The history of Paraguay is a result of the development and interaction of varying cultures of indigenous peoples in Paraguay and overseas immigrants who together have created modern-day Paraguay. Paraguay celebrates Independence Day on May 15, from 1811 to now.

Paraguay is known to have a history of ‘blood and tears’, yet through it all Paraguayans remain incredibly proud people, displaying strong signs of unity throughout their culture. The Guarani language, spoken widely in Paraguay, is one of the largest spoken indigenous languages in South America. The country was one of the first to be colonized by the once flourishing Spanish Empire, and soon after it became the wealthiest nation on the continent.

Europeans first made contact with the semi-nomadic tribes that lived in what is now modern-day Paraguay in 1516, and by 1537 the Spanish Empire had founded the city of Asuncion, making it one of the first modern settlements on the continent. Its position on the Paraguay River was a strategic site which remained important to the Spanish, who held control for the next 300 years. It was during this time that the evangelical Christian denomination the Jesuits came to eastern Paraguay to convert the local population. The Jesuit presence lasted for nearly 150 years until the central Spanish government banished them since they were unhappy with their practices.


The eastern part of present-day Paraguay was occupied by Guaraní peoples for at least 1,000 years before the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Evidence indicates that these indigenous Americans developed a fairly sophisticated semi-nomadic culture characterized by numerous tribes, divided by language, who each occupied several independent multi-village communities.

The indigenous Guarani culture can be remarkably heralded in the survival of the language, which is spoken by about 90 per cent of the population. The country’s inhabitants are mainly mixed race, known as Mestizo, with it is virtually impossible to trace a pure indigenous bloodline in today’s Paraguayans. The country has been home to notable immigrant populations; it is estimated that five to seven per cent of Paraguay’s population are of German descent, thought to be the largest per cent of immigrants in any South American nation. Most significant are the German Mennonites who settled here in the 1930s and now number at over 25,000.


A great museum to discover more about Paraguay’s dual culture between the native people and the Spanish immigrants that arrived in the 16th century is the Mythical Museum Ramón Elías, located 12 miles south of Asuncion. It displays a careful selection of items from a private collector and the museum’s founder. It houses many interesting artefacts of Guarani mythology, many from the Jesuit period, as well as items from more recent history, including the Chaco and Paraguayan War.

Typical Paraguayan folk music derives from two separate traditions: the polka, which is of European origin and is generally upbeat, and the guarania, which has a slower, swaying beat and was created during the 1920s. The initiator of this music was renowned Paraguayan musician Jose Asuncion Flores, who was influenced by tango music which he heard in neighbouring Argentina. You can visit the Arpa Roga culture centre in Asuncion to learn more about the role of the Paraguayan harp in the country’s traditional music.