Here in Canada one hardly ever hears about the land-locked South American Republic of Paraguay. The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa has briefly brought it to world attention as it leads the Group F standings over Italy, New Zealand and Slovakia. A couple years ago it also made the news when a former Roman Catholic bishop, Fernando Lugo, won the presidential elections. He broke the decades long rule of conservatives mainly under military dictators such as General Alfredo Stroessner who ruled Paraguay from 1954 to 1989.
This country (smaller by more than 80,000 square kilometres than the Yukon), which today holds a population of nearly six and a half million, has some other traits that makes it worthy of closer attention. Paraguay like Canada has two official languages. However one of them in addition to Spanish, is an indigenous language, Guarani. Most Paraguayans have some degree of fluency in this language.
The fact that anyone speaks Guarani is remarkable when one takes a closer look at Paraguay’s history. From 1864 to 1870 a war variously attributed to British or Paraguayan meddling in the politics of Uruguay pitted Paraguay against its much larger neighbours: Brazil and Argentina as well as Uruguay. The Paraguayans fought almost literally to the last man. The population of Paraguay was more than halved with just 28,000 males surviving out of a total prewar population of over a half a million.
The women of Paraguay and the occupying armies repopulated the country. Mothers of the post war generations carried this unique South American culture forward. Their strength and resilience preserved a language that is now spoke by more than 5 million people. The externals of today’s strong culture like nanduti lace-making, harp music or locro, their traditional corn stew let alone the language heritage would not have survived the devastation of war without this feminine link to their collective past.
The myths and common stories embedded in the language help build a sense of shared beliefs. This foundational morality allowed the Paraguayan people to together face the future even when confronted by calamity. This shared cultural core allows President Lugo to affirm after decades of corrupt misrule and foreign exploitation: “I do believe we will resurrect this country, a country deeply drowned in misery, poverty and discrimination.”
Harold Staten wrote Nietzche’s Voice a couple of decades ago for the Cornell University Press. In it he writes, “When this moral community … reassures itself of its belief, it comes aglow as the repository of the meaning of history, as the locus that one may occupy in order to view history and pass judgment on it without merely despairing or covering one’s eyes and ears. There may not be any plan behind history … but we can draw an invisible line of rectitude through history, and in this way take power over it.”
Modern cosmopolitan, consumer societies in the whirl of rapid global homogenization appear to have lost many of the linchpins that linked morality and belief in more traditional societies. Neither G-8 nor G-20 leaders have yet to provide us with the strong moral compass we will need to weather the coming storms. Maybe this is something we just have to rebuild from our homes up here the Yukon and elsewhere just like they are doing in Paraguay.
The passing of Father Joseph Guilbaud OMI this past Monday is sadly noted. His life and decades of service in the Yukon will be celebrated at a prayer vigil and reception at Sacred Heart Cathedral at 4th and Steele on Sunday, June 27th at 7 p.m. and at a Funeral Mass on Monday, June 28th at 10:30 a.m.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, June 26 – International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking seeks to build a global society free of drug abuse.
Sunday, June 27 – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time. A suggested reading is Luke 9: 51-62.
Monday, June 28 – US organized and supported rebels overthrow the legally elected government of Guatemala under Jacobo Arbenz in 1954.
Tuesday, June 29 – Feast of Saints Peter and Paul commemorates the martyrdom in Rome of these Christian apostles in the 1st century. The Doukhobors celebrate it as Peter’s Day marking their refusal to participate in government sponsored killing.
Thursday, July 1 – 143rd birthday of Canada!