Sunday, 21 February 2010

Paraguay - The Geography of Guarani Legends

Apart from Guatemala and the Netherlands, all the countries I've blogged about so far have either been island nations or landlocked countries. I guess these contrasts fascinate me, having grown up in an island nation (Ireland) and also having lived in the world's most landlocked country (Uzbekistan).

Roa Bastos, Paraguay's most famous writer, described the country as 'a landlocked island'. This only makes sense when you look at the geography of Paraguay, specifically Paraguay Oriental, which is defined by the three rivers that demarcate this region. The Parana, on the other side of which is Brazil, the Pilcomayo, which separates Paraguay and Argentina, and the River Paraguay, which cuts the country in two. This might not seem significant now, in the age of air travel, but back in the 19th century, the 'easiest' way to get to Paraguay was by river, an arduous journey that could take weeks, or sometimes months. Paraguay's many dictators did what they could to isolate the country politically but, in some ways, it was a task made easier by the country's physical isolation.

It occurred to me, whilst learning about the Guarani legends, that a lot of our spirits and myths are essentially 'animist' in origin. Perhaps man has been so overwhelmed by the magic of the mountains and jungles around him, that he's personified them in both benign and monstrous ways. Ireland and Scotland are full of rainbows and lakes, so we have pots of gold and Loch Ness monsters. Iceland has its trolls and gnomes that live under rocks. Desert nations have their winds, which can drive people mad in their intensity.

The legends of the Guarani are fascinating. It's all reptiles, forests and swamps. Although the mythology is completely new to me, there is something universal about primitive man's relationship with the Earth. In the legends of the Guarani, there are echoes of a more generic world mythology, from the Chimera of the Greeks to the zombies of the Caribbean, to Chinese ghosts and Native American folklore.

What's interested me most of all are the Legendary Monsters of the Guarani people. It's very much an oral tradition and can, therefore, vary from one tribe to another. Also the myths of the European settlers have sometimes fused with traditional Guarani legends and, like voodoo in the Caribbean or the African religions of Brazil, the end result is something quite new.

I've used Wikipedia as my main source for this. I do make an effort to find other sources online, but it would seem that all roads lead back to Wikipedia in the end and, most of the time, the articles are well-sourced and provide links back to the original texts, in the original language.

So, according to Wikipedia, there are seven Legendary Monsters in Guarani mythology. These are automatically considered to be evil, as they were all born out of either wedlock or rape (depending on which version you hear) between the evil spirit Tau and Kerana, the beautiful daughter of the main (Sun and Moon) god and goddess. I guess, in that respect, Kerana represents the Earth. Their seven, supposedly evil, offspring are all spirits of the natural world.

Teju Jagua is the oldest sibling, and the most frightening, with a snake's body and seven dog heads that shoot out fire (compare this with Medusa or Hydra). Teju Jagua seems to be the least 'human' of all the monsters and inhabits the deepest, darkest caverns and recesses of the many hills in Paraguay. It doesn't seem to do anything except consume the fruits of the earth.

Mbói Tu'ĩ is a snake with a parrot's head, that can let out petrifying shrieks and is the master of all waterways and aquatic creatures.

Moñái is another snake-like creature, this time with horns and is the god of the open fields. It has a habit of stealing the harvest from villages and is duped by the virgin Porâsý, who pretends that she will marry him, but sacrifices herself in the end by tricking Moñái and being killed with him.

Jasy Jatere is the god of plants, most importantly Yerba maté and is responsible for the drowsy, soporific, Lotus-eating qualities of a sub- tropical siesta. Jasy Jatere means 'little piece of the moon' and is the only one that doesn't appear as a monster, but rather a pale, fair-haired boy that lures children into the forest and lets them be eaten by his cannibalistic brother Ao Ao.

Kurupi is a very familiar god of sexuality and fertility with a great 'talent' for impregnating women, most conveniently, due to the length of his manhood, through open windows and doors left ajar. I'm sure that more than one teenage pregnancy and extra marital affair was explained by Kurupi's lust driven appetite.

Ao Ao is the god of hills and mountains, a kind of fanged sheep or hog, that really reminds me of another mystical beast that I can't quite put my finger on. I think there is a Scottish monster which is similar to Ao Ao. It basically roams the hills, preying on lone travellers and naughty children lured into the forest by Jasy Jatere.

Last, but not least, is Luison, the god of death. Luison has somehow merged with the European myths about werewolves and transcends regional mythologies, appearing also in Argentina and Brazil.

It really fascinates me, how dogs are so closely connected to death. There is Anubis

I can, kind of, understand then why independent Paraguay's first dictator, the Rousseau-obsessed Francia, in one of his many bouts of insanity, ordered that all dogs in Paraguay be shot dead. Man's relationship with dogs is a long and complicated one and one that I will keep an eye on, as I continue my learning journey around the world.

Image Credits

The image of the Iguazu Falls has been provided by flickruser willsfca a.k.a Will Luo, originally from Taiwan and now living in San Francisco.  Will is a self-confessed photogeek and you can see more on his website

The drawing/image of the Kurupi is by flickruser cochabambahotel. 

The image of Anubis was contributed to Wikimedia by Jeff Dahl, who has created a whole series of Egyptian dieties - I'm very impressed Jeff!  This image is available under GNU Free Documentation License and the license is at the following link:
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