would be nothing without its people. People are a vital element to the
very essence and definition of a country. The characteristics of a
country include a government, administration and laws, civil services,
and a population. People groups that stay together in one place develop
cultural ideas and traditions that are exclusive to their group, and
that vary from country to country and ethnic group to ethnic group.
Paraguay has developed its own ideas and traditions that differ from
other Latin American countries. It is a growing country with exceptional
people. Paraguay, a small, seemingly insignificant Latin American
country, is made up of a unique people group known as the Guaraní,
improving health standards, and interesting community pastimes and hand
One of the first
groups of people to inhabit this small country of Paraguay was the
Guaraní Indians. The Guaraní people originated from a wide area of
central and southern South America. They also inhabited the neighboring
countries of Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. In following similar
interests to overthrow the Incan Empire to gain its vast wealth, they
joined and intermarried with the Spanish.
In 1558, Jesuit missionaries arrived and attempted to convert the
natives to Catholicism. In reality, the religion that resulted was a
conglomeration of Catholicism and the traditional occultist faith and
rituals (Guaraní). Two positive things that the Jesuits introduced to
the Guaraní were agricultural skills such as farming and trades such as
metalworking, textile making, artistry, and many others (Thomas).
Today, many Paraguayans can claim to be descended from the original
Guaraní. As much as 95% of Paraguay’s population is a mix of Spanish and
Guaraní Indian known as mestizo (Paraguay). Most Guaraní live in the dry
desert-like area of Paraguay known as the Chaco. There are some however,
who live and work in the capital city of Asunción; some working at
selling handmade crafts and other artistry for which they are known.
Many different such crafts and unique forms of art have arisen from the
Guaraní culture. This art includes handicrafts such as hammocks, lace,
embroidery, and hand woven linen known as ahó poí that is very
unique to the Guaraní people.
Besides these crafts, the Guaraní have also become proficient in the art
of sculpting figures of birds and animals out of palo santo and timbó
wood. They also manufacture baskets and ceramics. Some traditional
Guaraní food and drinks include a tea made from yerba leaves.
When served hot it is known as mate; when served cold, as
terere. It is also a very traditional practice to eat mandioca
is with each meal. Jopará is a common meal consisting of
beans and maize (Guaraní). The second official language of Paraguay
stems from their name, Guaraní (Paraguay). The Guaraní people have made
enormous and invaluable contributions to the Paraguayan culture. Without
them, the Paraguayan people and culture would not be what they are
In any nation, public health is one of the most important issues when
considering the well-being of a country. Paraguay’s history of health
and healthcare is less than outstanding, but in the past 30 years, there
has been a marked improvement. In the 1970s and 1980s, the government
initiated an impressive campaign of vaccinations for infants against
diseases such as diphtheria, pertussis (also known as whooping cough),
tetanus, and measles. These efforts increased total infant medical care
percentages from 51 percent to almost 75 percent, and pre-birth care
from 53 percent to nearly 70 percent from 1973 to 1983. Between 1965 and
1981 surveys indicated that the amount of nurses relative to the
population had doubled and that in the 1980s 60-70 percent of the
population could acquire needed healthcare. Despite advances in
healthcare, there have been some setbacks. In the 1980s, for example,
the national healthcare budget was decreased due to an “economic
downturn” (Health). Other problems Paraguay encountered were a lack of
supplies available to government health services, a concentration of
doctors and health professionals in the urban areas thus causing a lack
in the rural areas, and a lack of cooperation and coordination between
health services. Since then, the situation has improved and today, the
life expectancy in Paraguay for men is about 73 years; for women it is
closer to 78 years old (Paraguay).
One of today’s leading health regulating organizations that functions in
Paraguay is the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). A recent
resolution passed in 1997 by the XL Directing Council of the Pan
American Health Organization in regards to the collection and use of
core health data stated that the collected data would be used to “evaluate
the health status of the population and health trends, provide empirical
basis for identifying the population groups with greater health needs,
stratify epidemiological risk, determine critical areas, and to examine
the response of the health services to provide input for policy-making
and setting priorities in this field” (Regional). This means that the
collected data would serve the purpose of providing a standard for
identifying a country’s status in healthcare, whether deficient or
acceptable. Several other health organizations that exist in
Paraguay are the Ministry of Public Health and Social
Welfare, Social Insurance Institute, Military Health Service, and the
Clinical Hospital of the National University—which is under the Ministry
of Public Health and Social Welfare (Health). The current minister of
health in Paraguay is named Dr. Gualberto Piñánez. Although
Paraguay’s health and healthcare systems still have ample room for
improvement, they are continuing to develop and Paraguayans will surely
one day be able to boast of ample and generous healthcare coverage.
Latin American countries share many similar characteristics, customs and
even problems such as healthcare. There are however, some customs and
traditional pastimes that are unique to Paraguay. Often, visitors to
Paraguay from other countries have one main complaint. They complain
that Paraguayans have no sense of time and punctuality. Paraguayan hosts
do not expect their guests to be on time, and the guests will not be
(Paraguay Cultural). Even the restaurants open late and, bizarrely, many
shops actually close in the middle of the afternoon; although this is
less and less common in daily life (Kelly). If one considers certain
factors, there is a very logical reason for the afternoon siesta
and shops closing at midday. During the afternoon hours, the heat
becomes unbearable and people cannot work in such heat. Therefore,
traditionally, people would take a midday break and eat lunch later in
the day (Siesta). This caused people to dine later as well, which meant
that it was more profitable for restaurants to open later in the
evening, such as at eight o’clock, rather than at the traditional six
o’clock evening meal that Americans practice (Dinner). During the siesta
time was when people would socialize. They drank tereré
together and gossiped. Tereré
is a traditional “social beverage” (Tereré). In
this social ritual, a hollowed out cow’s horn called a guampa is
filled with the yerbatea leaves. Then water is added to
the tea leaves and the horn/cup is passed around with each person
sipping through a silver straw called a bombilla. This communal
cup practice is not unique only to Paraguay, but it is practiced the
most in Paraguay as opposed to any of its neighbors. Paraguay also has
some interesting hand gestures that are generally only used in Paraguay.
For example, one stops a bus or taxi by holding two up two fingers,
horizontal to the ground; or else by pointing to the ground with two
fingers. Another notable gesture is that, unlike in the United States,
one would never beckon to another person with a crooked finger. That
would be construed as a rude gesture. One beckons using the fingers of
the hand with the palm down as if calling a child. Lastly, to convey
frustration or bewilderment, one pulls the tips of the fingers into a
single point and shakes it pronouncedly up and down a few times. This
generally communicates the idea very swiftly and effectively.
Paraguayans should be proud to have these pastimes, social activities,
and other idiosyncrasies that help to strengthen their singular sense of
community that differentiates them from other Latin American countries.
comparatively small country, Paraguay boasts unique people, rising
health qualifications and requirements, and fascinating community
focused activities. Paraguayans are a singular group of people that are
similar in some ways to other nationalities, but in many ways are
totally distinct. Home to the Guaraní Indians, Paraguay’s dominant
ethnic group is mestizo due to the Guaraní intermarrying with the
Spanish explorers. Since that time, Paraguayan health services were
founded, then deteriorated, and are now being improved once again.
Paraguayans have their own customs and culture that include interesting
time schedules, community pastimes, and hand gestures. In summary,
Paraguay is a unique nation with a population that is proud to be known
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