The Ibera Wetlands and Iguazu Falls are two of the most breathtaking natural landscapes of Argentina: both harbor a vast variety of flora and fauna and offer amazing landscapes. These destinations also share a rich history thanks to their indigenous inhabitants, the Guaraní, whose legacy can be seen today in the region’s gastronomy, religious customs, and in the many Guarani words used to describe everything from popular dishes to local animals.
The word “Iberá” is a combination of two Guarani words (“ý berá”) that means “bright waters”. The name’s origin becomes clear as soon as you set a foot in the wetlands (the second largest in the world) and witness the lagoons and estuaries glow.
The name “Iguazú” is also based on two Guarani words (“ý ûasú”), which means “big water”. You’ll have to visit these falls for yourself to experience the ferocity of the so-called Devil’s Throat and the surrounding waterfalls to understand why…
These are just two examples of the influence that indigenous communities, especially the Guarani, have had on the vocabulary of Argentinians in the northeastern region of the country. But the influence of Guarani words isn’t limited to the northeast. Some words have become so widespread that they are used throughout the whole country.
Here are some common Guarani words that are used outside of northeastern Argentina:
- “Che”, an enormously popular Argentinian interjection that is used throughout the country.
- “Yarará”, (jarara) an aggressive and venomous snake.
- “Maraca”, (originally mbaraka) a percussion instrument.
- “Ñandu”, a bird native to South America.
Here are some other examples that are linked to traditional Argentina food:
- “Chipa”, a small cheese bread
- “poroto” (kumandá), the Argentinian word for beans
- “Mandioca” (originally mandiog), a root vegetable
- “Tereré”, an infusion made from yerba mate prepared with cold water or soda
The Guarani were once the dominant group in present-day northeastern Argentina, Paraguay, southern Brazil, and parts of Bolivia and Uruguay. The Guarani communities were seriously impacted and much of their culture was lost with the European invasion of this region, around the 17th century. Many social organizations have denounced the lack of help that these communities receive from political authorities to be able to confront the great threats they suffer, like lack of territory, undernourishment, and diseases like tuberculosis. Yet despite the struggles the Guarani people face, their language continues to persist. It is an official language of Paraguay, and it is a secondary official language in the Argentine province of Corrientes. It is also one of the few indigenous languages in South America that is spoken by its a large non-indigenous population.
Traveling to Argentina? Don’t forget to listen for all the Guarani words while you’re here! And if you need help planning you’re trip to Iguazu Falls, Ibera Wetlands, or any other destination in Argentina, be sure to get in touch with the local travel experts at Say Hueque Argentina Journeys. Hope to see you in Argentina soon, “che”!
By Irene Valiente