Diaguitas and Guaranis: Prisoners on their own Land
According to the New World migration model, a migration of humans from Eurasia to the Americas took place via Beringia, a land bridge which formerly connected the two continents across what is now the Bering Strait. The area now known as Argentina was relatively sparsely populated until the period of European colonization. The earliest traces of human life are dated from the Paleolithic and there are further traces in the Mesolithic and Neolithic.
Europeans first arrived in the region with the 1502 voyage of Amerigo Vespucci. The Spanish navigator Juan Diaz de Solis visited the territory which is now Argentina in 1516. In 1536 Pedro de Mendoza established a small settlement at the modern location of Buenos Aires which was abandoned in 1541. A second one was established in 1580 by Juan de Garay, and Cordoba. 1573 by Jeronimo Luis de Cabrera. Those regions were part of the Viceroyalty of Peru, whose capital was Lima, and settlers arrived from that city. Unlike the other regions of South America, the colonization of the Rio de la Plata estuary was not influenced by any gold rush, lacking any precious metals to mine.
The viceroyalty was, however, short-lived due to lack of internal cohesion among the many regions of which it was constituted and to lack of Spanish support. Ships from Spain became scarce again after the Spanish defeat at the battle of Trafalgar, that gave the British maritime supremacy. The British tried to invade Buenos Aires and Montevideo in 1806 and 1807, but were defeated both times by Santiago de Liniers. Those victories, achieved without help from mainland Spain, boosted the confidence of the city.
The beginning of the Peninsular War in Spain and the capture of the Spanish king Ferdinand VII created great concern all around the viceroyalty. It was considered that, without a King, the peoples in America should rule themselves. This idea led to multiple attempts to remove the local authorities at Chuquisaca La Paz, Montevideo and Buenos Aires, all of which were short-lived. A new successful attempt, the May Revolution, took place when it was reported that all of Spain had been conquered, with the only exception of Cadiz and Leon.
The European invasion of the Americas forever changed the lives, bloodlines and cultures of the peoples of the continent. Their populations were ravaged by disease, by the privations of displacement, and in many cases by warfare with European groups that may have tried to enslave them. Europeans also brought diseases against which the indigenous peoples of the Americas had no immunity. Chicken pox and measles, though common and rarely life-threatening among Europeans, often proved fatal to the indigenous people, and more dangerous diseases such as smallpox were especially deadly to indigenous populations. Smallpox, typhus, influenza, diphtheria, measles, malaria, and other epidemics swept in after European contact, felling a large portion of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, causing one of the greater calamities in human history, comparable only to the Black Death. Argentina’s culture has been greatly affected by its European immigrant population. Their influence contributed to the demise of pre-Columbian cultures, resulting in the lack of a dominant indigenous population.
Two main indigenous groups existed in Argentina before the European arrival – the Diaguita and the Guarani. The Diaguita were located in the north, close to the Andes, while the Guarani were situated to the south and the east. Together they constitute the origins of permanent agricultural civilization in Argentina, both developing the cultivation of maize. The Diaguita are also remembered for having successfully prevented the powerful Inca from expanding their empire into Argentina from what is now Bolivia.
Diaguita Indians were one of the most advanced Pre-Columbian cultures in Argentina. In Salta province the ruined stone city of Quilmes is one of the best-preserved pre-Incan indigenous sites, where some 5000 Quilmes, part of the Diaguita civilization, lived and withstood the Inca invasion. When the Inca started extending their empire southwards during the 15th century, the Diaguita fiercely resisted the invasion. They were unique at the time for their lack of a caste system, and lack of gold or other sumptuous goods. They later fell to the Incas, though the influence of the Incas was successfully stopped at the Córdoba Mountains. Their surviving descendents proved useful in forming an organized resistance of the Spaniards.
The indigenous group Diaguita is certainly one of the most affected by the process of forced assimilation during the era of colonization. This group has been historically harassed and forced to abandon their territories by white landowners. The process was accompanied by a compulsory disorganization in order to destroy their cultural roots and freely appropriate their lands. Increasingly cut off from lands, resources and traditions vital to their well-being and survival, Diaguita people now faced marginalization, poverty, disease and violence. Local governments sell state lands to businessmen with indigenous communities or families still on them.
When speaking about Guarani, it is referred to the Amerindian population that was settled in the area of eastern and north–eastern Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil and part of Bolivia. Some historians locate them from the south of the Amazons River to the slopes of the Andes. Their languages were tupí and guaraní. Still today they are spoken in these regions, guaraní being the second official language in Paraguay. Since the 18th. century, a great portion of the native peoples have taken customs and traditions from the colonizers in the Jesuitical missions and after that religious order was expelled, they became integrated in various settlements. They traditionally called their language ‘ñe’engatú’ (“precious language”), The guaraní language has given origin to many dialects as the carioca, the tupí, the Cario and the Caribe, among others.
The Guaraní are the original people of Paraguay and today, 95% of Paraguayans have Guaraní blood and speak the Guaraní language. They are a deeply spiritual people. Most communities have a prayer house, and a religious leader, whose authority is based on prestige rather than formal power. The native Guarani reached in keeping their culture and lifestyle until the XX century, when the systematic destruction of their forest by the farmers to create plantations proceeded more and more intense and violent, with frequent and violent expulsion of the people from their villages, especially in Brazil. For decades they have been evicted from their lands and confined to overcrowded reservations where violence and malnutrition are rife. The tribe has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Since the 1980’s, the Guarani started to organize themselves to resist, defend their lands and obtain its restitution of their land in the Countries where they live. Learn more about the Guarani at http://pib.socioambiental.org/en
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