POPULATION: Over 3 million
LANGUAGE: Spanish; Portuñol dialect
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism; some Judaism; Afro-Brazilian churches; evangelical Protestantism
The Portuguese, based in Brazil, migrated south into Uruguay in 1680 where they founded a colony called Colonial de Sacramento. In 1726, Spain established a fort in nearby Montevideo (mohn-teh-vih-DAY-oh), the present-day capital of Uruguay. After a struggle between the two colonial powers, Uruguay fell under Portuguese control. It later became a province of Brazil. Uruguay was granted full independence in 1828, through an agreement between Argentina and Brazil. After independence, power alternated between two major political parties. They were called the Colorados (Reds) and the Blancos (Whites). A violent civil war lasted from the mid-1830s to 1851.
In the late 1960s, economic difficulties and the activities of a terrorist group known as the Tupamaros led to political instability. In 1973, a military dictatorship assumed control of the government. Democracy was restored in 1985.
Uruguay is located between Brazil and Argentina on the Atlantic coast of South America. Its terrain is characterized by gently rolling hills and natural grasslands. A high proportion of Uruguay's territory is suitable for agriculture. Most of Uruguay's grasslands are currently used for grazing.
The total population of Uruguay is over 3 million people. Uruguay does not have a native population. Since 1830 the Uruguayans have been ethnically European, descended mainly from Italians or Spaniards.
The official language of Uruguay is Spanish. In regions close to the Brazilian border, a Spanish-Portuguese dialect called Portuñol (or Portuniol) is spoken.
There are conflicting legends explaining the name given to Uruguay's capital, Montevideo. Both originate in Ferdinand Magellan's visit to the region in 1520. According to one legend, a sailor on Magellan's ship saw land and shouted, "Monte vide eu" —"I see a hill." The other version is based on a Spanish phrase found on early maps: "Monte VI de E.O.," or "The sixth hill from east to west."
Most Uruguayans are Roman Catholic. There is a sharp separation between church and state. Many religious holidays have even been given secular names. Christmas, for instance, is widely referred to as Family Day. Similarly, Easter Week is known as Criollo Week.
Perhaps the most celebrated holiday in Uruguay is Carnival. This is a week-long celebration that marks the beginning of Lent (in February). There is a series of street parades, as well as drinking, feasting, and dancing.
Many of Uruguay's festivals celebrate its cattle-raising heritage. During Easter Week (in March or April), a Cowboy Festival (Fiesta Gaucha) is held in Montevideo. Rodeo competitions are the main event.
Major life transitions, such as birth, puberty, and death, are marked by rituals appropriate to each Uruguayan's religion.
To say goodbye, most Uruguayans have adopted the Italian ciao or addio in place of the Spanish adios . It is proper to kiss someone both when saying hello and upon departing.
When invited to an Uruguayan home, one may be offered mate, an herbal tea. Traditionally, mate is drunk through a silver straw, called a bombilla, from a carved gourd (hollow fruit).
Montevideo is a modern city, with high-rise apartments and office buildings. Many of the poorer residents, however, live in small homes or shacks on the outskirts of the city. In rural areas, Uruguayan cowboys, called gauchos, live in simple communal housing on farms where they work. Other rural dwellers live in adobe homes.
Marriage in Uruguay can be formalized through a civil ceremony. Families in Uruguay are relatively small compared with other countries in the region. Most urban families choose to limit the size of their families. In rural areas, however, there is less access to birth control, and women typically have more children.
Urban Uruguayans wear modern Western dress. Today's youths favor jeans and T-shirts. Suits and ties are appropriate attire for businessmen. Uruguay's gauchos (cow-boys) proudly wear the distinctive clothing of their ancestors. They sport baggy pants called bombachas . Wide-brimmed black hats offer protection from the midday sun. Woolen ponchos are used for warmth in the evenings.
Not surprisingly for a cattle-ranching country, beef figures prominently in Uruguayan cuisine. Churrasco, or grilled steak, can be said to be the national dish. Also very popular are chivitos: hot steak sandwiches, topped with bacon, eggs, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes.
Serve the meat and vegetable in bowls with a little of the broth. Mustard, mayonnaise, tomato, onion, or pepper sauce may be served as accompaniments.
Recipe courtesy of the Embassy of Uruguay.
The Uruguayans have also adapted traditional Spanish dishes. A Uruguayan version of puchero, Spanish meat stew, is sometimes cooked with blood sausage.
Uruguayans have a literacy rate (percentage of the population who can read and write) of over 97 percent. Children receive six required years of elementary education. These are followed by six years of secondary schooling, divided into two three-year stages.
Perhaps the most celebrated Uruguayan poet was Juan Zorrilla de San Martin (1855–1931). A more recent writer of international acclaim is Juan Carlos Onetti, a contemporary novelist. Uruguay's musical tradition reflects a historical Spanish influence. As in Argentina, the tango is a popular dance form. Candombe, an Afro-Brazilian music and dance form, is also popular.
Agriculture is the driving force behind the Uruguayan economy. Sheep and cattle ranching are the most important agricultural activities. Many urban dwellers find work in industries related to the processing of agricultural products. These including canning, brewing, and the leather industry. Montevideo businesses offer jobs as waiters, taxi drivers, and shopkeepers. Unemployment, however, is a major problem. Many Uruguayans resort to such jobs as street vending and tailoring.
Uruguayans love soccer (futbol), both as spectators and participants. They are equally passionate about horses. Rodeos are always well attended. Horse racing is also very popular. Like Argentina, Uruguay also has a passion for polo.
Many Uruguayan families flock to the beaches on weekends for rest and recreation. The coastal forests provide numerous sites for camping and fishing. Montevideo has a varied night life. Restaurants, cinemas, and musical shows are widely attended on weekends.
Uruguayans excel in producing handcrafted leather goods auch as belts, hats, boots, and purses. Montevideo has a well-known handicraft cooperative called Manos de Uruguay (Hands of Uruguay). Members of the cooperative spin and dye wool, knit sweaters, and also make ceramic crafts.
Unemployment is high, typically ranging from 10 to 15 percent. There is also a serious lack of housing.
Finch, Martin. Uruguay. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Clio, 1989.
Haverstock, Nathan A. Uruguay in Pictures. Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications Co., 1987.
Morrison, Marion. Uruguay. Enchantment of the World Series. Chicago: Children's Press, 1992.