Alma Guaraní: The Paradoxical Cultural Identity of Paraguayan Music
Timothy D. Watkins [+]
Texas Christian University
Though less than three percent of Paraguay’s population is Indigenous, Paraguayan national identity is closely linked to the culture of the Guarani Indians that dominated the area at the time of the arrival of Europeans. Europeans were always a small minority in Paraguay, and the Paraguayan population quickly developed a relatively homogenous mestizo ethnic identity. Though by definition a mixture of European and Indian, this mestizo identity has come to be understood in ways that highlight its continuity with Indigenous Guarani elements over European ones in such cultural expressions as language, foodways, folk medicine, mythology and even religion. While many aspects of Paraguayan culture do in fact derive from Indigenous ones, music is a prominent exception; both Paraguayan música folclórica (folk music) and concert music are overwhelmingly stylistically European. Paradoxically, despite its thoroughly European nature, Paraguayan music has been bestowed a Guarani identity precisely because it is Paraguayan. This article examines the centrality of this mythical Guarani heritage to notions of musical paraguayidad (Paraguayan-ness) in such varied contexts as the language, topics, and traditional instruments of Paraguayan folk musics; the creation of the popular guarania genre in the 1920s as an intentionally nationalistic music expression; the stage persona and music of the guitarist Agustín Barrios (1885-1944); and the reception of the music of the Italian Jesuit missionary composer Domenico Zipoli (1688-1726), and its incorporation into the national Guarani mythos.