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The Guaraní in the Chaco region put up long-lasting resistance to conquest and colonization. Recurrent hostilities characterized the relations between the Guaraní and the Spanish Crown and, after Independence, the Bolivian state; the region in the eastern part of Charcas, not far from the capital La Plata or Sucre, is known even today as “the Frontier.” In South America, this resistance is comparable only with that of the Mapuche in southern Chile.

We do not know how far back this myth dates, but it was recounted by a Franciscan missionary from Italy, Doroteo Giannecchini, in a written account in 1898. The myth seems to apply to the final campaign of the Guaraní, no longer against the Spaniards but rather against the republican Bolivian Army during the last third of the nineteenth century, the same period in which Giannecchini heard it. Between Independence in 1825 and 1860, the autonomy and power of the Guaraní grew in relation to the karai (whites and mestizos on the frontier) because the Guaraní were more numerous and because of their military skill, which, drawing on guerrilla tactics, avoided direct confrontation.1 But in the later period, with the economic upturn in the country due to mining, the demand for meat increased greatly and with it the pressure for the karai to expand their cattle ranches. The karai developed improved military capacity, and their aggression grew with each successive confrontation. The massacre in Yuki (Huacaya) in 1875 and the final defeat of the Guaraní in Kuruyuki in 1892 stand out among these campaigns. In 1892, Guaraní forces were led by Apiaguaiki Tumpa, who had mobilized some six thousand warriors armed with bows and arrows (see Juan Ayemoti Guasu, “The God Man,” in part VI). After several skirmishes, many Guaraní had taken a defensive stand in Kuruyuki (instead of continuing with the previous guerrilla strategy). After an unequal battle lasting eight hours, between six hundred and nine hundred Guaraní lay dead, and innumerable others were wounded (many of whom later died). The army’s casualties were only four dead and several wounded. One historian later concluded that it had not been a battle so much as the hunting down of bronze and red-painted bodies.

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