UNLATIN AMERICA, THE PARAGUAYAN PHENOMENON
Latin was the language of ancient Rome. Languages of people living within the confines of the Roman Empire. were deeply influenced by Latin. Many languages emerged with significant Latinized attributes and came to be known as Latinic or Romance languages, for example French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, etc. South of the northern border of Mexico extending over the vast stretch of South America up to Cape Horn in Chile and beyond lies the so-called Latin-America a domain of Latinic languages and a common Roman Catholic religious adherence excluding English-speaking areas of the Caribbean.
Sponsored by the Spanish monarchy, Italian explorer from the city of Genoa, Cristoforo Colombo, better known by the English version Christopher Columbus (Spanish – Cristobal Colon), set out searching for a sea route to India and stumbled upon the new world, of America, never to know of the real nature of the discovery.
Spain followed up the role of discoverer by pioneering the colonization of the American continents, seconded in pursuit by Portugal. Leaving Brazil, most of what is now Latin America was hence under Spanish rule, to be liberated into myriad of independent nations from the activities of the likes of Simon Boliver and San Martin, themselves also of Spanish extraction. So Spanish with minor regional or national variations is spoken in most of the Latin American countries. Portuguese is the major language in Brazil, the largest country of South America. French with many characteristics retained from colonial era is spoken in Haiti.
Immigrants, however, were contributed by many other European nations, Italy, Germany, Ireland, Holland, England, Poland, etc. and few came over Japan, China, Lebanon, Syria etc at a later period. Negro element was introduced by slave trade from Africa.
Intermixing of differing stocks bore mixed races. A union of white European and dark African descent called the Mullatos. Mixed African-Amerindians are known as Zambo or Cafuso. Amongst these combinations the notable type of Latin America are the Mestizos, a combination of Amerindian and European (mainly Hispanic) ancestry, neither Spanish nor Amerindian nor modern western, but a lively mingle of all three. Mestizo is a Spanish term, used also in Philippines, meaning a person of mixed foreign and native parentage.
The Mestizo element preponderates in the countries of Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Colombia, Venezuela, Paraguay and Chile. Indigenous Amerindian populations are present in pockets in almost the whole of Latin America, but large communities of Amerindians are there in Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. The native cultures though alive and functioning are slowly drifting towards acquiring a Mestizo character.
The white or European strain is most prominent in Argentina, Uruguay and Puerto-Rico. Haiti is largely black with some Mullato population. Demography of Brazil, Panama and Cuba is mainly European and Negro. Native Amerindian minorities do exist in Brazil and Panama, but Cuban aborigines have long back become extinct.
A unique nation within the ambit of Latin America is Paraguay, a landlocked country encircled by Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia. An underdeveloped country, this is one place where steam locomotives continue to chug, doing its chore as one of the important means of transportation. Vampire bats prowl the night skies in these parts of South America, painlessly sucking blood of warm-blooded animals. Named after the mythological ghostly figure of central Europe, vampire bats function as vectors in the transmission of Rabies.
It is home to the Paraguayan or Brazilian tea known as Yerba Mate, the universal and most popular beverage of all South Americans. Mate had been in Amerindian usage since time immemorial and is obtained from a plant scientifically named Ilex paraguarienses (a member of Holly family, Aquifoliaceae). The plant is known to be an evergreen shrub or small tree resembling the orange tree in habit, the leaves are described as being very much like that of tea. The plant is cultivated in plantations and also grows in wild over southern Brazil, Paraguay and north-eastern Argentina. The Paraguayan tea containing caffeine and tannin is supposed to be less astringent than tea.
Paraguay is a world class soccer playing nation and qualified several times to play in the World cup soccer tournament. Nelson Cuevas is among one of their best known players who had dazzled the spectators in the world cup finals.
The country has a turbulent history behind it. A war against a triple alliance of Brazil, Brazilian occupied Uruguay and Argentina lasting from 1864 to 1870 decimated an astounding one-tenth of its male population. Another more successful war was fought with Bolivia in 1932. The wars earned the Paraguayans a high reputation of courage and martial prowess but left the economy devastated with centralization of government. Dictatorships ruled the roast in country’s political scene. The reign of Alfredo Stroessner ending in 1989, is considered one of the longest span for any dictator in the world.
The name Paraguay is of Guarani origin, meaning “a place with a great river“, the river of “Paraguas” (coloured plumed birds) or “river of cockades“, an allusion to the plumed headdress once worn by the people living by the river.
Guarani is an Amerindian based language spoken widely in Paraguay. Although Spanish is the main medium of instruction, business and government, it is Guarani which is mostly used at homes and outside. Classified linguistically in the Guarani sub-group of Tupi Guarani family of Tupian stock, the Guarani along with allied Tupi language is one of the most important native Amerindian tongues of South America. Often clubbed together as Tupi-Guarani language, substantial number of its words have entered English usage.
Guarani is spoken as the language of domestic and ordinary communication by most Paraguayans including those of purely non-Amerindian descent. More than half the population in rural areas are known to be mono-lingual in Guarani. Most of those who can speak Spanish does so only after attending schools.
The first European or more precisely Spaniard reported to have visited what is now Paraguay was one Alijo Garcia in 1525. Around 1537, Spain began colonizing the area. Spaniards confronted here with a multiplex of Amerindian tribes related by a commonly derived language and culture, each division maintaining distinct name and identity. They were in general known by the name Guarani. Warlike, aboriginal dwellers of the sub-tropical forests. Men hunted and fished, farming of corn (maize), cassava and sweet potato left to the womenfolk. The Guarani though, not as advanced as Incas, Mayas or Aztecs were nonetheless socially organized, patriarchal, dwelling in large thatched houses in villages protected with pallisade of upright logs. Slash and burn cultivation was practised, moving the location every five or six years. Customs were relatively simple, religion having a strong belief in reincarnation and cannibalism was not unknown.
Arrival of Spanish colonizers equipped with superior weaponry brought a new dimension to this idyllic scenario. Spanish overlordship was accepted by most of the Guarani tribesmen in lieu of the Spanish firearm protection from other neighbouring Amerindian marauders. Thus sprang a symbioses.
Gold was not struck in Paraguay, so the colonizers numbered far lesser here than else where. Those who came were largely males and were grossly outnumbered by the natives. The early Spanish immigrants took Guarani wives, resorting to polygamy of larger denomination in most of the instances. The number at times going up to ten or more. Large ranches opened by many of the settlers, often earned notoriety as harems.
Missionaries from the “Society of Jesus“, a Roman Catholic order founded by a soldier Ignatius Loyola in 1533, better known as Jesuits, arrived and. started proselytizing the Amerindians. Later on Mennonites, a small Christian sect from Germany and settlers from other places came and settled here.
The Spaniards learned the Guarani language and also adopted many local customs. Mestizos became numerous. Guarani and Spanish traditions and cultures intermingled. Guarani musicians were introduced to stringed instruments, harp and guitar, hitherto accustomed to flutes, rattles, bells, whistles and drums only. The original form of music failed to survive, the name did `Guarania‘, songs with rhythmic melodies accompanied by dance. A special type of handicraft of Paraguay, the Nanduti lace, is a product of this conglomeration of ideas and technique. The Paraguayan currency also bears the name ‘Guarani‘.
The modern Guarani language in vogue in Paraguay has considerable mix of Spanish and few Portuguese words. Greater portion of Paraguayans are of Mestizo stock, primarily of Guarani descent, but having at least one Spanish ancestor. Most feel strongly on the role of the Guarani heritage in the shaping of their national character. Movements propagating the cause run strong, resulting in the recognition of Guarani as the second national language. Encouraged by the state and subjects alike, the language is taught in schools. The whole education machinery glorifies the aboriginal customs and heritage, emphasising on the special national trait derived from them.
Over the years substantial amount of literatures of Guarani language including poetry have accumulated. A number of periodicals are published. These achievements of Guarani language in Paraguay could not be realized in case of other indigenous Amerindian dialects and languages. It brings to Paraguay the distinction of being the only truly bilingual nation in Latin America.
Paraguay may not be as Hispanic as others in Latin America, but the contemporary civilization of the Paraguayan Mestizo majority has the pronounced Spanish influence superimposed on the native Guarani part. The part giving them their un-Latin uniqueness and concurrently withholding complete identification with Amerindian culture and heritage. The fact is evident from the presence of a number of Amerindian tribes in a backward state of existence in the Chaco region, in the northwest of the country.
That was Paraguay, the nation and the people, Paraguay is a phenomenon. It is a phenomenon which may have occurred in the American continents several times in the past.
Prior to the discovery of Viking long boat’s remnants in North America, the expedition of Christopher Columbus drew the sole credit of being the first from the old world to touch down on the shores of the Americas. Well known Norwegian social scientist (Late) Thor Heyrdahl went further back in time, postulating the possibility of marine itinerary from north Africa, specially from Egypt landing on the shores of Americas deep in the ancient past. Similarities are quite apparent between the widely separated civilizations of ancient Egypt and those of Amerindian Maya, Inca and Aztec. The huge truncated pyramids, practice of mummification and several inscriptions speaks for itself. Local Amerindian lores vividly recounts tales of enlightened visitors coming by the way of sea. The vast expense of ocean interposing between the continents have been perplexing most researcher delving on this subject trans-oceanic travels in the very ancient times.
Heyrdahl strove to establish the viability of trans-oceanic crossing by undertaking intrepid modern gadget unaided reed raft expedition on the high seas. After an unsuccessful first timer, the reed raft expedition Ra-I, a successful Ra-II ( so named after Ra the Egyptian sun god) setting sail from the ancient Phoenician port of Safi in Morocco (north Africa) traversed the oceans to reach Barbados (America). He had studied thoroughly the various aspects of reed boats of similar kind seen plying on Lake Titicaca in South America (one of the highest situated lake in the world) and in many parts of north Africa.
It is not like that, that civilization cannot evolve de-novo in any primitive community. But Heyrdahl strove genuinely and conclusively to prove that the indigenous ancient civilisation of Americas namely the Inca, Maya and Aztec indeed owed their cultural and material superiority to the influence imbibed from the enlightened maritime visitors from across the seas. Their name as per Inca tradition is Vira-Cochas or sea foam people, Aztecs call them Quetzal-Coatl and they are given the status of demi-gods.
The comparatively easy conquest of the huge empires of the Incas and the Aztecs is ascribed partly to the free access allowed almost everywhere to the Spanish Conquistadors from a fatal mis-identification of the malevolent invaders with legendary benevolent travellers, the Vira-Cochas and the Quetzal-Coatl.
Around the world in the ancient times different cultures and societies have evolved from the fusion of different migratory groups of people of differing linguistic and cultural element. The basic foundation of most of the cultures, languages and societies are mixed like various streams converging to form a river. The final shape is determined by the proportions in which the constituent streams contribute in the actual formation. The phenomenon which has been demonstrated in Paraguay may have been a replication of similar phenomenon which must have taken place in several points of time in the Americas in several locations. Heyrdahl’s proving goes a long way to prove the occurrence of such incidences.
The Paraguayan phenomenon could be studied and described with clarity from the transparency accorded by the recentness of the events. Similar stories abound throughout the globe, concealed in the crypts of time and transformed environment. With Paraguay, the nation and the people as model of reference, many more Paraguays may be awaiting de-obscuration in Europe, Asia and Africa. Truth seemingly stranger than fiction.
Few words of Tupi-Guarani origin imported into English language usage
Emetic and purgative drug extracted from the south American plants Cephalis ipecacuanha and Cephalis acuminata. Source of the drug Emetine.
Tupi-Guarani – Ipeka-guene
Ipeh – low, kaa – leaves and guene – vomit
Medicinal plant of genus Pilocarpus. Pilocarpus jaborandi and Pilocarpus microphyllus yielding the vasodilator drug Pilocarpine.
Tupi-Guarani – Jaburandi , Yaborandi
Leopard like animal of south America of a bit heavier built, scientific name Panthera onca.
The name “Jaguar” given to a sophisticated twin engine fighter-bomber aircraft built by British Aerospace. It is also the name of a fashionable car.
Tupi – Jaguara, Yaguara
Abrus precatorius or Indian liquorice. Assamese – latumoni, roti, Hindi – roti . Indian goldsmiths use it for weighing gold. A known poison.
Tupi-Guarani – jekriti
Garden plant with funnel shaped flowers, related botanically to the tobacco plant. Name for a shade of deep reddish purple colour.
Tupi-Guarani – petum, petume meaning tobacco.
By : Dr Satyakam Phukan