The first culture to exist here was amongst the native Indians of the region. Within the culture many legends are told of how the world’s biggest waterfalls were formed. One such legend tells about the Caingangue Indians, living on the borders of the Iguaçu River, who believed that the world was ruled by M´BOY, the snake god, son of Tupa. The chief of the tribe, Ignobi, had a beautiful daughter called Naipi.
Due to her great beauty her father chose to offer her to the god M´BOY as a token of worship, planning for her to be consecrated to live solely for his cult. Among the young men of the Caingangue tribe there was a young warrior called Tarobá, who fell in love with Naipi. On the day the festival of consecration was announced, while the chief and the witch doctor drank cauim (an alcoholic concoction made of fermented maize) and the warriors danced, Tarobá fled with Naipi in a canoe and they were carried down river by the current.
The snake god, M´BOY, was furious when he found out Naipi had run away with her lover and threw himself into the bowels of the earth. He twisted his body with such anger causing a huge fissure, and in so doing created a gigantic waterfall. Swallowed up by the waters, the two lovers were dragged into the immense waterfall. Naipi was transformed into a rock, lying immediately below the falls, lashed by the wild waters. Tarobá was changed into a palm tree standing on the edge of the abyss. Beneath this palm tree is a cave where the vindictive monster eternally watches his victims.
The town of Foz do Iguaçu has a bit of an international flavor, not only due to the tourists going to visit the falls, but due also to people visiting Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, the biggest shopping centre in Latin America. This is a tourist attraction in itself and is a smugglers paradise, attracting mainly Brazilian and Argentinean visitors in search of bargain prices for electrical goods, watches, perfumes etc.
Entering the city of Foz do Iguaçu you can see people carrying enormous heavy bags, at least twice their size, strapped to their backs. Nearing the border control many throw their bags over the side of the bridge, jump down onto the riverbank after them and climb back up the slope with their valuables, undoubtedly worth more than the US$150 allowed duty free by the law. Customs inspectors watch with disinterest. These items are mainly sold on the streets of Sao Paulo and other major Brazilian and Argentinean cities.
The most impressive remains of a Jesuit Aldeia can be found in San Ignacio Mini, a beautiful little town just across the border in the Misiones region of Argentina. San Ignacio was founded on its present site in 1696 and is today maintained by UNESCO as a National Monument. The ruins of parallel blocks of stone buildings, containing one-room dwellings, flanking a 100 sq meter grass covered plaza can be seen, as well as public buildings and a large church with bas-relief sculpture.
The site has a museum with representations of the lives of the Guarani Indians before the arrival of the Spanish and also the work of the Jesuits and the consequences of their expulsion, as well as a fine model of the mission in its heyday. At the height of its prosperity in 1731 San Ignacio contained 4,356 people. In 1767, Charles III of Spain expelled the Jesuits from Spanish territory and the Franciscans and Dominicans then took over.
After the Jesuits had gone, there was a rapid decline in prosperity. By 1784 the town only had 176 Indians remaining and by 1810 there were none left. In 1817 all settlements were evacuated and San Ignacio was set on fire. The village was lost in the jungle until 1897, when it was discovered again and in 1943 the Argentine Government took control.
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