Map of Uruguay

Map of Uruguay
Map of Uruguay

Thursday, March 24, 2011


I decided to investigate the role of women in Uruguay and I found some unexpected and interesting information on women’s involvement in guerrilla group in the 1960’s and 70’s, known as the Tupamaros or the MLN (Movimiento de Liberacion Nacional). The MLN strongly advocated for women’s rights and about 25% of their guerilla fighters were women, known as Tupamaras. This was during an era where women’s place was all things domestic and the idea of a woman wielding a weapon, let alone being a proficient guerilla fighter, was horrifying.
Interestingly enough, even though the MLN advocated for women’s equality they viewed a woman as being equal to men only if a woman was stripped of her “feminine” attributes and acted like a man. While traditionally Uruguay society valued the role of the mother, the MLN valued women that lost their traditional roles. Even though the MLN allowed women to take up roles that traditional society prohibited the Tupamaras were still relegated to stereotypes within the MLN: either the masculine, and usually unattractive, woman (there was also an element of racism here as these women were often portrayed as black), or the sexpot useful in subterfuge and distracting the enemy (think James Bond movies). Women couldn’t define themselves within the MLN; they either took on the role of a man or epitomized feminine stereotypes (with the addition of a gun).
I couldn’t help but be reminded of female stereotypes of women in the U.S. military. It seems that when women step into the male dominated sphere of military action, society can only rectify the step outside of female accepted behavior by classifying women into strict stereotypes within that sphere.   
Many Tupamaras were imprisoned, especially from 1973 to 1985 when Uruguay was a military run state. Imprisoned Tupamaras received even more brutal treatment at the hands of their guards than the Tupamaros. Women were often raped by multiple men and beaten as a form of torture. If it was discovered that a Tupamara was pregnant, instead of receiving a reprieve or lessening of her torture, her treatment worsened, often causing her to miscarry.
In a society where motherhood is so highly valued it seems remarkable that a pregnant woman would be treated with such brutality. When the Tupamaras fought alongside men, society punished them not only for their guerilla actions, but also for stepping outside what the socially accepted behavior was for a woman.

The Candombe

Latin American countries represent a vast array of cultures and Uruguay is no exception. Though the majority of Uruguayans are of Spanish or Italian descent, the culture brought by thousands of African slaves has had a great influence of Uruguayan culture even today.
Copious amount of slaves were brought into the country and by 1810, half of the Uruguayan population were of African descent. Though that number has dwindled to less than six percent today, the cultural affects still reverberate. An example of this is African music, specifically the candombe. The candombe is a distinctive beat involving three drums and was a ritual that also incorporated dancing.
At one point the gathering places for candombe were outlawed because they were deemed immoral, and those that participated in the candombe were harshly punished. Nevertheless, the tradition continued and became what it is today – no longer the ritual, but a distinctive rhythm that is part of Uruguayan culture.
Interestingly, the ritual of the candombe and the places were it was performed was called tangó. This leads to interesting speculation on the origin of the dance of the tango today, which is arguably the most well known dance to come out of Latin America. The tango appeared simultaneously in Montevideo, Uruguay and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Though, the tango is usually thought of as being the result of Spanish and Italian influence, it’s stylistic dance and music also shows African influence.

Here are a link to a candombe videos:

The Charrua Indians

Uruguay is a unique country in Latin America, in that, it is widely accepted that there are no indigenous populations still existing. Very little is known about Uruguay’s history and inhabitants before the arrival of the Spanish and many have concluded that Uruguay had no significant inhabitants besides a few bands of hunter gatherers before the Spanish arrival. Despite this, the indigenous of Uruguay form a distinct part of the national identity, especially the Charrúa Indian.
The Charrúa Indians allegedly killed the very first Spaniards to arrive on their shores, initiating three centuries of resistance and rebellion that has become a pivotal part of Uruguayan identity. Charrúa history has become part of Uruguayan mythology with the Charrúa Indians often portrayed as heroic martyrs.
The reality of the repression of Charrúa Indians is indisputable. Mass genocide took place on a population that also suffered dwindling numbers from exposure to diseases and intermarriage with Europeans. The genocide continued until the population became extinct in the 1830’s.
This leads me to the Charrúa skeleton that found its way home to Uruguay in 2002 after almost two centuries abroad. In 1831, the Uruguay government carried out a massacre against the Charrúa. Most of the men were killed while women and children were “given away” to Spanish and Creole families. Four of the captured Indians were shipped to Paris where they were studied at the national history museum. One of the Charrúa was Chief Vaimaca Peru who’s remains were the only ones preserved after the captives died.
When Vaimaca’s remains were finally returned to Uruguay they were given a hero’s precession and burial in the national pantheon – a statement to how closely Uruguayans identified with the Charrúa. However, before the burial of the remains a team was allowed to study them.  The team performed a litany of tests in which they confirmed Vaimaca’s identity and analyzed his mitochondrial DNA. The team established that Vaimaca shared a genetic similarity with ancient burial mounds found in Uruguay establishing that Vaimaca was part of a local lineage at least 1,610 years old. The builders of the Uruguayan burial mounds has long been disputed, but their very existence and the proof of the Charrúans ancient inhabitation of Uruguay, seem to contradict the idea that the native inhabitants of Uruguay were a small and insignificant population.
The study of Vaimaca’s remains also negated another long held idea that the Charrúa no longer exist in Uruguay. Genetic markers were found in Vaimaca that were also found in some modern Uruguayans. It seems that long after the genocide of the Charrúa people and culture the Charrúa still have an impact on the Uruguayan identity and biology.

Some Basic Information

Uruguay is the second smallest country is South America sandwiched between the large countries of Brazil and Argentina on the Atlantic coast. Uruguay has a relatively small population of 3.5 million with over a third of it's population living in the capital city of Montevideo (the countries only large city). 92% of the population is urban, but most of the country is grassland and agricultural. Uruguay is known for its a high literacy rate and a prominent middle class. The vast majority of the population is of Spanish and Italian descent, with a smaller percentage of mestizos and those of African descent. Spanish, which is the official language of Uruguay, has been greatly influenced by Italian immigrants. Portunal is another language spoken in the Northern part of Uruguay which makes sense, since it is a mixture of spanish and portuguese, also known as Brazilero. Like most countries in Latin America, catholicism is the primary religion, although protestantism is also prominent.