meaning they practiced agriculture, but not intensively. They acquired some domesticated crops from the Inca (corn, sweet potatoes, squash, beans) and domesticated some of their own (peanuts, mandioca, cotton).

Tupi (violet), Tupi-Guarani (pink) languages areas and early probable areas (pink-grey).
The Tupi-Guarani did not occupy this enormous area exclusively. Many other groups, some part of large language families and others small and unique, interacted with the Tupi-Guarani.  During the second millennium AD the Guaraní migrated south from through Brazil, roughly following the Paraná River. They displaced some groups that they encountered and passed others by. Ultimately in the west, a group of Guaraní ended up in the foothills of the Andes where they clashed periodically with the Inca, while larger groups inhabited what is the modern Region Oriental, the fertile eastern part of Paraguay, leaving the Chaco to numerous different hunter-gatherer (or "paleolithic") peoples. The Guaraní inhabited the entire region from the Paraguay River east to the Atlantic Ocean and much of the land south to the Rio de la Plata estuary, displacing before them nomadic paleolithic groups.

The Guaraní usually lived in settlements of a few hundred families. They built large communal homes, grew corn, mandioca, sweet potatoes, peanuts, tobacco and squash and hunted and harvested many wild plants (they were "Neolithic"). They prized colorful bird feathers, which they used to make elaborate masks and costumes. River tribes traveled and made war by canoe and terrestrial tribes moved on foot. Because they covered such a wide territory and were so numerous Guaraní served as a lingua franca in the region.
dark blue = Guaraní groups, dark red = Guaycurú groups

The Guaycurú language family included many paleolithic groups that occupied the Chaco near the Paraguay River. This family included the Payaguá, Mbayá, Toba and Abipón all of which were very hostile to the Spanish and raided Spanish-Paraguayan settlements into the 1800s. These peoples were highly skilled river navigators, using large dugout canoes. The Chaco was also inhabited by a mishmash of smaller groups. The Chané, in the south-western Chaco were a part of the Arawak language family which primarily inhabited the Caribbean, while the Lulé were not related to any other known language group. The several related groups known to the Spanish as the Lengua occupied the central Chaco. Meanwhile in the eastern region some groups were surrounded but not displaced by the Guaraní and maintained their hunter-gatherer lifestyles such as the Aché or "Guayaki".

When the Spanish first arrived in this part of South America they clashed with the paleolithic natives they encountered near the Rio de la Plata estuary (near Buenos Aires), but travelling up the river they encountered groups of Guaraní which they found to be more peacefully inclined. It was from the Guaraní that the Spanish first learned of the Inca Empire and its riches.
When the Spaniards permanently set up shop in this part of South America, in Asunción in 1537, they began to interact with the natives in new ways. Spanish adelanteros began to establish feudal estates called encomiendas, taking advantage of forced indian labor. The natives were captured or bought and used as slaves. This, along with subsistence farming, was the chief economic activity of the colony up until and even after independence in 1811. Meanwhile, starting in 1580 the Franciscan order set out to establish "reductions" of groups of Guaraní to convert them to Christianity. These establishments did send natives back for forced labor in the Spanish encomiendas but they provided a degree of protection and economic development for the Guaraní subjects and began to integrate them into the Spanish colonial empire.

These missions were founded near Asunción and also further north on the east bank of the Paraguay River.
When the Jesuit order arrived in the region in 1610 they took things up a notch. The Jesuit reductions, unlike those of the Franciscans, did not send Guaraní laborers back to work on the encomiendas. In fact, the only Europeans allowed to enter the missions were the Jesuit monks assigned to them. Currency was also forbidden; all labor and all goods were collectively shared, under the oversight of the Jesuit fathers. It was a highly paternalistic system, but provided needed protection from the Spanish colonists and allowed the Guaraní to enjoy some of Europe´s more benign imports. Schools were established; western music, painting, and carving were taught and nurtured in the missions, which also became increasingly ambitious architecturally.  The Society of Jesus was something of an avant-garde organization for Europe in the 1600's and 1700's and many gifted and adventurous individuals were inspired to come to Paraguay to participate in their utopian project.
The unfinished ruins of Jesus de Tavarangue
The history of the Jesuit missions is one of the few aspects of Paraguayan history that is accessible and about which much has been written, so I encourage you to research it yourself. The movie The Mission is a pretty good start. That movie combines the events of the early 1600´s, in which the Jesuits were establishing missions deep in the jungle of what is now Brazil and were subsequently attacked and driven out by Portuguese slave raiders, with the "Gauraní War" of 1756 plus some Hollywood cheese. The Guaraní war occurred when an agreement between the Spanish and Portuguese governments left seven Jesuit reductions on the Portuguese side of the colonial border. When the Guaraní inhabitants of the missions refused to relocate to the Spanish side of the new border they were attacked and massacred by a joint Spanish-Portuguese army.

For me, the Jesuits are fascinating because of the adventurous and earnest spirit with which they undertook their projects in this part of the world, when there were no roads, self-propelled  transportation, communication devices, modern medicines, or nearly any other of the many conveniences that I enjoy. Even so, I cannot help felling that we, as Peace Corps volunteers in Paraguay, are following in their legacy. They left behind their (17th century) European comforts to come to an unknown, wild and dangerous part of the world because they thought they knew something they could share that would help improve the lives of the people they encountered.

While the ideas the Peace Corps seeks to share are quite different, the essential impulse is unchanged: to travel to a foreign land in the service of an abstract cause or ideal. It is the flip-side of that expansive European desire which lead the Spanish and Portuguese and French and Dutch and English to build their far-flung empires, subjugating and dominating foreign, unknown lands and peoples. We volunteers and missionaries (there are two Jehovah´s Witness missionaries and two Mormon missionaries also living in Natalio) come to places where we have no real, immediate business outside of a general desire to help others or to do the right thing. In that sense people might be correct when they accuse us of being part of American imperialism.

Dan and I at the ruins of Trinidad, about 2 hours by bus east of my site.
The Franciscan and Jesuit missions anchored and maintained some Guaraní populations into the 1800s. To the best of my knowledge no other native group were taken into missions in this part of South America (however in Bolivia the Chiquitano people were the focus of the Jesuits efforts). Meanwhile the paleolithic peoples of the Chaco remained relatively undisturbed. We can be sure they were laid low by disease and other disruptions as a result of European contact, but since actual contact with outsiders was so rare, it probably took much longer for these effects to unfold compared to other parts of the New World.

The mid-1600's saw a lot of retrenchment for the young colony
One of the Guaygurú groups which did have a lot of contact with the Spanish were the Mbayás, who moved into northern Paraguay during the 1600's. The Mbayás raided Spanish settlements and missions extensively and succeeded in driving the Jesuits and Franciscans out of northern Paraguay. The displaced Franciscan missions, which included Guarambaré, Ypané and Tobatí, were relocated nearer Asunción. The displaced Jesuit missions relocated still further south, near the long established mission of San Ignacio Guazú, and were renamed Santiago and Santa Maria. Other missions and settlements in the north and on the west bank (Chaco side) of the Paraguay River were abandoned outright due to their attacks.

The Guayacurú peoples were successful raiders and were held in grudging esteem by the Spanish for their prowess in their river canoes, but they never adopted a sedentary, agricultural way of life and were gradually displaced and destroyed by the advance of Spanish-Paraguayan technology and population. Today only one group, the Toba-Qom, of this once large language family survives.

Though the modern population of Paraguay is substantially mestizo (a racial mix of European and Native American) it does not seem that the free Guaraní tribes were peacefully assimilated into Paraguayan society. Independent populations of Guaraní were gradually captured to work as slaves, for which there was a constant demand because of the lethality of their living conditions, or driven further into the jungle. Guaraní rebellions were frequent during the 1600's. The Spanish population of Paraguay was always small, and European men sought out Guaraní women as wives. These wives spoke to their mestizo children in Gauraní even as they raised them in a (heavily adapted) European context. Though the Guaraní language survived and even flourished in mestizo Paraguay, much of the rest of the culture was wiped out.

A Franciscan cathedral in San Pedro
It is more difficult to say how the Guarani populations of the monastic reductions fared. When the Jesuits were expelled in 1768, many of their missions were abandoned and the Guarani populations were captured, killed, or retreated into the jungle. Several, however, such as Encarnación, San Estanislao (Santaní) and San Ignacio transformed into important Paraguayan towns. It is possible that the Guarani populations of these reductions gradually assimilated into the general Paraguayan population. The Franciscan reductions survived nearly a century longer than those of the Jesuits, well into the period of Paraguayan independence. Many of the towns nearest Asuncion were originally Franciscan reductions, including my training community Guarambaré, which is one of the oldest. It is likely that the Franciscan reductions transitioned more easily into the fabric of general Paraguayan life than those of the Jesuits; the Franciscans never insisted as vehemently as the Jesuits on complete separation of mission life from that of the colony.

Those tribes that remained outside of Paraguayan society gradually felt their buffer zones decrease over the centuries. In the mid-1900s Mennonite and Paraguayan military settlement of the Chaco forced most into the light of modern society for the first time. Around the same time, and especially after the establishment of Ciudad del Este (née Ciudad Stroessner) in 1957, the easternmost part of Paraguay began to be heavily settled by Paraguayans. My own town, Natalio, was founded just 45 years ago in the extreme south-east of the country. This part of the country was mostly covered in the dense Atlantic Rainforest and served as a refuge for three Guarani groups, the Mbyá Guaraní (in the south-east), the Ava-Chiripa (central-east) and the Paí-Tavytera (north-east). These peoples speak languages that are similar to Paraguayan Gauraní but use fewer loan words from Spanish. It is also inhabited by two small populations of a hunter-gatherer people called the Ache (or Guayaki). It turned out that this region has the most fertile soil in Paraguay, which has in the last few decades fueled an agricultural revolution. This has meant that the remaining indigenous peoples have been pushed off their lands with greater than usual enthusiasm.

A settlement of carperos, or landless peasants. This settlement isn't actually made up of indigenous people, but it reflects the poverty that exists in the indigenous settlements. 
 It is hard to say what the situation of the remaining native groups in Paraguay is other than to say that there is much poverty, but that even today some of the distinct, ancient cultures and languages are maintained. The three Guaraní groups in eastern Paraguay are estimated to have a combined population of 40,700 while there are only about 1,200 Ache surviving. The combined population of the many distinct tribes of the Chaco is estimated to be 37,500.

Rapaciousness and greed accounted for much of the suffering of these groups in the 20th century, while incompatibility with western culture has accounted for the rest.  The question for the future is if the poverty these people live in can be destroyed without simultaneously destroying their unique and ancient cultures.

All photos and maps in this post were created by me.


Origen e Hisoria de lo pueblos del Paraguay, González Torres, 2010, Servilibro, Asunción Paraguay

Puelos Indígenas en el Paraguay, La Embajada de España en el Paraguay y el Centero Cultural de España Juan de Salazar, 2011, Asunción Paraguay

Encyclopedia Ilustrada del Paraguay y sucesos del mundo vol. 1, colleción Atlas, Atlas
Representaciones 2010, Montevideo, Uruguay

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