ASUNCION – Maundy Thursday means that it is time once again in Paraguay for Karu Guasu, or “big feast” in the Guarani language, with an abundance of meats being prepared to fill bellies before the fasting and Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.
Beef, pork and sometimes lamb are combined for a hearty lunch served with “chipa,” bread rolls made with mandioc starch and cheese as a symbol of Paraguay’s gastronomic identity.
The menu includes typical Paraguayan dishes, such as “sopa,” which, despite being called soup, is solid and reminds one of a salty cake made with corn, onions, eggs, fresh cheese and cream.
Tradition dictates that an authentic chipa must be prepared and cooked the day before in a “tatakua,” or doomed brick oven whose name in Guarani means “fire hole.”
Ideally, chipa dough should be placed on banana leaves, rather than on metal or glass trays, in the tatakua, David Galeano, director of the Guarani Language and Culture Center, told EFE.
The tatakua’s size makes it difficult to have one in every home, so Karu Guasu is a tradition carried on mostly in rural areas in Paraguay, a country where 85 percent of the population identifies as Catholic, the highest rate in Latin America.
Preparations for the Karu Guasu begin on Wednesday morning with the gathering of firewood and cooking of typical foods.
Once the feast is over on Holy Thursday evening, Paraguayan Catholics attend Mass and participate in the ritual of washing feet in remembrance of Jesus’ tending to his apostles the night before his crucifixion.
Galeano said Maundy Thursday night was also the time for the cries of the “pasioneros” or “estacionarios,” groups of about 15 people who gather around churches to chant their “purahei asy,” or mourning lamentations.