A History of Paraguay
By Baruja, Paiva & Pinto

Chapter 1

The history of Paraguay began indirectly in 1516 with the failed expedition of Juan Diaz de Soli to the estuary of the Río de la Plata that divides present-day Argentina and Uruguay. After the cannibalized death of Soli by the hands of the Charrúa Indians (old accounts attribute the cannibal feast to the Charrúas, but anthropologists say that the Charrúas were hunters and gatherers, or rather, Paleolithic. People groups with this type of culture do not normally practice cannibalism. However, Neolithic, the cultivating cultures, are known to practice cannibalism in order to supply required proteins.


In synthesis: the ones suspected of the cannibalism are the Guaraní Indians who populate the islands in the Río de la Plata, but not the mainland areas in that region. Those islanders were cultivators, a characteristic belonging to the Guaraní, not the Charrúas. The remaining members of the expedition named the tributary "Río de Solís" and attempted to return to Spain, but on the return, some of the boats were shipwrecked on the Island of Santa Catalina, part of the present-day Brazilian coast.


Among the survivors was Alejo García, a Portuguese adventurer who had made contact with the Guaraní while living among the Indians. Through this melodious language, Garcia astounded the natives with tales of the “White King” who lived, it was said, farther west and ruled cities of incomparable riches and magnificent splendor. At last, García collected some men and gathered sufficient supplies to attempt a journey to the interior and finally was able to leave the Island of Santa Catalina after almost eight years to finally return to the kingdom of the “White King”.


Marching towards the west, García’s company discovered the massive waterfalls of Iguazú (in guaraní, "Great Waters"), crossed the river Paraná (according historian Efraim Cardozo, he only crossed the Paraná at the smaller waterfall called Monday, the bigger waterfalls of Iguazú were discovered by Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and not by Alejo García, years later), and arrived at the site of present-day Asunción thirteen years before it was founded. There the group recruited a small army of 2,000 local Guaraní soldiers as reinforcement to invade the promising new land and had to enter the Chaco, a rough semi-desert region. There they faced obstacles like dryness, rainstorms and tribes of the Chaco Indians, extremely dangerous Indians but not as much as the cannibalistic Guaraní Indians who accompanied García. This all took place between the end of 1524 and the beginning of 1525.

García was first the European to cross the Chaco and even managed to penetrate the outer defenses of the Inca Empire in hills of the Andes Mountains in present-day Bolivia, eight years before the fierce and greedy Francisco Pizarro. He operated according to a mixed plan including looting which raised an impressive booty of silver but before the army of the ruling Inca, Huayna Cápac, arrived to challenge him, he retreated with the spoils only to be assassinated by his Indian allies near the present city of San Pedro on the Paraguay river, but they spared the life of his son, the first Paraguayan mestizo. News of the excursion into Inca territory seduced Spanish explorers later and attracted Sebastián Gaboto to the Paraguay River two years later.

Sebastián Gaboto was the son of famous Italian explorer Juan Gaboto (who had attempted the first European expedition to North America). Gaboto was sailing east to the Orient in 1526 when he heard of García’s feats and concluded that the Río de Solís could provide easier passage to the Pacific and the East than the treacherous and stormy labyrinths of the Strait of Magellan, which was the only route known at that time to go towards the wealth of Peru. Gaboto was the first European to conscientiously decide to explore the estuary of La Plata.

Leaving a small force on the northern border of the wide estuary, Gaboto came slowly up the Paraná River for about 160 kilometers and founded a fort named Sancti Spiritu near the present-day Argentine city of Rosario. He continued upstream for another 800 kilometers, past the joining of the Paraguay River and the Paraná but he stayed on the Paraná. When navigation became difficult, Gaboto retraced his steps, but not without obtaining some objects of silver that the Indians affirmed came from a place well into the west. Gaboto then decided to retrace his steps from the Paraná River to enter the Paraguay River. Approximately forty kilometers south of Asunción, Gaboto found a Guaraní tribe that had possession of silver-plated objects, perhaps some of the treasure left by García. Believing that he had found the route towards the wealth of Peru, Gaboto named the Paraguay River “Río de La Plata”, meaning “River of Silver” , though today the name is only where it borders the city of Buenos Aires.


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