History of Paraguay contra its Falsifiers: Chapter I

History of Paraguay contra its Falsifiers: Chapter I

The scenario for this story is as enigmatic as grandiose on itself. Paraguay, arguably the hispanic nation that represents bravery and heroism at its highest, was also the place where the «Conquista Española» would take its first steps in the region known as «River Plate Basin».

In this geographical location, a real «terra ignota» for many people in the XXI Century, the primal core of the whole civilization that ranges from the Patagonia to the Northern Chaco was officially established in the City of Asunción in the year 1537 of Our Lord. Its founder was Juan de Salazar y Espinoza de los Monteros, Royal Captain and Commander of the Order of Santiago, the highest honour in the Spanish Empire. Almost 500 years after that momentous event, Asunción remains as the long-living Capital of the Republic of Paraguay but today she is recognized as the «Mother of Cities of the River Plate» even by her prideful neighbors. [1]

Absolutely no one in the XVI and XVII Centuries ever denied the primogeniture and primacy of Asunción del Paraguay over the River Plate Provinces. By antonomasia, mentioning Asunción del Paraguay meant to mention the whole region. The entire river, initially dubbed as «River of Solis», which discharged its currents in the «Sea of Paraguay» as was originally named what we know today as «Mar del Plata», belonged to Asunción. All compasses and vessels of the Spanish Empire marked that city as a focal and meeting point. Even the King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V officially recognized Asuncion’s primogeniture, lineage and legendary blazons in a Royal Command (Real Cédula) of June 13, 1554: «The long established Town of Asunción… For more than 40 years ago she was discovered by the Captains of my Catholic Grandfather and King, who is now in Holy Glory, and later she extended herself founding and populating many towns and villes and cities in the Provinces of the River Plate». [2]

Not only that. Even after the establishment of Buenos Aires by Paraguayans that came from the very same Asunción, this city was still considered the main centre for resolution of all judiciary issues of the region. As a good loving and tender mother, she extended her hand for solving the impending conflicts and arriving to peace once more. [3]

Ontiveros, Ciudad Real, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Villarrica del Espíritu Santo, Santa Fe de la Vera Cruz, Virgen María de la Concepción del Bermejo, San Juan de la Cruz en las Siete Corrientes, Santiago Apóstol de Jerez, Nuestra Señora de los Buenos Aires… ¡Glorious seed that was sowed by those valiant Spaniards and Guaranís in the «terra ignota», conquering souls for Jesus Christ and His One Holy Catholic Church! From Paraguay flowed the Primal Spirit that made flourish the whole region. There are so many documents, found by García Mellid and other historians, where we can clearly see how the neighbors of Asunción, using their own money and resources, financed the expeditions to build new cities and towns all across the River Plate Basin. [4]

From the «State of Nature» to the «State of Civilization», the youthful Guaranís, made to endure all wilderness and to resist against all types of privations found themselves in the crossroads of history when the Spaniards arrived. And the Divine Providence was preparing a most formidable destiny for that new nation forged by the mixing of the European Conquistador and the Amerindian Native. The landscape of the Jungle of Paraguay was no longer a mere background but became a living feature for the new Civilization that was born by the Gospel and the Sword.

In the earliest days of «La Conquista», the «creoles and mestizos» became the rulers and masters of the realm. So much, that some Spanish-Born public servants like the exchequer Hernando de Montalvo complained to King Philip II in a famous letter dated in Buenos Aires in October 12, 1585: «There is a great need in the Provinces for more people from Spain, because only a few of the Old Conquistadores are surviving now and there are many sons from creoles and mestizos and every day they are more and more… They have the custom and habit of sharing between themselves the public offices of the Republic…».

Indeed, a «Republic» it was. Paraguay was born as a «Republica Christiana» from the very beginning, being a full member of the Spanish Empire. King Charles I of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor (usually known as Charles V) himself gave to his subjects in Asunción the honor of establishing themselves their governors and representatives (Cabildo) after swearing allegiance to the Spanish King. This was decreed in the Royal Command (Real Cédula) of 12 September, 1537. So, when Paraguayans claim they are the «First Republic in the Southern Hemisphere», they are recalling this major and foundational episode in their history and not just a decree that appeared during the Independence. [5]

In an era of very passionate religious clashes (protestant revolutions and Catholic Counter Reformation), the Jesuits became source of a lot of controversies (they are still controversial today). Nevertheless, the work they have done in evangelizing and converting the indigenous tribes in the Americas, especially in the Jesuit Reductions of Paraguay, goes beyond any description. Where other people failed using force, they suceeded with piety and conviction.

The Guaranís were not a nomadic and wandering people. Quite contrary, they were deeply rooted in their land and they had an expressive communication with their surrounding nature. They had an agrarian society with communitarian norms. This was the reason why Jesuits had an easy understanding with them. Also, according to biologist and anthropologist Moisés Bertoni, the Guaranís had a very extensive knowledge in botany and naturalist medical treatment, far more advanced than many European nations in the Rennaissance Age in this regard. In terms of religion, they were slightly more advanced than their more famous neighbors Incas (and also Mayans and Azthecs). They were pretty much «pantheists», they believed in «Tupäng» which is the God of Nature to whom all creatures of the material and spiritual world render honours. The word «Tupäng» is formed by «tuva (father)» and «äng (soul)». Their religious sense was, in many ways, far more developed comparing with the major polytheistic civilizations. [6]

But definitely, the most powerful cultural feature of the Guaranís was (and it still is) their fantastic and imaginative language, spoken by 90% of Paraguayans in the XXI Century and also in many neighboring countries. It was so admired by the Spaniards and Catholic Priests who made contact with the Paraguayan natives during the Conquista, that from the very beginning they started to learn it and preserve it. Father Lozano claimed that «the (Guaraní) language is, without any discussion possible, one of the most copious and expressive ones in the whole orb» and Father Chomé said pretty much the same: «I would have never imagined that in the middle of barbarism (Guaranís) I would have found a language so advanced that it has nothing to envy (in European languages)». [7]

Through these pathways we arrive to the Jesuit Reductions or «The Mission» as they are known thanks to a 1986 British movie with that title, with Jeremy Irons and Robert de Niro in the main roles and a wonderful score by Ennio Morricone. For sure, they were very important for the conformation of the Paraguayan identity and traditions, but at the same time, their influence should be rightly measured in order not to fall into exaggerations that may be good for best-selling and profiteering but are beyond of what is actually demonstrable.

As Atilio García Mellid, very correctly, points out: the Jesuit Reductions were not the «cause» but the «effect» of the Paraguayan soul that was being formed by the influx and spontaneous consubstantiation of Spaniards and Guaranís. The greatness of the Jesuit Fathers was in their decision to respect the native cultures and to improve with the Holy Doctrine all those «seeds of truth» that were already present in the proselytes they have found. This turned the Guaraní Tribes, not as conquered peoples but as allied and equals to the European Conquerors. That was the dream of Isabella of Castille the Catholic Queen, arguably the greatest ruler in Modern History. And the Jesuit (and Franciscan) Fathers did their best in accomplishing it. The result is undeniable: a whole new world was saved by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paraguay held the very first «Synod of Bishops» in the whole River Plate region in 1603. It was summoned by the Bishop of Asunción, Martin Ignatius of Mallea and Loyola, famous nephew of the great St. Ignatius of Loyola. Their resolutions were simple but with enormous repercusions: they decided to preach and to do everything in the Guaraní Language with the natives. From that moment onwards, many treatises and works about the Paraguayan Tribes and their culture were created. Father Claudio Aquaviva published the «Instrucción para Enfervorizar en el Ministerio de los Indios» (Instruction to Enliven in the Ministries to the Indians) in 1603. Another priest, Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, with remarkable religious seal and sacrifices for more than 30 years, released the books «Tesoro de la Lengua Guaraní» (Treasure of the Guaraní Language) and «Arte y Vocabulario de la Lengua Guaraní» (The Art and the Vocabulary of the Guaraní Language). Other Fathers and Priests who produced important literary works were Marcel Lorenzana, Vicente Griffi, José Insaurralde (a Paraguayan native who wrote «Araporu Aguijey» in two volumes, 1759), José Cataldino, Nicolás del Techo (author of a «History of the Province of Paraguay» in latin, 1673), Simón Masseta, José Manuel Peramás (who published a study about the costumbres of the Guaraní Indians: «Sobre las Costumbres de los Indios Guaraníes», 1779), Juan Yate («Grammar of the Guaraní Language», 1779), Alonso Barzana, Pedro del Castillo («Vocabulary of the Guaraní Language», published in 1885) and Cristóbal Altamirano among others. Very remarkable are the «Martyrs of Paraguay», St. Alfonso Rodríguez, St. Juan del Castillo and especially St. Roque González de Santa Cruz (who translated to Guaraní, with incredible prowess, the «Catecismo Mayor del Concilio de Lima», 1614). These Martyrs (alongside many others whose names were lost under the sands of time, unfortunately) spread the Word of God to the indians throughout the region until their glorious deaths in Caaró, 1628, in the hands of a witch doctor while they were preaching to some natives. Fr. Louis of Bolaños wrote about the Martyrs of Paraguay: «they came out of the City of Asunción and went to the indian peoples for teaching them in a time when the indians had no doctrine. They gave plenty of fruit…». A fruit that was fertilized with the blood of St. Roque González de Santa Cruz and his partners. [8]

The Martyrs of Paraguay: St. Rocco González of Santa Cruz, St. Alphonse Rodríguez and St. John of Castillo. [Image: Jesuitas Venezuela]
The Martyrs of Paraguay: St. Rocco González of Santa Cruz, St. Alphonse Rodríguez and St. John of Castillo. [Image: Jesuitas Venezuela].

Sciences, knowledge, culture of the highest level, everything was done through the alliance between Jesuits (also Franciscans and other orders) and Guaranís. A physician, Father Segismund Asperger, produced in the Missions of Paraguay a «Memoriam» of medicinal plants used by the Guaranís. There were many codexes known as «Inventarios de las Temporalidades Jesuíticas en las Misiones», they are mostly works about biology and medicine. In the publication «El Paraguay Católico», the naturalist Father José Sánchez Labrador did a study of eleven volumes, no more and no less, about zoology and botany in the region, the largest work ever done in this subject. Other great scientists and naturalists in the Jesuit Missions of Paraguay were Father Miguel Marimón, Father José de Guevara, Father Bernardo Misdorffer, Father Buenaventura Suarez (known as the first astronomer of the Americas), etcetera. And all this without even mentioning what was done in the Jesuit Missions in terms of art and music, which is so inmense that goes beyond the scope of our articles…

According to Paraguayan Legends (probably propelled by Jesuits themselves), St. Thomas the Apostle arrived in the region during the First Century and preached to the Guaranís. Some couplets celebrated this: «El Apóstol Santo Tomás, iba un día a orillas del Río Paraguay, aprendiendo la lengua guaraní, para poder a los indios predicar» (St. Thomas the Apostle, was wandering on the shores of the Paraguay River one day, learning the Guaraní language, to be able to preach).

The «Jesuit Kingdom» of Paraguay was, perhaps, the first «Golden Age» of the new nation. There was even a myth (promoted, most probably, by enemies of the Jesuit and Franciscan Missions) that the Guaranís and the Priests proclaimed their independence and named a new King of Paraguay, Nicholas the First (based on the Guaraní Warlord Nicolás Ñeenguirú, who defeated the portuguese slave-traders «Bandeirantes» in the Battle of Mborore, 1641). This happened during the long conflicts between Spain and Portugal (the «Bandeirantes») for the domination of the boundaries between both Empires. In the «Treaty of Madrid» (the infamous «Tratado de Permuta») in 1750, Spain agreed to give Portugal many of the Jesuit Missions in exchange for Colonia del Sacramento in modern Uruguay. This caused a major revolt led by the Guaranís (who refused to fall in the hands of the slave-trader Portuguese Empire) and with support of Jesuits and Franciscans. Sepé Tiaraju, leader of the rebel tribes, refused to surrender and was killed after their defeat in the Battle of Caivate, where 1.500 Guaranís died fighting against the combined forces of Spain and Portugal. [9]

Soon after that, in 1767, the Jesuits were expelled from all dominions of the Spanish Empire… A decadence, which started at the very beginning of the XVIII Century, was becoming deeper and deeper in the lands ruled and civilized by the Catholic Kings of Spain…


[1] Ana País: «Paraguay: cómo Asunción se convirtió en «madre» de más de 70 ciudades de Sudamérica hace 480 años». BBC (London): 15 August 2017.

[2] García Mellid (1963): «Proceso a los Falsificadores de la Historia del Paraguay», volume I, pages 21-22.

[3] Aguirre, Juan Francisco (1909): «Diario del Capitán de Fragata… 1781-1798». Anales de la Biblioteca de Buenos Aires, volume IV. Argentina.

[4] García Mellid (1963), op.cit. volume I, pages 22-23.

[5] Real Cédula del Rey de España y Emperador Carlos V. Dada en la Villa de Valladolid, el 12 de Septiembre de 1537. Available at: Guzmán, Ruy Díaz (1914): «Anales del Descubrimiento, Población y Conquista del Río de la Plata», libro I, capítulo XVI. Anales de la Biblioteca de Buenos Aires, Argentina.

[6] Bertoni, Moisés: «La Civilización Guaraní», part III. – Bertoni, Moisés: «Resumen de Historia y Protohistoria», pages 57-63 and 87-93. Asunción, Paraguay.

[7] Lozano, Pedro (1754): «Historia de la Compañía de Jesús», vol. I, book II, chapter XIX, page 252. Madrid: Editora de la Viuda de Manuel Fernández – Chomé, Ignacio: «Cartas Edificantes», XIII, page 308.

[8] García Mellid (1963) op.cit. volume I, pages 41-57.

[9] Owens, David James (1993). «Spanish—Portuguese Territorial Rivalry in Colonial Río de la Plata». Yearbook (Conference of Latin Americanist Geographers). 19: 22. – Jeffrey D. Burson; Jonathan Wright (29 October 2015). «The Jesuit Suppression in Global Context: Causes, Events and Consequences». Cambridge University Press. p. 84

Emilio Urdapilleta