The city of Asuncion was founded by Spaniards Juan de Salazar and Gonzalo de Mendoza on August 15, 1537. Asuncion soon became home to refugees from the colony of Buenos Aires fleeing from indigenous attacks. At first, Paraguay was considered a crucial element within Spain’s colonial holdings. However, once it was understood that the country possessed no real wealth to offer the
Spanish crown, the colony’s purpose lost momentum.
Relationship with Indigenous
Paraguay’s lack of easily exploited mineral wealth was a blessing for its indigenous, who were spared the wide scale annihilation that befell the original inhabitants of Spain’s more prosperous colonies (such as Peru, Bolivia, and Mexico). Initially, Asuncion’s original Guarani inhabitants chose to align themselves with the colonists in order to strengthen their position against the hostile Guaycuru natives of the Chaco. The Spanish took Guarani women as their wives and concubines, kick starting what is referred to as the mestizo population today. The alliance between the colonists and indigenous was weak. Once European colonists gained a foothold, the region’s indigenous found their way of life under constant threat.
Of those who chose to integrate with the new arrivals, many found themselves trapped in the abusive encomienda system, a form of legalized slavery. Put into place by the Spanish crown in 1555, this system allowed Spaniards to claim Guarani natives as their own property. The colonists were responsible for the physical and spiritual well being of their indigenous. However, this responsibility was rarely a priority. The encomienda system generated several indigenous rebellions and was also met with resistance from the Jesuit Order. Indigenous living in Jesuit missions were spared the cruelties of the encomiendas but were stripped of their religious traditions and practices. Natives who managed to avoid both the encomiendas and Jesuit missions were in constant danger of being captured by Brazilian slave traders (see Missions Under Attack).
Many tribes viewed the colonists as trespassing enemies. The indigenous groups of the Chaco were particularly hostile. Asuncion, located across from the southernmost tip of the Chaco, was raided by the Guaycuru natives regularly, and those explorers who dared to venture up the Paraguay River soon found themselves under attack by the Payagua tribesmen. The hostilities suffered at the hands of these bellicose tribes kept outsiders away from the Paraguayan Chaco throughout the colonial era, and into the 20th century.
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