Before Las Marías became Las Marías…
The history of Las Marías goes back to prehistoric times, when the Guarani natives controlled the region and occupied these lands they called Umbú. Pleasant moments and mates shared in the generous shade of these trees may have inspired the name of this area that lay by the side of a road looking towards the Southern Cross.
That road would later be taken by the Jesuits during their peaceful conquest; it would then become the Camino Real de los Yerbales (Royal Mate Plantation Road) and would eventually develop into the present National Route Nº 14. Likewise, the missionary estancia at Umbú would in time become a huge cattle raising venture by the name of Vuelta del Ombú, which would presently grow into the city of Virasoro and Establecimiento Las Marías.
After the war against Paraguay, Uruguayan Victor Navajas, then a prominent resident of the city of Santo Tomé and one of its re-founders, purchased the Vuelta del Ombú estancia. When he died , he passed the property to his seven sons. In 1912, shortly before his death, one of his sons, Adolfo Navajas, gave the name of Las Marías to the portion of land that he had inherited on the southern end of the Estancia, near the Jesuit chapel of Saint Mary. That same year, his widow, Concepción Centeno de Navajas, moved into the estancia with her four children, determined to stay and make a living on the land, adding plantations to the classic cattle raising activities. Defying tradition, in 1912, this lady bought two thousand plants of yerba mate and planted them at Las Marías; titlehough she did not meet with success, the seeds of the effort remained within the family.
Las Marías and its founder
In that same year 1912, Victor Elías Navajas Centeno, an orphan at nine, wrote his grandmother a premonitory letter, thanking her for some citrus plants he had received on his tenth birthday: “…with her [his mother] and the laborers we planted the beautiful plants very carefully, and may the Lord grant that we be fortunate and they all take root and the wicked ants leave us alone so that we may one day see you eating their fruit”. Twelve years later the inspired child, grown into a dynamic, brilliant man, would defy the traditions of the area once more and plant yerba mate plants, this time successfully. By 1924, he had the southernmost mate plantation in the planet. A year later, his young, beautiful wife, María Silvia Artaza , gave him his first son.
Don Victor’s work persisted, and in a few years he had excellent yerba mate plantations. He then overcame the difficulties of selling his yerba by processing it and packaging it on site. This was a clever and daring move considering the distances, and he developed this enterprise until it became an integrated production line with quality control right from the inception of the plant up to the consumer. It didn’t take long for Taragüi to be the leading product of its kind.
Instead of slowing down to enjoy the well-deserved reward of his success, Victor Navajas Centeno preferred to enjoy while moving forward. During the 1940s he consolidated his position, completed his family with the birth of his fourth son and assumed his commitment to society, sharing the benefits of progress with the workers who helped him in his business. Long before the law made it mandatory, Las Marías offered its people a Christmas bonus and paid vacations, as well as adequate housing, education (with the building of its first school) and hetitleh (Hetitleh Service center within the plant).
Thus, Taragüi became a formula for success, and its triumphant football team turned into the tangible embodiment of a spirit that brought together workers and overseers, owners and referees in the same cloud of dust, on the same path, giving birth to the Taragüi Club and to the singular community that Las Marías is today.
In the 1940s and 1950s, productive activity multiplied with the incorporation of the older sons. Black tea, which had been cultivated successfully in the region of Misiones, was now fully included in the company’s agenda, and in a few years Las Marías was producing a high quality black tea recognized worldwide. Forestry work started in response to the challenge of using the lowlands, not suitable for the cultivation of yerba mate or black tea, and gave rise to the development of a complete lumber industry. Close up north, in the province of Misiones, a network of drying facilities was set up to process the abundant mate grown on lands reclaimed from the jungle.
As his fourth son joined the business in the 1960s, Don Victor Navajas decided to retire. He undertook cattle raising, the original activity of the estancia, developing the groundwork for intensive cattle raising with the expert help of his second son. He would go around his fields in his Citroen 2 CV and follow closely the performance of his men in the management of the business. During those years Don Victor created the Victoria Jean Navajas Foundation, focused on education, expanding the small school that he had founded in 1944 for the children of his employees and thus giving official status to his company’s contribution to the community. He traveled around the world, built the chapel of Las Marías Cemetery in a display of traditional good taste, and, at the age of 64, died in Barcelona on July 10, 1967.