Charrúa: Alive and Living

  • December 20, 2018      Friendly Borders Staff

Montevideo – Uruguay has an interesting history. The country is known to have no indigenous population, and it is thought that the people living in the region are descendants of foreign settlers, such as Italians and Spanish. However, the indigenous people of Uruguay are trying to present themselves as alive and well among the residents. These are the Charrúa communities, who were said to have died out in the 1830s. Is it possible that this indigenous group haven’t died out but merely traveled to different regions and got fewer in number?

Origin and Disappearance

The idea of a country having no indigenous group may seem like an odd one for people who are learning about numerous tribes and communities around the world. It is certainly an unusual experience for travelers to not meet indigenous people on their trips to various locations. However, Uruguay’s rich ancient history and the lives of their indigenous tribes are tainted with blood and difficult times. This is evident in the search for the Charrúa culture.

Before their colonization, the roots of the Charrúa people are quite vague. Now, there may be archeological evidence present as the basis for identifying their origin in Uruguay 4,000 years ago. These artifacts show that the Charrúa people were semi-nomadic and hunter-gatherers at the time. Their homes were located across Uruguay and up to northeast Argentina and even southern Brazil. Historians point out that the Charrúa’s language belonged to the Mataco–Guaicuru family. There is some dispute about how they lived their lives and their actual origin, but it is certain that the people of this tribe are fearsome warriors. It is believed that the Charrúa resisted the colonization of the Spanish and fought against British, Portuguese, and Brazilian troops.

However, over time, the Charrúa culture declined as they began to intermarry with the Europeans. Nevertheless, this was not exactly the main cause of their apparent disappearance. The Charrúa experienced a dreadful event on April 11, 1831. In an incident now known as the Slaughter of Salsipuedes (“get out if you can”), the Charrúa people were massacred. The bloodbath was the culmination of the tension between the Charrúa and the European settlers of the time. This well-documented massacre began the tribe’s genocide.

Present Lives: They are Alive

Even though some time has passed and the Charrúa people were thought to be only a part of the past, there are recent actions being done to find the living descendants of the Charrúa people. It is believed that Charrúa culture may still be alive in Uruguay. Modern Charrúa people are only learning more about their roots, as modern Uruguayans are taught that all the indigenous Charrúa were wiped out during the genocide. The question remains: when will the living Charrúa finally be recognized again as an indigenous community? It is up to the young ones who are finding their roots to see how the spirit of the past may come back to life in the present and bring out the colorful customs and traditions of the people.

Image from Travel Uruguay,