Manuel Ortiz Guerrero was a Paraguayan poet, playwright and musician. He is regarded as one of the most prolific writers in Paraguay, who rose to popularity through his works in Spanish and Guarani, in particular. His interest in poetry developed while he was still a young student. By the time he reached college, he had become a full-fledged poet, who later established as a renowned writer by publishing his works in the college student magazine. The 1920s period proved highly fruitful for him as he released several of his poems, apart from authoring two plays. His encounter with Paraguayan musician and creator of Guarania music genre led to the composition of the song ‘India’ which was later declared as the ‘national song’ by the Paraguayan government in 1944. Besides, he went on to create some amazing Guarania songs, like ‘Cerro Cora’, ‘Kerasy’, ‘Nde rendape aju’, and ‘Panambi Vera’, which are still considered classic pieces. However, his leprous condition, which he contracted as a teenager, together with the Hansen’s disease, cut short his literary career, ending his life at a very young age. Nevertheless, he works touched the lives of many Guarani readers through his impressive poetic productions, which is why he is counted among the most loved literary figures in Paraguay
Childhood & Early Life
Manuel Ortiz Guerrero was born on July 16, 1894, in Ybaroty, Villarrica del Espiritu Santo, Paraguay, to Vicente Ortiz and Susana Guerrero. His mother died while giving birth to him and he was, therefore, brought up by his grandmother, Dona Florencia Ortiz.
After completing his primary studies at a Villarrica school in 1908, he enrolled in the Colegio Nacional de Villarrica, where he was introduced to poetry and composed his first poems.
He went to Brazil with his father in 1912, where he participated in an armed struggle and put into exile. There, he fell terribly ill with leprosy.
Upon his return to Villarrica in 1913, he moved to Asuncion in 1914 to resume his studies at Colegio Nacional de la Capital.
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His work started getting recognized when he released his poems through his college student magazine, ‘Revista del Centro Estudiantil’, in 1915.
Among his most celebrated works was ‘Loca’, published in the ‘Letras’ magazine, as a representative of Paraguayan modernism. His other modernist works revolved around romanticism, like ‘Diana de gloria’, ‘Raida poty’, and ‘La sortija’.
In 1917, he left Asuncion and returned to Villarrica, where he was diagnosed with Hansen’s disease.
He chose to write in Guarani, the native and official language of Paraguay, and went on to publish a series of poems during the 1920s, which included ‘Surgente’ (1921), ‘Nubes del Este’ (1928), and ‘Pepitas’ (1930).
He launched the magazine, Orbita, in 1922 and opened a publishing house, Zurucu’a, in 1924, where he took up editing pamphlets, receipt books, brochures, and other documents to earn a living.
In 1928, he met Paraguayan composer and creator of Guarania music genre, Jose Asuncion Flores, with whom he created some beautiful Guarani songs, such as ‘Panambi vera’, ‘Kerasy’, ‘Nde rendape aju’, and ‘Paraguaype’.
He wrote his only collection of short poems titled ‘Nuggets’ in 1928.
He created a few pieces in Spanish as well - the most popular among them being ‘India’ and ‘Buenos Aires’.
He also established himself as a successful playwright, composing one-act comedy ‘Eirete’ (1921), three-act tragedy ‘El crimen de Tintalila’ (The Crime of Quintanilla, 1922), and four-act drama ‘La conquista’ (The Conquest, 1926).
Two of his works were published posthumously – ‘Obras completas’ (Complete Works) in 1952 and ‘Arenillas de mi Tierra’ (Sand from my Country) in 1969.
His poem ‘India’, set to music by noted Paraguayan musician, Flores, became the ‘national song’ of Paraguay in 1944 and was regarded as his best composition.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Dalmatia in 1921 in Villarrica. The duo relocated to Asuncion in 1922 and built a home in San Lorenzo where he stayed for the remaining of his life.
He died prematurely on May 8, 1933, aged 39, in exile in Buenos Aires.
His body was flown to his hometown, Asuncion, where his ashes were interred in a central square, bearing the name ‘Manuel Ortiz Guerrero y Jose Asuncion Flores’.
To make ends meet, he used a typography machine to print his own poems and went door-to-door selling them.
During his last days, he used to ask his visiting friends and well-wishers to stay at a distance from his bed, where he laid ill in the darkest corner of his room