Charruas, Santa Barbara and . . . Tango?
Lisbeth Bosshart was the Common Ground 191
soil collector in Uruguay. Her parents were put in charge
of the shipping. She collected her contribution from the
ground in the capital city, Montevideo, in the area of the
Cerro de Montevideo, the hill across the bay from the city.
Although its top reaches an elevation close to 400 ft.,
the Cerro of Montevideo does not seem very tall from far
away. Many buildings can be seen on it, neighborhoods of
mostly European immigrants from Spain, Italy, Lithuania,
Poland, Russia, Armenia and many others who came here during
World War I and II.
The Cerro of Montevideo
is speculated that someone during Magellan’s expedition
(1520) called the area monte vidi, or that a Portuguese
captain referred to the area of Montevideo as being
the place where he had video (seen) a monte (hill; cerro).
So today we see the city on one side of the bay and the
cerro looking at it from across the bay. But the Cerro of
Montevideo is not a tourist site. It is a poor area.
Before the arrival of the 14th century Europeans, this
hill was significant, perhaps even sacred, to the aboriginal
inhabitants of the area, the Charruas,
a hunter-gathering people who selected elevated places in which to bury their
dead. These ancient people interred their dead with reverence and ritual.
Family members often inflicted physical torture on themselves.
Weapons and other personal
items accompanied the deceased’s journey to the other world. Horses were
sacrificed above their master’s tomb.
Museo Militar Fortaleza General Artigas
is the story on most of the surface of the earth, Uruguay has
its history of warfare, bloodshed, political conflicts and
economic fluctuations. In 1808 the last military construction
of the colonial period was built on top of the Cerro. Called
the Museo Militar Fortaleza General Artigas (Fortress General
Artigas Military Museum), it was not originally intended to
do anything other than protect the lighthouse on the site.
But today the museum houses a collection of rifles and weaponry,
with murals depicting Uruguay’s history on the walls.
And then, overseeing these armaments, stands the patroness
of artillery, the Blessed Santa Barbara. Also patron saint
of those murdered, her symbol is a cannon.
* * *
Oriental Republic of Uruguay is in the south of South America,
bordered by the Atlantic Ocean between
It is slightly smaller than the state of Washington. Suriname
is the smallest South American country, followed by Uruguay.
Three-quarters of its land is grassland, ideal for raising
cattle and sheep. Uruguay’s generally well-to-do economy
features an export-oriented agriculture, a well-educated
workforce, and high levels of social spending. After a brief
the economy was expected to resume growth in 2004.
a population of 3.5 million, Uruguay contains one of South
most interesting capitals, charming colonial towns, the hilly
interior (true gaucho country) and a cluster
of internationally renowned beach resorts. It has impressive
artistic and literary traditions with international acclaim
going to artist Pedro Figari, writer Jose Enrique Rodo and
playwright Mauricio Rosencof.
of artistic traditions, the people of Uruguay insist that Tango,
the dance of beautiful
women in tight dresses,
elegant men, and sensual movements,
was born in their country. People in Argentina disagree. But Tango is also
known as the dance of “River Plate Blues”, heavier
and sadder, and this is the original Uruguayan Tango.
music and dance is more than 100 years old, the first
song composed in 1886. La Cumparsita*, the hymn of Tango, was
written in 1917. The lyrics in Tango songs always deal
women swearing revenge on men who betrayed them; abandoned
men yelling for lost love. Hate, passion and madness predominate
in lyrics about lost hopes, broken lives. But the power of
Tango lies in transforming all those existential problems into
pure energy and joy in living. This highly stylized dance was
originally considered dirty, not suitable for the upper classes.
Tango is never danced alone, and honest women were not supposed
to dance Tango, therefore men danced with other men to practice
for their late night adventures. In the 1920’s Tango
became socially acceptable and conquered all the dance halls.
But the 40’s were the “Golden Decade” of
Tango where Tango was in Uruguay, Argentina, the U.S.
. . . The masked parade of endless miseries promenades
around that sick being that soon will die of sorrow
. . .I keep the love I had for
you . . . who knows, if you knew that I never forgot you, returning to your
past, you would remember me . . .
will remember Uruguay, a complex country, by including
of the soil of the Cerro of Montevideo into the composite
Ground 191 fresco. We will remember
its history, the Charruas, its artillery museum, art, Santa Barbara, and
. . . Tango.
Top | Back