Top 15 Facts About Paraguay

1. The Origins of the Country’s Name

The river Paraguay literally splits the country in two. There have been several suggestions for the origin of the name ‘Paraguay’; two of which came from Félix de Azara, a Spanish officer and scientist.

‘Water from the Payaguas’ from the name of the Indian tribe who lived on the river and, ‘Paraguaio’ – the name of a great chief.

Others think that it comes from the Guaraní  – para,  meaning of many varieties”, and gua, “riverine”.

2. Paraguayans Love to Welcome Visitors

Paraguayans are some of the most hospitable people around and love to make their visitors feel at home. Alberto Pereiro, a former Paraguayan Ambassador in London was heard to remark, “When we welcome someone into our home, we are responsible for the welfare of that person.”

3. The Sing Song Language

One of the two official Paraguayan Languages, Guaraní is actually an onomatopoeic language as many of its words imitate natural sounds such as those of animals, birds and water.

4. Class Dynamics

You won’t find many members of the aristocracy in Paraguay. During the 19th century, most ‘high class’ families were destroyed and today the country has a high level of social mobility, with more than 90% of the population classed as ‘mestizos’, meaning that they are of mixed Guaraní and Spanish descent.

5. A Rural Economy

The country is famous for its low cost of living and a large percentage of the population still derives their living from agriculture, particularly in rural areas.

6. When It’s Time for a Cuppa

Surprisingly, the Paraguayans love nothing better than a hot cup of tea.  However Paraguayan tea comes from a species of Holly bush and is called ‘mate’ after the gourd cup in which it was traditionally served.

7. Nimble Fingers

One of the most popular instruments in Paraguay is the 38-string Paraguayan Harp, which is played with the fingernails, which are kept long for the purpose.  Most harp players play by ear as the music is rarely written down but passed from teacher to student through oral tradition.

8. And More Nimble Fingers

The people of Paraguay just love to make lace, with lace-making being one of the most popular craft activities.  They often take inspiration from the delicate form of a spider’s web, with Nanduti (spiders’ web) lace combining 16th century needlepoint lacemaking techniques taught to the locals by missionaries, together with traditional Guaraní methods.

9. And Nimble Feet

Perhaps the most famous Paraguayan footballer is goalkeeper, Jose Luis Chilavert.  Now retired, he’s famous as a free kick specialist who loved nothing better than to take penalties, and actually scored against Argentina in a World Cup qualifier.  Today the most famous footballer to hail from Paraguay is Rocque Santa Cruz who was signed to Manchester City in 2009 for a fee of £17.5 million.

10. Famous for More Than Football

There aren’t too many celebrities hailing from Paraguay, except for the fleet footed footballers.  However there are some notable musical celebrities as the most famous Paraguayans tend to be classical musicians, composers and directors such as director Luis Szarán and the classical guitarists Berta Rojas and Luz Maria Bobadilla, both of whom are women.

11. Famous For Its Fish Too

Fishing has become a national pastime. Although it’s a landlocked country, its freshwater lakes, streams and rivers are home to over 250 warm-water species of fish and provide plenty of opportunities for fishing, attracting anglers from all over South America.

12. 101 Things to Do With Mandioca

Paraguayans use Mandioca or cassava as a staple for making their meals as it can be cooked in many ways.  With its delicate flavour it’s made into purées, soups, dumplings, and sometimes deep fried too.

13. Dictators Ruled

1954 -1989 saw the former military officer and Dictator General Alfredo Stroessner Matiauda in power, and under his rule thousands of Paraguayans fled to Argentina in fear of their lives. He was one of the longest serving non-Communist heads of state, until he was forced from power and into exile in Brazil in a military coup led by General Andres Rodriguez.

14. And Some Presidents Have Been Corrupt

There’s been many claims of corruption in the country, with one former president, Luis Gonzalez Macchi receiving a six year jail sentence for attempting the embezzle $16 million, and Juan Carlos Wasmosy, who was president from 1993-1998 also convicted of defrauding the state.  He received four years in 2002 although the sentence was later appealed.

15. He Wished He’d Kept His Mouth Shut

“Paraguay is nowhere and famous for nothing!”  The American political satirist probably wished he’d kept his mouth firmly shut before uttering these words, as it was something he later regretted when he visited the country and found out just how charming it actually was.