Our South American Neighbors - G. Southworth

Paraguay and its Capital Asuncion

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth

Asuncion is a small capital of a small republic, tucked far away in the central part of South America. Little Paraguay, because of its inland situation and remoteness from the outside world, has naturally been very backward and undeveloped. Its estimated population of about 1,000,000 consists for the most part of half-breed Indians, descended from mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry. However, European immigrants aided by the higher class of the Paraguayans are gradually giving a new character to this population.

Centuries ago Paraguay was inhabited by two tribes of Indians, the Guarani and Chacos. Then, about fifty years after Columbus discovered America, or, to be more exact, in 1536, an expedition of Spaniards visited Paraguay and founded a settlement on the present site of Asuncion. And the Spanish settlers took Indian women for their

During the next seventy-five years, the descendants of these Spanish-Indian families made many settlements over that part of Paraguay which lies east of the Paraguay river.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


To-day this same eastern section of the republic, lying between the Paraguay and Parana rivers, and between Brazil on the north and Argentina on the south, is the most progressive section of Paraguay.

The rest of the country, that triangular part west of the Paraguay river, is nothing but a great level, uncultivated territory known as the Gran Chaco. The name means Great Hunting Ground. The Gran Chaco is inhabited mainly by uncivilized Indians.

Some of the remote parts of this "wild west" of Paraguay have never yet been explored by white men. That is why, in giving the population of Paraguay, we have to say "estimated population," instead of "exact population," for there is no census reporter who would care to count all the uncivilized Indians of the Gran Chaco.

The Chaco was formerly thought to be little else than a great swamp. But of late it has been found to contain much fine grazing land, the forests being broken by grassy plains or pampas. These plains are similar to the famous pampas of Argentina, and afford excellent pasturage for great herds of cattle.

It was in 1811 that Paraguay declared itself independent of Spain. The governing power was vested first in consuls and then in presidents. Finally, in 1870, the present constitution was proclaimed which established a republican form of government.

Asuncion, Paraguay's capital, is one of the oldest cities of our hemisphere. From the faraway time of its beginning until now, it has been the largest city of Paraguay, her chief center of civilization and principal center of trade.

Asuncion's claim to being the chief center of trade is accounted for by its fortunate location. The capital lies on the east bank of the Paraguay river. Navigable for almost its entire length, this river serves Paraguay not only with means of transportation within her own borders, but also connects her with the two great neighboring republics, Brazil and Argentina.

Although Paraguay has no coast line, the difficulties of reaching the country are as nothing when compared to Bolivia. From Buenos Aires and Montevideo steamships run up the Plata, Parana and Paraguay rivers to Asuncion and from there go on up the Paraguay or small branch rivers to various parts of the republic. Moreover, there is to-day an all-rail route from Buenos Aires to Asuncion, through trains making the trip in fifty hours, or a little over two days and two nights.

A very large proportion of the little inland republic's exports go to Argentina and Uruguay, and all her goods sent to Europe and the United States are reshipped at Buenos Aires or Montevideo, the chief ports of these two countries.

The total value of Paraguay's imports exceeds by millions the total value of her exports. The country's five chief imports are textiles and ready-made clothing, food provisions, agricultural implements and machinery, drugs and fancy goods or small wares sold by dry goods stores.

The five chief exports are quebracho extract for tanning hides and skins, hides, yerba mate or Paraguayan tea, tobacco and timber. Paraguay is not a manufacturing nation and her chief exports consist only of natural products.

Perhaps the most characteristic tree of Paraguay is the quebracho. The word really means "ax breaker." The character of the timber is told by its name. The wood furnishes material for railway ties for a large part of South America and is also used for furniture. In addition the quebracho tree supplies the quebracho extract which is exported to the United States and other countries where it is used for tanning as well as for different purposes.

Second on the list of Paraguay's exports are hides. It is estimated that there are over 5,000,000 cattle of all kinds in the small republic, far more cattle than people, you see. Her exports of hides form by far her most important cattle product, as these hides command good prices in Europe.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


In Asuncion there is one tannery which turns out an excellent but unfortunately limited line of calf, kid, saddle, and harness leather. The other tanneries in the republic, all too few in number, give their attention chiefly to sole leather.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


Yerba mate, or Paraguayan tea, grows wild in immense tracts in the northern and eastern sections of the republic. The leaves make a tea which takes the place of both tea and coffee with the natives of Paraguay. The dried and crushed leaves of the plant are placed in a dried, hollowed-out gourd. There is an opening where the stem used to be, and into this, boiling water is poured. From the gourd the tea is sucked through a hollow tube of metal or reed called a bombilla, which means in our language "little pump."

If you were to go into a home in Asuncion, probably the first thing your hospitable host would offer you would be one of these pretty small gourds, filled with the hot, stimulating drink. But perhaps you would have to be impolite enough to confess that you did not like it, for the tea is quite bitter. However, it is sold all over South America and to some extent in Europe, and has also a very limited demand in our country.

One export in which we are interested is tobacco. In Paraguay good tobacco grows wild and uncultivated. Cigars which cost ten cents elsewhere can be bought for one cent in Asuncion. Paraguayan tobacco finds a ready market in Argentina, Brazil and several European countries.

Perhaps tobacco might be said to be lamentably cheap in Paraguay, for everybody, even the poorest, smokes. And not only this, but it is not uncommon to see women, mainly the Indians, smoking and chewing.

Another of the republic's most important exports—timber—comes from the forests which cover the mountain slopes, and also from the forests of the level Chaco. The Paraguayan woods are hard and heavy, being much used for railway ties, piles and all sorts of heavy construction work.

Here, as nowhere else in the world, is the land of oranges. Very fine sweet oranges grow everywhere. In fact, they grow wild, requiring no care whatever. So abundant are they that they are sold in Asuncion four for one cent. Besides her five leading exports, Paraguay also exports oranges and the smaller fruit, tangerines, by millions down the Paraguay river to Uruguay and Argentina.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


What might be called a by-product of oranges is the oil of petitgrain. The principal distillery plants for the oil are about fifty miles from Asuncion, in the great orange growing district, and the industry is being conducted on an increasing scale in the small republic. The oil is extracted from the leaves of orange trees and is used as a basis for various perfumes and in the manufacture of flavoring extracts.

Many strange sights are seen in the Asuncion markets. Very wonderful markets they are, too, because of the great variety of different things to eat. If you were to go to market in Asuncion, you would have to carry your basket with you, for goods are not delivered as they are in our country. Also neither paper nor twine is commonly used to wrap up parcels. If you must have your groceries or meat wrapped, you provide a piece of cloth.

Seldom are men seen in these markets of Asuncion. Women not only do the buying, but women also sell the good,. Some sit right on the ground with their wares spread out before them. Others stand at small open booths. There is much cigar smoking, much chattering, and much bargaining.

But one must not judge the people of Asuncion by the women in her markets. The population of the capital, which, by the way, is over 100,000, is of a cosmopolitan and, on the whole, of a cultured character. Here are found besides the natives of Paraguay, people from Argentina, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Spain, France, Uruguay and England.

The climate in Asuncion being remarkably soft and gentle, the capital city has attracted many visitors, not a few of whom become permanent residents. One enthusiastic writer goes so far as to say that now that there is railway connection with Buenos Aires, Asuncion promises to be one of the most popular winter resorts of South America.

Without doubt, Asuncion is improving and progressing rapidly. Yet the city has a peculiar, quaint charm, which, it is to be hoped, will continue to cling to it. For instance, it is the custom after sunset for the older people to sit in the little open plazas or squares. Here they chat and enjoy the fragrance of the glowing tropical plants. From the windows in the house, girls of every shade, from pure white to dark Indian brown, lean, singly or in groups, and watch the men walking in the streets or sitting at little tables in the open-air cafes. All is rather subdued, quiet and charmingly quaint.

But Asuncion is not without its modern aspects either. During recent years, many automobiles have been bought by the inhabitants. The city has built complete electric car and electric light systems. There are several fine public buildings, such as the government palace, the municipal palace, a number of business buildings, an imposing hotel and a rather magnificent cathedral.

In regard to the language of the country, that which is recognized as official is Spanish, but Guarani, the language of the Indians, is in general use throughout the republic. Nearly everybody understands and uses it, and little else is spoken outside of the towns.

In regard to education, Paraguay is making great efforts to extend her school system into the less accessible parts of the republic so as to reach all classes of people. Another splendid thing she is doing is to send scholars to Europe and the

United States for a technical education which shall help them in solving all kinds of problems when they return to their native country.

At Asuncion the republic has one national college with a complete teaching staff and over five hundred students in attendance.

The chief industry of Paraguay is stock raising. The backward condition of the country and the scarcity of labor have prevented even agriculture from great development. The remarkable fertility of the soil, however, and the sub-tropical climate are both very favorable to luxuriant crops, and on these two conditions Paraguay's future possibilities rest.

The native cotton of Paraguay has a long, silky fibre and holds an excellent reputation in Germany, England and Holland because of its fine weaving qualities. It is said that no country in the world could produce a greater quantity of cotton per acre than could be produced in the rich and fertile soil of the small republic. The only thing which is lacking is business gumption.

Those who believe in Paraguay dream of a future in which the republic has become a leading cotton country. It only remains for Paraguay to make this dream a reality in order that she may take her place among the prosperous nations of the world.

Questions for Review and Study

  1. Give the location of Paraguay and tell how it has influenced the country's development.
  2. Which part of Paraguay is the most progressive?
  3. Name and describe the unprogressive part.
  4. Tell the story of Paraguay's early history.
  5. Name and locate the capital.
  6. For what is Paraguay indebted to its rivers?
  7. What is Paraguay's most characteristic tree and what does it supply?
  8. What is yerba mate and how is it used?
  9. Mention Paraguay's other exports.
  10. Describe Asuncion as to people and climate, buildings, language and education.
  11. What is Paraguay's chief industry?
  12. Along what line seems to lie her greatest possibility for the future?