Indigenous peoples in Uruguay

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The last Charrúas.

Indigenous peoples in Uruguay, or Native Uruguayans, are practically extinct.[1]

Scholars do not agree about the first settlers in what is now Uruguay; but there is evidence that there was human presence some 10,000 years BCE, the Homo catalanensis culture. Indigenous Uruguayans disappeared in the 1830s, and with the exception of the Guaraní, little is known about these peoples, and even less about their genetic characteristics.[2]

The Charrúa peoples were perhaps the most-talked-about indigenous people of the Southern Cone in what was known as the Banda Oriental.[3] During pre-colonial times Uruguayan territory was inhabited by small tribes of nomadic Charrua, Chana, Arachan and Guarani peoples. They were a semi-nomadic people who survived by hunting, fishing and gathering and probably never reached more than 10,000 – 20,000 people.[4]

It is estimated that there were about 9,000 Charrúa and 6,000 Chaná and Guaraní at the time of contact with Europeans in the 1500s. By the time of independence, some 300 years later, there were only about 500 native peoples remaining in Uruguay. The cause of most of the decline in native populations was disease. Europeans brought many new diseases to the New World including influenza, syphilis, tuberculosis, and smallpox. With no immunity to these diseases, native peoples were quickly decimated.[5]

Native peoples had almost disappeared by the time of Independence as a result of European diseases and constant warfare. European genocide culminated on April 11, 1831 with the Massacre of Salsipuedes, where most of the Charrua men were killed by the Uruguayan army on the orders of President Fructuoso Rivera, and the remaining 300 Charrua women and children were divided as household slaves and servants among Europeans. By 1840 there were only 18 surviving Charrua in Uruguay.[6]

Other significant tribes were the Minuane, Yaro, Güenoa, Chaná, Bohán, Arachán.

Languages once spoken in the area include Charrúa, Chaná, Güenoa, Guaraní.

Nowadays a minor percentage of Uruguayans have indigenous descent.[7][8] According to the 2011 Census, 2.4% of the population reported having indigenous ancestry.[9] A 2009 DNA study in the American Journal of Human Biology showed a genetic composition of 92% European, 7% African, and 1% Native American in Montevideo.[10]

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