Guaraní (gwäränēˈ) [key], indigenous group living in the eastern lowland area of South America, related to the Tupí of the Rio São Francisco and the Tupinambá on the Atlantic coast. The Guaraní language is currently spoken by some 6 million people in Paraguay (where it is widely spoken and an official language) and in adjacent portions of Argentina, Brazil, and Bolivia. At the time of the Spanish conquest (16th cent.), the Guaraní lived in settlements consisting of four to eight large communal dwellings, each of which accommodated 100 people or more. Chiefs resided patrilocally, but other men lived in their wives' houses and performed bride-service. They depended primarily on intensive agriculture supplemented by fishing, hunting, and gathering; the staple crops were corn and manioc. Men cleared fields that women tilled. Although their material culture was not advanced, Guaraní songs, dances, and myths constituted a rich body of folklore. Their religion was based on an impressive and elaborate mythology. The shaman was believed to possess supernatural powers that allowed him to ward off evil and cure sickness. The Guaraní survived initial contact with rapacious conquistadors because Paraguay lay apart from the main routes of Spanish trade and influence. Early Jesuit missionaries established the historically controversial system of reductions, which (for a short time) protected them from the slave-trade, and hispanicized them. Surviving Guaraní continue to practice communal agriculture in some rural areas and Guaraní culture has had a strong influence on present-day Paraguayan musical folklore.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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