Art & Music of the Guarani Tribe

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

How does a culture maintain its character through centuries of challenges? Can its art reflect a complex mix of influences? In this lesson, explore the art and music of the Guarani Tribe.

Where Does the Guarani Tribe Live?

Have you ever heard of a group of people called the Guarani? They're one of the largest indigenous, or native, groups in South America.

The Guarani Tribe lives in tropical forests near the Amazon River. Today, this location includes Paraguay, as well as large parts of Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil. Traditionally a semi-nomadic people, the Guarani took advantages of the forest's rich resources, with women farming while men hunted and fished.

Spanish invaders looking for wealth in the form of gold and silver came into contact with the Guarani by the 1500s. At first, the Guarani helped the Spaniards fight off other native cultures, and many Spaniards and Guaranis intermingled through marriage. This ethnic blend is what resulted in the Paraguayan people of today. But eventually, Spanish control tightened and the situation worsened. The Guarani became almost slaves.

Later, the Jesuits, a Catholic religious order that was a foe of the Spanish, established missions, called Reductions, in the forests of the Amazon. Many Guarani converted to Christianity and lived at the mission. There, they developed their carving skills while making wood religious figurines and learned about European musical instruments, such as guitars and harps. In the late 1700s, when the Spanish expelled the Jesuits, the Guarini returned to the forests and took their skills with them. This complex narrative resulted in art and music that's a unique blend of native and European influences.

Art of the Guarani Tribe

The Guarani people, as nomads in the forest, never put too much importance on material possessions. They made pottery items, such as funerary urns and other vessels that served utilitarian purposes. They were also known for fabulous feather art, elaborate headdresses, collars, and other body ornaments made of the colorful feathers of exotic birds like parrots.

During the Jesuit period, Guarani learned to carve small religious figurines of people, such as Jesus and the Virgin Mary, out of South American woods, such as palo santo or timbó. They also carved traditional forms, such as jungle animals and fish, some of which were made in the shape of masks.

carved religious figurines

Another art that's a legacy of the mix of Guarani and Spanish culture is a style of lace called nanduti. It's a Guarani word that means 'spider web.' The Spaniards introduced lace-making to the native people of Paraguay, including the Guarani, in the mid-1500s. Today, it's one of their most recognized art forms. Nanduti uses a series of threads, almost in a spoke-like structure, as a base over which many different embroidery patterns are created. It's colorful and striking, and an art that's now passed down through generations.

Example of colorful nanduti style of lace
example of nanduti lace

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