The Paraguayan government has said in a new documentary that the Guarani people of South America played a football-like game about 200 years before soccer, or football, as we know it became popular.
Titled “The Guarani Invented Football,” the film released by the country's culture ministry, retraces the description of seventeenth-century Catholic missionaries in the region who wrote about indigenous tribesmen playing a game with a crude, rubber inflatable ball that players had to control with their feet. The documentary, however, does not claim that the Guarani invented modern-day football.
"We're not here looking to stake a claim on behalf of the Guarani," Paraguayan Culture Minister Mabel Causarano said, adding: "We just want to highlight a curious historical fact, which is that they were already playing a ball game with their feet when the Jesuits arrived shortly after 1600," Causarano told Agence France-Presse, or AFP, in a report.
When the first Europeans landed in South America, the Guarani people inhabited a region that extended across large parts of the newly discovered continent, including parts of today’s Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. Although their control over the region greatly declined during centuries of European colonization, the Guarani remain an important indigenous community especially in Paraguay, where Guarani is an official language alongside Spanish, and is spoken by about 95 percent of the population.
Antonio Betancort, head priest of San Ignacio Guazu, the oldest Jesuit mission in Paraguay founded in 1609, reportedly said that the first Jesuit missionaries arriving at the new colony wrote letters to the Vatican describing how native tribesmen played a game with a “bouncing ball,” which was called “mangai” after the Mangaisi tree that natives tapped to extract a rubbery resin used to make the bouncing ball. Historians also reportedly said that tribesmen also used the sticky resin to hunt parrots by spreading it on tree branches to trap the birds.
"The Guarani would make a vertical incision in the trunk to extract the thick, sticky liquid," Julio Galeano, head of the San Ignacio museum, reportedly said.
Bartomeu Melia, an expert on Guarani culture and a Jesuit priest, reportedly said that the natives would make the football by forming a ball of wet sand before covering it with layers of Mangaisi resin. The locals would then use a bamboo straw to inflate the ball.
"The ball bounced a lot and players had to have good coordination to control it and dribble it," Galeano reportedly said.
However, unlike modern football, the game did not involve scoring goals. Instead, the games went on until one team quit from exhaustion.
"The problem is that every match ended 0-0," Betancort reportedly said.
After the Jesuits began converting the tribesmen, the game would be played on Sundays after mass. Other indigenous groups on the continent like the Aztecs and the Inca people also reportedly played ball games much before the arrival of the Europeans in South America. However, there has been no documented link between them and the Guarani game.
"I don't think the Guarani invented football, but every civilization adds something to the game," historian Jorge Rubbiani reportedly said.
In 1863, the first set of rules for modern football was published by England’s Football Association with the first international football match being held in 1872 between England and Scotland. However, evidence suggests that the origin of football is much older with ball games using feet dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. In the early fifteenth century, English royalty also reportedly played an organized form of the game, the report said.