Brief history of the Guarani language

   Contents:

    The pre-Columbian era
    The European arrive
    The writing begins
    The Guarani in the independence


The pre-Columbian era

    According to recognized investigations, approximately by year 3000 b.C. there were three big ethnic groups populating South America: the Andeans to the west, the one of the Arawaks to the north, and a third group, possibly more populated than the others, denominated Tupi-Guarani, having a great territorial extension. Apparently, the tupi-guaranis by this epoch have come emigrating slowly from Central America, towards the center of South America, where they would have been established by a lot of time, developing a set of very well of structured tongues, well-known today as the Tupi-Guarani linguistic trunk.
    Before the beginning of the Christian Age it appears was generated a new expansionist migratory movement, wich produced a split of this group we are interested in. On the one hand, the Tupis were going eastward, up to the Atlantic coast, and to the north, taking the Amazon river course and its branch, developing the Tupi tongue. On the another part, the group of the Guaranis moved to the west and southwest, taking the basin of the River Plate (rivers Parana, Paraguay and Uruguay), speaking avañe'ẽ.
    Nobody doubt today that the way of communication of the Tupi-Guaranis had the same linguistic base, but the distance among the ethnic groups caused this primeval tongue has adopted diverse zonal and dialectic peculiarities. As a result, a hundred tongues of remarkable similarity between them has been generated therefore, integrating all of them the great Tupi-Guarani linguistic family.
    The Tupi-Guaranis, in view the seminomadic character they had, did not leave material signs of affluence like other amerindian cultures (palaces, temples, statues, etc., as the Incas or the Aztecs, for example). But the most valuable cultural legacy that we still have from them is a true treasure: the tongue, although with no writing.
    For several reasons, among of them the atrocious persecution from the Portuguese governors stands out, the Tupi tongue entered into a gradual decadence, in lands which today they are the south and east of Brazil, until disappearing (except a branch, ñe'ẽngatu of the Amazonia). Whereas, peculiarly, the Guarani tongue acquired a remarkable strength where today is Paraguay and adjacent zones of the neighboring countries: the Argentina northeast, Bolivia south and Brazil southeast.
    The Guarani economy was based on hunting, fishing, and agriculture. The social administration and of the goods produced in each village was in charge of a patriarchal authority, the Cacique, under the overseing of an Elders' Council. It is known that they practiced the democracy, since the caciques were chosen, and in necessary cases, also dismissed. In order to promote their candidacy, the aspirants to cacique carried out  jousts of oratory, making an effort each one to ingratiate himself with the voters.
    At religious field, it is known that the Guaranis assumed the existence of yvy marãne'ỹ (land without evil), that apparently meant the access to immortality. The peculiar thing here is that we do not speak of an inmortal soul, or life after the death, but of an inmortal life in the Earth. There is who mentions this as one of the reasons of its migrations: the search of  the Land without Evil.
    Traversing through so immense territory allowed the Guaranis to know in depth the flora in the region, studying it on their way and taking advantage of the plants medicinal properties. But, why so much persistence in knowing the flora?... Perhaps was it the reason of the migrations?... Did they seek some plants that could provide to them the immortality, or aguyje, state of eternal perfection?.
    No concerning the motives that have lead to them to study each plant they saw, these knowledge were then transmitted to European botanists, and as a result of it, the Guarani today occupies the third place as for the etymological origin of the scientific names for the plants, behind Greek and Latin.
    On not leaving artistic nor written signs, the pre-Columbian Guarani culture is of difficult pursuit. In order to obtain that somebody can hear original histories from them, it was necessary being one of them. Thus Kurt Unkel (1883-1945) did, re-baptized with the name of Nimuendaju (Lodged by Himself), by the Guarani community called Apapokúva, in Brazil. Unkel brought to light the product its investigations in his natal Germany, wich later arrived at South America. Its matter is a legend about the Creation and the Final Judgment.
    The best pre-Columbian Guarani poetry sample we arrange now has been compiled by León Cadogan (1899-1973), narrated for his ears after being adopted by the Guarani ethnic group Mbya with the name of Tupã Kuchuvi Veve (God's Tornado). This poem is the Ayvu Rapyta (Essentials of the Word), a collection of religious and ethical texts, wich was transmitted in oral form since remote times, in group sessions dedicated to the reflection and diffusion of the knowledge.
    This poem, nowadays considered as an Encyclopedia of the Guarani life, is made up of 19 chapters, as well Cadogan differentiated them. The first four are about the Genesis, the origin of the Supreme Divinity, the First Earth, the Men, and the Human Language. The four following chapters are about the Paternity, the Second Earth, and the origin of the Sun and the Moon. The ninth talk of Good Science against the curses, the tenth about the Medicine and Passions (yes, the sexual attraction had category of science for them), and the others treat the discernment among good and evil, with advices and norms of conduct.
    Apparently, the Guarani people (or at least, the mbya) gave to this poetic narration the same qualities as the Christians we give to the Bible. As curiosities, let's mention the importance there is given to the spoken language there (as if it was somewhat divine), the existence of seven paradises, and that animals and plants also have soul.
    So much was the importance the Guaranis assigned to the orality, that there does not exist any vestige showing us any attempt of transmitting the knowledge by another means. The Guarani was always an exclusively oral tongue, and of great territorial expansion. The historians agree in saying that from principles of the Christian Era, the tongues of the Tupi-Guarani group fulfilled the same role in South America as the Latin in Europe: up to the Incas, and others who proceeded from other linguistic trunks, understood it.
    Even today, at the 21th century, it is not crazy to think an actual Paraguayan who speaks avañe'ẽ (Guarani) can communicate orally in a practical way, helped perhaps with few face or manual signs, with a native of the Amazonia who speaks ñe'ẽngatu (a tupi dialect), although the writing mode for those tonges are at present very different to each other. This is thus, of course, because both tongues come from the same root.
 

The European arrive

    The invasion by European to South America had ravage effects in the indigenous culture. Suddenly, the millenarian Tupi-Guarani civilization had to face the "discovery" and the later "conquest" to wich it was object by  the the greed from those who were believed themselves owners of the world. Given their geographic location, the Tupis stayed to the will of the Portugueses and the Guaranis submitted to the Spaniards.
    The first spanish conquerors entered by the River Plate, looking for a way to arrive at the wealth of Potosi, that belonged to the Inca empire, in present Peru. On the road, was founded the "Port of Our Lady of the Good Air" (Buenos Aires), by Pedro de Mendoza in 1536, and on the following year, the fort "Our Lady Saint Mary of Assumption" (Asuncion), by Juan de Salazar.
    The aborigens of Asuncion, called carios, proved to be much less hostile than those of Buenos Aires, reason why their men initially concentrated in Asuncion. Spaniards heard the carios often mentioned the word "guarani" (really was guarini, wich means war), for what apparently they thought therefore so its race was called, or in any case, so they denominated it.
    The Guaranis, aside from being hospitable, also they knew well the region and spoke the majority language, the lingua franca of the zone. The Spanish conquerors arranged themselves in using mediation of the villagers to arrive at the treasures of Peru. And the first thing they had to do is to communicate with them. For it, they would teach Spanish to these "Barbarians"... or would they prepare to learn this strange tongue?.
    The Guaranis offered their daughters to the Spaniards, like proof of friendship, and these, who came initially without women from Spain, took several wives each one. Thus the mestizos were born, products of the crossed lineage. Each one of these mestizos learned Guarani from his mother and Spanish from his father. In this manner, the Guarani tongue started receiving importance, for desperation of the conquerors, and the Guarani people were more and more sedentaries as were the agriculture the main economic activity, stimulated by the visitors.
    The Guarani tongue won another battle when the Spaniards wanted to implant their religion, since it continued being the majority tongue, although many Guarani natives already spoke Spanish. The catholic religion came from Europe as another tool to conquer, or "to civilize" to the natives of these lands, with the Franciscans first, and the Jesuits later.
    The "Giant Province of the Indies", with center in Asuncion, depended on the Virreinato (Viceroyship) of Peru, but being self-sufficient, it began to isolate themselves of the Spanish power, and therefore, to have problems with them. As an answer, the province in two was divided and another center of power was established in Buenos Aires, in 1617, wich cleared to Asuncion its supremacy in the mastery of great part of the lands, after already settling down two provinces: the one of the Guairá (or Paraguay), with headquarters in Asuncion, and the Province of the Río de la Plata (later Argentina), with center in Buenos Aires.
    Later (1776), it is created the Viceroyship of the Rio de la Plata. The Province of the Rio de la Plata went on then to be the main one, after the Virrey (Viceroy) established in Buenos Aires. This Viceroyship governed the provinces of Paraguay and Rio de la Plata. Paraguay stopped depending, then, on the Viceroyship of Peru, and passed to depend on the new Viceroyship.
    Fortunately, not all the Spaniards did all the posibly to destroy the autochthonous culture of the Guaranis. There were others tried to learn it, and at the same time, to teach it. And part of the transmitted knowledge caused their studies were everlasting: the writing.
 

The writing begins

    The mestizos developed better in Guarani, since it was the mother tongue of his mother and of most of his relatives, and were using Spanish only in the protocolic acts with his spanish chiefs. The ordinances of Asuncion in 1598, by Hernando Arias de Saavedra, already started being translated to the Guarani (the same year or perhaps the next year), in order that they had greater popular reach. Those were the first attempts today known to give to the guaraní the written form.
    The Guarani language, once exclusively oral, knew the writing with the help from the Spaniards, though logically it has been in a very inefficient way, since it tried to be represented, by means of the Spanish alphabet, sounds of the Guarani that this one did not possess: in this respect there were many differences. But among the Franciscans, and later, and especially, among the Jesuits, there came philologists who started molding the writing of the Guarani, studying its morphology and syntax, much more enriching elements of a tongue than the notation of its grapho.
    In 1583 the Council of Lima was already authorizing to translate into the Guarani the Breve Catecismo para rudos y ocupados (Brief Catechism for coarse and busy people), task that fitted to execute the Franciscan Fray Luis de Bolaños (1539-1629) in 1603. Though it was not possible to say that the Guarani already should have a written form only by these facts, at least the way to it was already distinguishing. And Bolaños continued journeying this path, for which he is recognized as the one that gave the first written form to this tongue. His grammatical annotations were brief but important for future use.
    In 1605 was created the "Jesuitical Province of Paraguay", with the arrival of the Compañía de Jesús. The order of the Jesuits, of evangelizing mission, was conformed by persons of the aristocracy, at high levels of instruction, which achieved notable success in Europe in the education, mainly of sciences. The Jesuits prospered with the Guaranis in many scopes, and probably that of linguistics is the best progress they could give to this people.
    Fortunately, the Jesuits were much less tolerant than the Franciscans to the treatment that was given to the aborigens. They objected that dealing of semislavery allowed them by the laws of the Encomienda, and they obtained the changing of the ordinances for a more human treatment: it was the institution of the Reductions, where the natives worked in a communitarian way and were instructed with the aid of the Jesuits.
    The Jesuit Antonio Ruiz de Montoya (1584-1651) was a lover of the Guarani tongue, and to deep study it he dedicated the rest of his life, walking along the path Bolaños had initiated. The interest showed Montoya more in studying the Guarani than teaching other knowledge, is of so big value, since he had to work with some Guarani ethnic group at the time their tongue did not know the impurities that later it was acquiring from Spanish.
    The printed work of Montoya about the Guarani is composed of three books: Tesoro de la lengua guaraní (a dictionary Guarani - Spanish), Arte y vocabulario de la lengua guaraní (grammatical compendium and dictionary Spanish - Guarani), and Catecismo de la lengua guaraní (a catechism). The two first ones have been essential props of reference to who wanted to enter into the study of this tongue, and so it continues being even now, 360 years later.
    It is very probable that Montoya has known the works of the also Jesuit José de Anchieta (1534-1597), a book of grammar and dictionary of the Tupi tongue, published long before, but this does not reduce any merit. Even until today one can consult Anchieta to solve doubts of etymology, or perhaps to dust some archaic words instead of creating hateful neologisms.
    The Jesuitical missions, with its 30 towns, occupied what today is the south of Paraguay and Brazil, the northeast of Argentine, and the north of Uruguay. They constructed the first presses of the River Plate, which were working at Santa María la Mayor, San Javier, and Loreto, where they printed religious books in Guarani with illustrations of indigenous artists, and where even such aborigens were editing his own books... in Guarani, certainly.
    In 1750, after the signature of the Tratado de Permuta (Agreement of Exchange, about limits between the territories of Spain and Portugal), seven towns at the left margin of the Uruguay river (San Nicolás, San Luis, San Lorenzo, San Juan, San Ángel, San Miguel and San Borja), became a part of the Portuguese domain. The Guarani people of these towns, who resisted to belong to the Portuguese, carried out the so called Guerra Guaranítica (Guarani War, 1756), from which they were defeated. Later, Spain recovered these villages with the Treaty of San Ildefonso.
    The Jesuits did a great work for 160 years, reaching to consolidate several dialects in a single general tongue. The education of the arts and the sciences for the Guaranis was given in Guarani, being Latin and Spanish just another matters.
    But so much diffusion of the knowledge on part of the Jesuits, added to promoting the resistance of the Guarani peoples, was not well seen by the Spanish crown, which saw threatened his economic interests for the grade of culture that the aborigens were acquiring. Then, there was arranged the expulsion of the Jesuits of these grounds. Today we would say this expulsion was very unjust, and the current Ruins of their magnificent buildings still are for remembrance.
    Although with the going of the Jesuits the Guarani knew the penumbra after been almost dazzled with its own lights, no longer was form to give reverse gear. The Guaranis "knew the fish", and also they "learned to fish": the Guarani had stopped being a merely oral tongue.
 

The Guarani in the independence

    After the departure of the Jesuits, most of the aborigens who integrated the missions continued with the communitarian and autonomous method of work that they had developing, and went gradually being inserted to the society of the Province of Paraguay. There were also aborigens who returned to the forests on having been left by their tutors. A few decades later already libertarian airs were breathed.
    One of the great leaders of the independent Paraguay was Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, known as "The Supreme one". Theologian and lawyer, this man caused respect by his talent, justice and uprightness. Dr. Francia led to Paraguay to passing along the autosufficient economy, supporting the peasants and the poor. It abolished the Encomienda and other oppressive regulations to the aborigens, established the free school education, egalitarian for men and women, though this educational homogeneity was not much practised.
    In what here it concerns us, nevertheless, apparently France did not apply well his talent, since it forced a population for the most part guarani speaking, to an education developed exclusively in Spanish. And this drove again the Guarani to be maintained in the orality.
    The curious thing of this is that Francia loved Guarani: when it was presented to him the letter of what would be the first Paraguayan National Anthem, rejected it "because being written in Spanish, language of chapetones"[1], and later he approved Tetã Purahéi (The Song of the Country), written by Anastacio Rolón, native to Caraguatay, not allowing its official translation. This one was known as "the Dr. Francia's Anthem", and the version in Spanish was had only after his death.
    Rodríguez of Francia left at his death a sovereign and immensely rich, but completely isolated country. His successor, Carlos Antonio López, changed this politics for the sake of the modernization. He hired hundreds of engineers and technical personnel from Europe, and sent Paraguayans (only men) to be instructed there: the result was a large scale industrialization, financed with internal resources. On this he accompanied a cultural revolution without precedents, though for the most part masculine.
    But López definitively was not a lover of Guarani. Teaching and education in general should be given only in Spanish. All the books, newspapers and magazines, likewise, had to be printed only on Spanish. It even came to the height ordering to replace all the Guarani names and surnames of the population, via law, by others which were of Spanish origin: it was the death of the identity of the Guarani clans.
    Nonetheless, subdued, the internal forces of the autochthonous tongue did not subside. The Paraguayan women, who were least affected by the imposed educational system, continued educating their children in Guarani. Luckily, the law could not join the hearths, and paradoxically, the patriotism was forged from there, with the sweet maternal lullaby in Guarani.
    Francisco Solano López, son of the previous one and became to Marshall degree, was the next president of Paraguay. This gentleman, who studied in Europe, recognized the Guarani language as national wealth, and he used it in all his speeches. During his presidency, Paraguay had to live through a bloody war, called "of the Triple Alliance" (1865-1870), against a coalition formed by Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.
    During this war the Guarani acquired preponderant relevancy. It was used profusely by the press and in the military communications. The same government of Mcal. López, opposite to the actions of its predecessor, encouraged bilingual publications, and thus they appeared new newspapers that with pleasure made shine the  Guarani soul, publishing poetry which tried to encourage the Paraguayan people who was bleeding in torrents. The Guarani was implanted as a factor of union and consolation.
    The lack of uniformity in the spelling, especially for using in the telegraph where the speed was important, did that in 1867 an elite was meeting at Paso Pucú, solicited by Mcal. López. An urgent Congress of Graphia conformed this way, to establish procedures of writing with a unified alphabet which immediately was in use in such Guarini Guasu (Large War). In this group Juan Crisóstomo Centurión and Luis Camino stood out.
    The population of Paraguay, from 1,300,000 at beginnings of that war, was reduced to about 200,000 at its ending, and of those, only 10 % was masculine, almost all of them elders and children who could not go to  battle front. Also it lost great part of its territory, which became a part of Argentina and Brazil, zones of Guarani spoken until today. It was as well as Paraguay, from the great wealth, went to the extreme poverty.
    Finished this war, and under the economic dominion of the foreigners (Argentinians, Brazilians and English) who introduced their capital on the Paraguay territory to destroy its natural resources and to use cheap female manpower, the Guarani is pursued again, for not being the language of the new owners of grounds. The Argentinian Domingo F. Sarmiento was assigned to checking the school program, in a manner that "the wild tongue" remains out of it, and Paraguay could join again to "the civilization".
    As it was to be expected, the population did not accompany the small ruling elite, which was selling his ground and trampling on his tongue. Being the Guarani the only resource not destroyed by the war, it continued fishtailing between the continuous attacks of which it was object: the adjective "guarango" meant "savage who speaks Guarani". As result, the speakers of Guarani in general detested this foreign schooling and again the Guarani recaptured the tenacious orality of which it was always proud.
    At beginning of the 20th century there appear shyly some publications transmitting the Guarani thought, principally in form of poetries and popular songs, and then appears theatrical works by Julio Correa, great interpreter of the rural thought. A great gang of popular authors went out to light, many of them using a very pure Guarani, barely with certain necessary hispanicisms, whereas others have used the expressiveness of the Guarani with whole phrases in Spanish, speech known as "yopará"[2 (from jopara, which means mixture).
    The yopará started establishing oneself this way very hard in written matter, unfortunately with popular admission, for desperation of the Guaranian linguists and those who adored the genuine autochthonous tongue. This ugly way of speaking, divulged by the citydwellers who presumed to speak Guarani, has been transmitted since then by the mass media, degenerating the native beauty. 
    Since 1932 Paraguay undergoes again another war, this time against Bolivia, before recovering of the previous one. Known as the "War of the Chaco", this one there was caused by a American petroleum company located at Bolivia, who wanted to prevent another German one from exploring the Paraguay territory in search of oil. Supported because of it, the Bolivians invaded the Chaco in Paraguay.
    The Paraguayans, on having seen they were being sacrificed by completely foreign interests, they sheltered in the Guarani tongue again, and another poetical heyday saw the light, where the principal topic was the patriotism and the defense of the mother land: for the songs, they are those of the Chakore purahéi (songs about the Chaco).
    It is narrated that certain occasion the Bolivian army went to an aborigen, also Bolivian, for the interpretation of Paraguayans messages intercepted by radio. This man, on having recognized the tongue as his, suffered a nervous attack (real or simulated), of such a magnitude that could not translate anything. Such it was the union and loyalty the Guarani was producing among its speakers.
    The war used again the Guarani to confuse the enemy, and when finishing, with 50,000 Paraguayan and 80,000 Bolivians of less, Paraguay did not recover all its original territory, but it remained with poetical anthology full of histories and hopes. And, once again, the Paraguay government continued then ignoring it in the schools and universities, for several decades more.
    In the middle of last century, a Spanish priest, Antonio Guasch, great follower of Anchieta and Montoya, publishes his own investigations about Guarani. His work consists of a totally complete grammar, El Idioma Guarani, to which soon he added an anthology in prose and verse; and Diccionario castellano-guaraní y guaraní-castellano. Guasch contributed several ideas to the grammatical nomenclature, which time after they were officially adopted.
    Also by the same epoch, Anselmo Jover Peralta assembles the Guarani vocabulary and the notes of Guarani grammar left for Tomás Osuna at his death, enriches them, adds some appendices, and  publishes the Diccionario guaraní-español y español-guaraní. In the preface of this work, Peralta complained about the sad luck of the Guarani of this epoch.
    At last, the National Constitution of Paraguay in 1967 recognizes the existence of the Guarani, but the official language continues being Spanish. Even so, an official diffusion of the language begins slowly. Years later some institutes start teaching it with the support of the Ministry of Education, to what it would continue at the secondary education as complementary matters, and the politicians in shift were using all over -just as today- the yopará in his proselytizing campaigns.
    In 1989 Paraguay goes out of a long dictatorship, and the next National Constitution (1992) already recognizes the Guarani as official language of the country, at the same level as Spanish. Immediately his obligatory use is implanted in the school basic education, and then at the secondary level, with a bilingual education. The Guarani has been vindicated.
    There has been criticized very much the way in which the educational authorities of Paraguay are handling at present the teaching of this tongue. This, principally as for the enrichment of the vocabulary: there is who detest the generation of neologisms "in laboratories", and others who do not see with good eyes the increasing wave of hispanicisms from the popular Guarani, the yopará, which uses nonexistent letters in the Guarani alphabet, and mainlly, commit an outrage against the syllabic structure of the original Guarani.


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[1] Chapetón,a: Contemptuous adjetive for the newly arrived European. Plural form: "chapetones".

[2] Yopará: This is the Spanished form of the word. Though in Guarani Jopara originally means "mixture, miscellany", today it is most used to name a "dialect", some people thinking as a "third language": Guarani and Spanish mixed, using the Guarani syntax.

Sources: [VBS1], [P-O1], [Red04], [Red05]
Written by Manuel F. Fernández - © www.guaranirenda.com - 2003

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