Monday, January 01, 2007

Being Paraguayan

I'm reading a few books about the Guaraní in Paraguay. Barbara Ganson's The Guaraní Under Spanish Rule In The Río De La Plata (Stanford, Ca.: Stanford University Press, 2003) is a plainly written book. The subject is fascinating, but her narrative fails to inspire. I am particularly interested in tracing the exchanges between the Jesuits and Guaraní that led to mutual cultural influence. Ganson is mostly dependent on written records, so she tends to extrapolate from the official dialogue of the time (including some canny if quite obsequious Guaraní letters to Spanish rulers). What interests me particularly is the Hispanic-Guaraní Baroque that developed in the Jesuit missions during the 17c and 18c. What frames all this is on stunning contemporary fact about Paraguay:
According to the 1992 census, 49 percent of the population of Paraguay spoke Guaraní and Spanish, 39.3 percent were monolingual Guaraní speakers, and 6.4 percent spoke only Spanish… Paraguay has the distinction of being the only country in the Western hemisphere where a native language is more widely spoken than a European one…. Today, less than 1-3 percent of the population in Paraguay is considered 'Indian'. (Ganson, 2003, p.185)
Imagine that in Australia. With roughly similar proportion of indigenous people in our population, yet was all spoke Aboriginal languages. Perhaps the 'tyranny of distance' was not that we were too far away from Europe, but not isolated enough. More to follow.

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