The culture of Paraguay is quite unique from that of other Latin American countries, as demonstrated in the fact that 95% of the inhabitants speak the indigenous language. Theater is a popular medium, with occasional offerings in Guarani as well as in Spanish. Visual arts of startling unconventionality can be seen in many galleries. Paraguay's pre-eminent literary figure, the poet-novelist Augusto Roa Bastos, received the 1989 Cervantes prize. A sector of the pop-culture tends to imitate the pop culture of the US, but Paraguayans still hold tightly to their own cultural emblems in art and literature.
Musically, Paraguayan folk music tends to be nationalistic, spirited, and varied. Dances, such as the polka and the bottle dance (so-called because the performer will swing around with a jar on her head), are often lively expressions of the themes of love, home, and cultural unity. Popular instruments include the guitar and the harp, often used to produce slow and lachrymose songs. The musical style is historically European-derived, with little or no traces of African, Brazilian, or Argentinean influences. Famous folk musicians include Luis Alberto del Parana (1926 - 1974), who distinguished himself worldwide as one of the best tenors in Latin America as he traveled publicizing Paraguayan cultural music.
Meat dishes as well as tropical and subtropical foodstuffs play an important role in the Paraguayan diet. Grains and the potato-like manioca (yucca) are incorporated into almost all meals. Dishes include locro (a maize stew), mazamorra (corn mush), mbaipy so-o' (a hot maize pudding with meat chunks), and sooyo sopy (a thick soup made of ground meat and served with rice or noodles). Desserts include mbaipy he'e', a mix of corn, milk, and molasses.
One of the most noticeable social customs is relaxing with a cup of herb tea, terere (cold) or mate (hot). The specially designed cup, a guampa, is filled with crushed herbs and passed from person to person around in a circle. Every one shares the same bombilla, the special filtered straw, and drinks all the liquid in the cup before passing it back to the server. The youngest person in the circle normally has the duty of keeping the cup supplied with water for each person who drinks from it. This social tea provides a chance for community bonding and deep relaxation, and the yerba also has medicinal qualities. Terere breaks are frequent, so the people take in so much water that serving water at a meal table can be an insult.
Paraguay is a developing nation of polarities between the very rich and the poor, the young and the old. The nation needs a vision for growth, especially in education, technology, and medicine.