A key element of the Jesuit mission program on the frontiers of Spanish America was to recast the social structure, religion and world view, and work habits of the different native groups congregated on the missions. The goal was to create stable politically autonomous sedentary native communities on the model of the pueblos de indios in central México and the Andean Highlands. The Jesuits and the members of other orders (primarily Franciscans) drew upon the experiences of the first missionaries, the Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians who evangelized the large native populations of the advanced native societies the Spanish subjugated in the Andean region and central México in the sixteenth century. The missionary program in Spanish America was part of a larger international impulse during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Africa, the Americas, and Asia. At the same time the missionaries on the frontiers experienced unique challenges dictated by such factors as climate, the levels of social and political organization of the different native groups, and conflict with hostile natives and rival colonial powers.
Spanish American missions have received more attention from scholars in recent years, and the new Latin American mission history has stressed the agency of natives in constructing their own history, and how native peoples defined their interactions with missionaries and in numerous ways limited the the types of social, cultural, and religious change the missionaries attempted to impose. In a recent study Eleanor Wake described how Franciscans stationed at Calimaya (Estado de Mexico, Mexico) discovered a group of natives making ritual sacrifices on Easter Sunday in 1610 related to Tlaloc and the water-earth-fertility religion central to the beliefs of an farmers dependent on rain. The natives had also erected a cross to which they made sacrifices. While ostensibly Christians, the natives at Calimaya and many other communities in central Mexico practiced the new faith alongside the told. Similarly, Erick Langer documented the ways in which the Chiiriguano chief Mandeponay and his son defined the terms of their relationship with Franciscan missionaries on the eastern frontier of Bolivia in the early twentieth century.
This essay examines the similar process of social and cultural change and religious conversion on the Jesuit missions of Paraguay and the Chiquitos frontier of what today is eastern Bolivia, in the Province of Paraguay. It also considers the limitations to the missionary programs on the frontier. One of the most difficult tasks in assessing social and cultural change is identifying the level of religious conversion, of the persistence of traditional religious beliefs, or the parallel process of religious syncretism or the blending of old and new religious beliefs. However, there are tantalizing clues in the documentation, and the reported behavior of the natives themselves. This essay also considers shifts in material culture, the transformation of the native clan structure in the missions, and the political organization of the mission communities. The discussion of this final issue takes into consideration the political/military organization of the Paraguay missions that evolved on a contested colonial frontier in the Rio de la Plata region. The organization and mobilization of the mission militia from the Paraguay missions contributed to the evolution of a hybrid political system on the missions, and to the growth of a collective identity among the Guarani mission residents similar to that of Chiriguano residents on the Franciscan missions that Langer documents. The first topic is religious conversion.
Jesuit missionaries routinely prepared reports to their superiors on the temporal and spiritual development of the mission communities under their charge. Evaluating the extent of religious conversion is the most difficult question when analyzing social and cultural change on the frontier missions. There were obstacles to conversion, such as language. The Jesuits and missionaries from other orders translated different texts used for religious instruction into native languages, but could not translate key concepts such as God or the resurrection. These were culturally embedded concepts that Europeans clearly understood after centuries of indoctrination, but that had no equivalent meanings in native language and cosmology. Instructional texts generally contained these concepts in Spanish, and it was up to the missionaries to teach the natives their meaning as best they could.
One factor that perhaps limited the approach the missionaries took to religious conversion was their own attitude towards and regarding the natives living on the missions. The Jesuits viewed the natives as having limited intellectual ability, and used visual images to convey the basic elements of doctrine, a strategy first developed in the early sixteenth-century missions in central Mexico and Peru. One Chiquitos missionary explained this approach in the following terms:
Because of their disorderly and barbarous way of living and their savage condition that we have described, these people are not capable of understanding reasoning, at least at the beginning of their religious education. We should therefore find some other means of implanting in them the knowledge, the adoration, and the fear of God, that is, we have to make use of external things that catch the eye, please the ear, and that can be touched with hands, until their mind develops in that direction.
The Jesuits also employed different types of visual aids in religious instruction, such as paintings mounted on frames. None survive from the Paraguay or Chiquitos missions, but images from other locations provide indications of their content. The final judgment and the perils of an eternity of torment and suffering in hell were important themes missionaries taught native peoples beginning in the sixteenth century. Missionaries believed that traditional religious practices were inspired by Satan and his demonic minions, and employed graphic images of hell to persuade natives to abandon their old religion. An eighteenth century painting of hell with punishments for different sins from the church at San Antonio Abad Caquiaviri is an example of the types of images that most likely were used in the Paraguay and Chiquitos missions.
How did natives who viewed these images respond to them? Graphic images of hell apparently did influence natives living on the Jesuit missions. Natives placed a great deal of importance on dreams as manifestations of their spirituality. One Jesuit missionary in the Chiquitos missions described the dream of a native named Lucas Xarupá, who described his descent to hell and his ascent to heaven.
(Xarupá saw) a corps of very ugly demons with terrible appearance and grotesque movements of body; some had a head of a tiger, other of a dragon and crocodile, still others had appearances of such monstrous and terrible forms that anyone would be discouraged from looking at them. All were emitting terrifying black flames from their mouths and from other parts of their bodies. They were yelling and moving around from one side to the other, imitating the dances of the Indians until they laid hands on the poor new Christian who was trembling believing that the festival was for him, and made a big fuss, yelling: ‘It’s him, him, Xarupá, our friend, who used to be our devotee and used the malicious witchcraft we had taught his grandparents.
The dream description filtered through the lens of the Jesuit missionary demonstrates a consistent conceptualization by the missionaries of pre-Hispanic religion as having been inspired by Satan. The account has demons in hell greeting the native as a former adherent to the old beliefs that the demons had taught the natives. Moreover, the demons mimicked the dances that were important elements in native spirituality and religious practices prior to the arrival of the missionaries. Xarupá had either fully embraced the Jesuit belief linking the old religion to Satan, or what was more likely is that the missionary used the dream description to emphasize a point in an account written for European audiences. However, what is also clear is that Xarupá had seen or had been taught a vision of hell populated by demons waiting to torment sinners.
Illus. 1: Mural depicting hell and the punishments for different sins dated to 1739 from the church at San Antonio Abad Caquiaviri, Alto Peru. From Akira Saito’s, “Art and Christian Conversion in Jesuit Missions on the Spanish South American Frontier,” in Yoshiro Sugimoto, ed., Anthropological Studies of Christianity and Civilization. Osaka: National Museum of Anthropology, 2006, 171-201. Photograph courtesy Akira Saito.
Processions also formed a very important part of the visual representation and manifestation of the new faith as practiced in the Paraguay and Chiquitos missions. From the very beginning of the missionary program the Jesuits stationed on the Paraguay missions received instructions to incorporate chapels dedicated to Our Lady of Loreto in the urban plans for the mission complexes, and chapels, such as those at Loreto and Santa Rosa missions, played a central role in processions similar to the capillas de posa in sixteenth-century central Mexican convents. Reports from the Paraguay missions noted the organization of penitential processions during Holy Week that included self-flagellation. Jesuits in both the Paraguay and Chiquitos missions also ordered penitential processions during epidemic outbreaks. Murals from the Franciscan convents San Martín de Tours Huaquechula and San Miguel Arcángel Huejotzingo and the Dominican convent at San Juan Bautista Teitipac depict participants in penitential or santo entierro processions wearing black and white robes, and in some cases using scourges for self-flagellation. Processions in the Paraguay and Chiquitos missions may have been similar.
In the Paraguay and Chiquitos missions the Jesuits targeted the clan chiefs (caciques) for early conversion, employing a strategy used by Christian missionaries for centuries. Conversion of political leaders facilitated the evangelization of their subjects, and in some cases resulted in mass baptisms following the cacique’s adoption of the new faith. Moreover, the Jesuits used the caciques to counter the influence of shaman. In other instances the missionaries themselves directly challenged shaman. At the same time some clan chiefs resisted conversion, and the forced life-style changes the missionaries demanded. The Jesuits expected the clan chiefs to give-up all but one of their wives. Polygamy marked the higher status of the clan chiefs, and adherence to the new social rules the Jesuits imposed undermined their traditional status. Following initial resistance, however, most clan chiefs converted and settled on the missions.
There is little evidence regarding how natives incorporated the new religion into their world view. The Jesuits marked progress in religious conversion as compliance with certain sacraments and obligatory acts. Confession and communion were important steps the missionaries reported, as was confirmation. The Jesuits reported on participation in religious precessions and feast days, and also measured progress through rote memorization of prayers. As long as natives progressed in these areas, the missionaries reported satisfactory results and the triumph of the new faith, but without really being able to measure the true extent of religious conversion. At the same time the missionaries and other church officials did not place sufficient faith in the conversion of the native groups living on the missions to propose the creation of native clergy. Natives were to be followers in a faith presided over by non-native religious specialists, and the Jesuits aggressively challenged the authority and influence of traditional native religious leaders.
One additional clue to the extent of or limitations to religious conversion is the failure to create a native clergy. Church officials throughout the colonial period generally rejected the idea of creating a native clergy, and the missionaries stationed on the frontier missions in Paraguay and the Chiquitos region. While some missionaries stressed the spiritual progress of the natives under their jurisdiction, and level of conversion was never to the point of supporting the creation of a native clergy. In this regards the natives living on the missions never became full members of the Christian community.
Measuring Conversion in the Paraguay and Chiquitos Missions
In 1718, Pedro Fajardo, Bishop of Buenos Aires, toured the Paraguay missions, and confirmed a total of 73,657 Guaraní in the new faith. His tour coincided with the outbreak of a smallpox epidemic that killed thousands of Guaraní. The bishop confirmed a large percentage of the residents of most although not all of the missions. It was 4,460 at San Lorenzo, which reported a population of 3,783 in 1714 and 4,697 in 1720; 3,095 at San Ignacio Guazú, the first mission, which counted 5,330 Guaraní in 1714 and 2,738 six years later in 1720; and 490 at Jesús de Tavarangue, which had a population of 1,420 in 1714 and 1,790 in 1720.
High ranking officials visited the Paraguay missions only sporadically. Nevertheless, the Jesuits needed to measure the level of progress in the religious conversion of the Guaraní. This they accomplished by quantifying the sacrament of communion, that followed confession. The Jesuit superior of the Paraguay missions was responsible for preparing annual summary censuses of the population and vital rates of the individual Paraguay missions. They also reported in the censuses the number of communions recorded at each of the missions. In most years the number of communions exceeded the populations of the missions (see Table 1 and Figure 1). Measurement of compliance with certain sacraments constituted the primary means the Jesuits used as the benchmark for conversion on their missions throughout Spanish America.
The Jesuits also emphasized compliance with certain sacraments as the measure of religious conversion on the Chiquitos missions. In a series of annual reports, the Jesuits assigned to the Chiquitos missions reported apparent progress in the conversion of the different native groups congregated on the missions. At the same time there is tantalizing evidence of the persistence of native practices, including funerary practices. Early reports noted that the natives already confessed and received communion during lent and on certain feast days. At the same time the Jesuits continued to congregate non-Christians, and the mission populations counted neophytes with differing levels of indoctrination. Later reports claimed further progress in conversion, as more natives confessed, received communion, and were confirmed by a bishop, in this case the bishop of Santa Cruz de la Sierra who visited the Chiquitos missions in 1734. These were the steps that the Jesuits deemed necessary for the neophytes to be incorporated into the Christian community.
The reports prepared by the Jesuit missionaries provide no clues as to the ways that the natives themselves perceived, processed, and incorporated the new religion into their world view, and the relationship between the new faith and their traditional beliefs. In reporting conversion statistics and compliance with sacraments, the missionaries appear to have believed that the natives fully embraced the new faith. As noted above, the Jesuits also reported the organization of processions, and of congregaciones similar to confraternities, although they did not provide many details of the activities of the congregaciones other than to note the religious fervor of the enrolled congregants, their attendance at mass, and the recitation of the rosary. One exception was a 1734 report on San José that described a funeral procession for a congregant and noted that other congregants and the leaders of the congregación attended the dying and prepared the passage to the afterlife. This description, in turn, suggests that the natives incorporated traditional burial practices, and particularly the involvement of other community (clan members?) in the burial through the congregación. The natives only minimally involved the Jesuit missionary in the public phase of the burial. The mission residents readily incorporated the congregaciones into their practice of Catholicism, and may have used the congregaciones to provide cover for the preservation of some traditional religious-social practices, including the role of clan chiefs in public rituals such as the burial described in the 1734 report.
The Jesuits preserved and re-enforced the traditional social and political clan structure in the missions, including the authority of the clan chiefs. The description of funerary practices at San José suggests that the clan chiefs had reciprocal obligations to clan members that included attending the dead in the passage to the afterlife, and used the congregaciones to continue exercising this role cloaked in a recently introduced Catholic institution. This covert role may, in turn, explain the enthusiasm the Jesuits reported of the residents of the Chiquitos missions who wanted to join the congregaciones. As anthropologist Akira Saito noted, native peoples in the South American lowlands inclined to unmediated (without images or statues) contact with spiritual forces. The congregaciones most likely provided natives an autonomous area in which to develop their spirituality on their own terms.
Material Culture Retention and Change
Cultural retention and change and ethnic identity can also be measured in the analysis of material culture. Data collected from archaeological excavations at several Jesuit mission sites in Brazil provide tantalizing clues to the process of cultural retention, change, and adaptation. During the early phase of congregation and community formation the Guaraní brought to live on the missions retained their traditional material culture and life ways, including the use of stone tools, the form and production technology of ceramics, and dietary habits. Excavations of the early site of San Ignacio Mini in Guairá (Paraná, Brazil), founded in 1610 and abandoned in the mid 1630s following bandeirante raids, produced evidence of a high level of material cultural retention, but also the introduction of European cultural elements that began to modify Guaraní life ways. Excavations of two mission sites in Tape (Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil) that date to the 1630s, San Joaquín and Jesús María, also produced evidence of Guaraní use of traditional ceramics, but also of European and Christian influences.
Excavations of eighteenth century mission sites in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, at San Miguel, San Juan Bautista, San Nicolás, and San Lorenzo Mártir, provided evidence of retention of material culture, but also significant changes in Guaraní life ways and the blending of traditional Guaraní and European material culture. Artifacts from the Guaraní residence area at San Lorenzo Mártir documented life way changes such as the consumption of beef, but also continuity as seen in the use of stone tools and of traditional ceramic types. The Jesuits established San Lorenzo Mártir in 1691 with Guaraní converts from Santa María la Mayor mission, located near the west bank of the Uruguay River. This Guaraní population had lived in Santa María mission for some 60 years when the Jesuits transferred more than 3,000 people to establish the new mission. Ceramics are a significant ethnic identifier, and the analysis of ceramics from San Lorenzo Mártir demonstrated the persistence of very strong ethnic identity as documented in the use of traditional ceramic designs that predated Spanish colonization. At the same time the Guaraní made use of European ceramic production technology in the mission. Artifact assemblages from the Guaraní residence area excavated also suggested that the natives predominately used their traditional ceramic designs produced with European technology, and made less use of new colonial ceramics that incorporated European designs.
Artifact assemblages from the missions also provide evidence of the adaptation of new technology, such as the use of metal implements and weapons. Although Guaraní populations were in contact with Andean peoples that used metal, they still relied on stone implements. The analysis of metal artifacts from four mission sites in Rio Grande do Sul showed the use of metal implements for activities such as hunting, fishing, and war found in structures used primarily by the Guaraní, such as the cabildo. At the same time, as already noted, the Guaraní continued to use stone tools.
The archaeological record also suggested social stability in the missions, and closed communities following the early stage of community formation. In other words, the Jesuits did not congregate natives from other ethnic groups, groups that had distinct ethnic identifiers that could be detected in the record of material culture. The process of cultural change in the Paraguay missions as measured in material culture was different from missions on other frontiers that were demographically unstable, and where the missionaries continued to congregate non-Christians. Nuestra Señora de la Soledad mission in California, established in 1791, provides an example of shifts in material culture related to demographic instability, changes in colonial policy, and the congregation of non-Christians from outside of the mission community. Archaeological excavations at Soledad mission showed a higher retention of traditional native culture as the role of the missions changed. Contrary to the accepted model of cultural change that holds that traditional culture declined the longer natives lived under colonial rule, retention of material culture increased following an initial emphasis on cultural assimilation.
After about 1810, the role of the California missions changed as a consequence of the outbreak of the independence movement in central México that left the military and civil administration without reliable funding. The Franciscans placed greater emphasis on economic production that relied on the exploitation of native labor, and less stress on cultural change.
As long as the Indians carried out Christian religious activities and the tasks assigned to them, the missionaries did not enforce other aspects of Spanish culture as rigorously as before [1790s]. The result was
increased continuity of traditional native activities
The shift in emphasis from acculturation to economic production in support of the colonial regime altered the course of assimilation, and the surviving native population retained more traditional culture also reintroduced by recently congregated groups, and acquired “only a thin veneer of Spanish culture.”
The foregoing directly contradicts the usual model of Indian cultural change in the missions, which assumes that the longer the Indians were in the missions, the more acculturated they became, which was almost certainly the case for each individual Indian. With the constant influx of un-Christianized Indians throughout the mission period, however, this steady increase in the level of European culture was not the pattern for the mission population as a whole. Furthermore, the amount of Spanish culture acquired by individuals diminished after the 1800-1810 change in emphasis of the missions to economic production.
Following the closure of the missions the native populations continued to decline demographically, and the few survivors merged with other ethnic groups and no longer existed as distinct populations. The Guaraní, on the other hand, survived the missions as distinct and culturally autonomous populations.
Social Structure on the Missions
Some early missionaries in the sixteenth century envisioned the New World as a tabula rasa (blank slate) upon which to erect a utopian society reminiscent of the primitive Christian communities in the Mediterranean Basin in the first centuries following the crucifixion of Jesus, and during the periods of persecution at the hands of the Romans. However, the realities of the new colonial social, political, and particularly economic order did not leave room for such a social experiment. Missions on the frontiers did not develop in vacuums, and there was a constant tension between the goals of the missionaries and the demands of settlers and royal officials.
Native vassals of the Crown were obligated to pay tributo, and in some instances provide labor services. The Guaraní living on the Paraguay missions and the different native groups living on the Chiquitos missions paid tribute. Guaraní living close to the Spanish settlement at Asunción paid tribute and provided labor services to Spanish settlers through encomienda grants. Although the Guaraní residents of San Ignacio Guazú, the first mission the Jesuits administered, were held in an encomienda grant, the Black Robes consciously established new missions among Guaraní not held in encomienda. Moreover, the Jesuits established missions in areas as far from Spanish settlements as possible, as was also the case in the Chiquitos missions. Finally, in order to prevent the residents of the missions from having to leave to earn money, the Jesuits used communal resources to pay the tribute of the mission residents.
Clan Structure on the Paraguay and Chiquitos Missions
Prior to the Spanish conquest the Guaraní lived in clan-based villages subject to the authority of clan chiefs known as tuvichá. The Spanish referred to the clan chiefs as caciques, and a modified form of the clan structure persisted in the missions. Moreover, the clan chiefs shared power in the mission communities with the Jesuits through a cabildo (town council) on the model of the pueblos de indios. A 1657 tribute census listed 561 caciques in 19 missions, and later censuses enumerated equally larger numbers of clan chiefs (see Table 2). The Jesuits assigned each cacique a block of housing within the mission complex for the families subject to the authority of the cacique and recorded and the population in the missions as subjects of the cacicazgos (jurisdiction of the clan chief). As late as the 1840s, priests stationed on the ex-missions recorded the name of the cacicazgo of the parents of recently born children, and tribute censuses recorded the mission populations by family group and cacicazgo (see Tables 3 and 4). The registration of mission residents as members of a cacicazgo reflected the persistence of the medieval corporate model of social organization that formed the basis for Spanish colonial social theory, but also a recognition of the authority of the caciques and their co-governance along with the Jesuits.
How can we characterize the internal workings of the Guaraní clan system on the Paraguay missions? The tribute censuses provide tantalizing clues. A 1759 census for Corpus Christi is particularly revealing. The Jesuits provided information in the census that enables an analysis of marriage patterns. Men from Corpus Christi mostly married women from the same mission, but from different cacicazgos. Only a handful of men married women from other missions. Corpus Christi was largely a closed community. This pattern of marriage solidified community cohesion and identity, and contributed to a process of ethno genesis among the Guaraní living there that forged a new identity as residents of Corpus Christi.
The same census provides additional insights to the social structure of Corpus Christi mission, and the clan structure. The Jesuits who prepared the census recorded the baptismal date of the Guaraní born at the mission, and the vast majority of the residents of the mission were born there. At the same time there were a small number of natives settled on the mission from outside of the community. They were from a group known as the Guañanas who came from the area between the Paraná and Uruguay Rivers east of the Jesuit missions. The Jesuits periodically resettled small groups of Guañanas on several missions including Corpus Christi. The 1759 census enumerated a total of 112 Guañanas congregated in 1724, 1730, and 1754, and organized into separate cacicazgos. At the same time the Guañanas had begun to integrate into the older Guaraní population of the mission. Guaraní men had begun to marry Guañana women.
The Chiquitos missions, on the other hand, had ethnically diverse populations, and were open communities. The Jesuits periodically congregated or resettled non-Christians, often from considerable distances from the mission communities. At the same time the Chiquitos missions had a social-political structure similar to the Paraguay missions, also based on the model of the politically autonomous pueblos de indios. The one difference was that the Chiquitos missions had multi-ethnic populations that shaped the social-political clan structure introduced into the missions. The Jesuits categorized the ethnically diverse clans by the term parcialidad, and as was the case in the Paraguay missions shared authority with the clan chiefs who headed the parcialidades. The ethnic parcialidades were similar to the Guañana cacicazgos reported at Corpus Christi mission in that ethnically distinct populations entered the missions as separate social-political entities under their own leaders. A detailed 1745 census of the Chiquitos missions recorded the population by parcialidades, and in a number of cases natives recorded as being from the same parcialidad lived at different missions (see Table 5).
The Jesuits recognized their higher social status through symbols of authority and special privileges afforded them. Early Jesuit accounts differ as to the status and authority of the clan chiefs prior to the establishment of the missions. Some accounts noted that the clan chiefs had limited authority restricted to organizing military campaigns, leadership in hunts and fishing expeditions, and in resolving disputes within the community. However, another account described a hierarchical social-political structure among the Manisaca Chiquitos group, and noted that the clan chiefs enjoyed authority similar to that of the Guaraní tuvichá. The clan chief had subordinate political officials called capitanes by the Spanish, and separate religious (hechiceros) and medical practitioners (chupadores). Clan members paid a form of tribute to the clan chief, and provided labor to work the fields assigned to them.
In his study of the Jesuit missions of Chiquitos, Roberto Tomichá Charupá noted that the Jesuits re-enforced the authority of the caciques in the missions, and gave them visual symbols of authority such as elaborate dress for use on feast days and other special celebrations. At the same time Tomichá Charupá implied that the caciques did not exercise much authority in the missions, which view is contradicted, for example, by the 1734 anua for San José mission that described funeral practices at that mission. The caciques, and not the missionaries, organized and presided at funerals, and the anua did not ascribe any role to the Jesuits. The limited evidence suggests that, as was also the case in the Paraguay missions, the Jesuits shared authority with the caciques.
Community Formation and Identity vs. Cultural Extinction
The importance of the clan structure in creating and maintaining social cohesion in the Paraguay and Chiquitos mission communities can be measured by the outcome, the evolution of stable communities. The populations living on the majority of the missions on the northern frontier of México failed to evolve into communities, whereas the Paraguay and Chiquitos missions did, at least for some years in the case of the Paraguay missions.
The Paraguay missions present a different picture of social cohesion, as manifested, for example, in the response of a group of Guaraní caciques to the implementation of the Treaty of Madrid (1750). The caciques of the seven eastern missions that were to be ceded to Portugal petitioned to preserve their communities under Spanish dominion. In the petition the caciques cited their services to the Crown, but strongly identified with their communities that they and their people had developed and built through their own labor. The Guaraní also developed a formal military-government hierarchy in the missions that functioned following the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1768, and further contributed to community cohesion.
Several documents from 1804 reported the names of the individuals who occupied thee different posts in the mission communities, including positions at different ranks in the mission militia. Three neighboring missions located just to the west of the Uruguay River and thus on the frontier with Portuguese Brazil (San Francisco Xavier, Apóstoles, and Los Santos Mártires del Japón), were typical. San Francisco Xavier located right on the river had a population of 1,028 in 1803, Apóstoles counted 1,387 residents, and Los Santos Mártires del Japón a population of 609. All three ex-missions had a large number of militia positions, reflecting the location of the three communities on a frontier that was still contested after some 160 years of sporadic conflict. San Francisco Xavier counted 28 officer positions, Apóstoles 32, and Los Santos Mártires del Japón, with a much smaller population, had 39 militia positions.
These documents highlight perhaps the most significant difference in the social and political organization of the Paraguay missions when compared to Jesuit missions located on other frontiers, which was the level of conflict and organization and mobilization for war. The Jesuits maintained a permanent military organization in the Paraguay missions dating from 1641 and the battle of Mbororé, and royal officials mobilized thousands of armed Guaraní militiamen for campaigns against the Portuguese in the disputed Río de la Plata borderlands, hostile indigenous groups, and Paraguay colonists during the Comunero uprising of the 1720s and 1730s.
This is not to say that there was conflict on other mission frontiers or that mission residents did not serve on campaigns at the request of royal officials. The difference was the scale and formality of military organization, and the frequency of mobilization for military service coupled with requests for labor to work on public works such as the building of fortifications. One account estimated that 45,791 Guaraní provided military and labor services to the Crown from the period of the establishment of the missions through the year 1735. The origins of the militia system in the Paraguay missions dated to the 1630s attacks by the bandeirantes, and the destruction of many Jesuit missions in Guairá, Tapé, and Iguazú. Portuguese colonial slave traders and frontiersmen were also a concern for the Jesuits stationed on the Chiquitos missions, but they did not develop an extensive militia system as in the Paraguay missions.
The military threat to the Paraguay missions was a concern early on in the development of the missions, and influenced the urban plan for the new communities. The Jesuits incorporated defensive features into the mission complexes and chose sites with greater strategic value. The site of San Ignacio Mini in Guairá, abandoned during the 1630s as a consequence of the bandeirante raids, was an example. The Jesuits established the mission at a site flanked on two sides by rivers, and surrounded the complex with high walls. Nevertheless, the bandeirantes destroyed the mission.
Conflict over the Río de la Plata borderlands continued for nearly 200 years, and reached a crescendo during the 1810s when Paraguayan, Luso-Portuguese, and Argentine forces disputed control over the mission territory located between the Paraná and Uruguay Rivers. Ultimately Argentina prevailed, and incorporated Misiones as a territory, but not before rival armies damaged mission complexes and killed many Guaraní including Guaraní mission militiamen. Perhaps the most violent confrontation occurred in a battle between an invading Luso-Portuguese army lead by Francisco das Chagas Santos and a militia force from Corrientes at San Carlos mission between March 30 and April 3, 1818. The Luso-Portuguese force defeated the Corrientes militia, sent captives taken during the battle to Portuguese controlled territory, and largely destroyed the mission complex.
The military role of the Guaraní continued following the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767 and after a Luso-Portuguese force occupied the seven missions located east of the Uruguay River in 1801 and permanently incorporated this territory into Brazil. Moreover, the Guaraní not only served the Spanish, but also the Portuguese as well. An 1816 diagram of San Francisco de Borja mission, for example, prepared during a decade of conflict between the Portuguese, Paraguayans, and Argentines, identified the barracks for both the Portuguese and Guaraní regiments. San Francisco de Borja was located on east bank of the Uruguay River, which at that time was the Spanish-Portuguese frontier.
The Paraguay missions were, more than any other Spanish frontier missions, organized for war, and this social and political organization contributed significantly to the development of cohesion and identity. At the same time, the mission militia system and regional conflict placed a tremendous strain on the mission communities, both in social and economic terms with the expense of maintaining militiamen when on campaign as well as the loss of manpower, and the absence of men for long periods of time and losses from battles and disease while on campaign. Mobilization of the mission militia also had demographic consequences for the mission communities. Armies on campaign propagated disease, and two severe mortality crises can be linked to troop mobilizations and movements.
The first was the series of three outbreaks in the 1730s that decimated the mission populations during a period of large scale mobilization of the mission militia. From 1732 and 1734, between 3,000 and 6,000 Guaraní militia were posted to the Tebicuarí River to monitor rebellious colonists in Asunción. An epidemic spread through the missions in 1733 killing some 19,000 natives. The highest mortality rates were at San Ignacio Guazú, Santa Rosa, and Nuestra Señora la Fe, missions located closest to the area where the militiamen were posted. Towards the end of 1734 the governor of Paraguay requested a levy of 12,000 Guaraní mission militiamen. In early 1735 the first contingent of 6,000 went on campaign towards the Tebicuarí River, and another 6,000 reportedly went later in the year. In 1735, the governor of Buenos Aires Miguel de Salcedo ordered the mobilization of an additional 3,000 Guaraní militia for a possible campaign against the Portuguese outpost at Colonia do Sacramento. Measles killed thousands in the missions in 1735 and 1736, and famine conditions and the flight from the missions of many Guaraní who went in search of food coupled with the troop movements and river traffic facilitated the spread of contagion. Smallpox spread through the missions several years later, starting in 1738 and spread through the missions from the direction of Asunción and up the Uruguay River.
The next serious mortality crisis occurred three decades later, in the mid-1760s. The mobilization of more than 5,000 thousand Guaraní in 1763 and Spanish troop movements against the Portuguese settlements located on the Laguna de los Patos in modern Rio Grande do Sul contributed to the spread of a lethal smallpox epidemic. The Spanish army used the missions as a base of operations, and spread the contagion in its wake. In 1764 and 1765, smallpox reportedly killed 12,029 Guaraní.
While the military organization of the missions contributed to the development of identity and social cohesion, the mobilizations also contributed to stresses in the mission communities. The troop mobilizations of the 1730s, for example, coupled with famine and flight from the missions and epidemics created considerable discontent among the Guaraní, particularly those men who left their families behind while serving with the mission militia. Famine in 1734 and 1735 was perhaps the most difficult for the Guaraní.
According to the 1735-1743 carta anua, inadequate rainfall from December 1733 to March 1734 damaged crops, and many of the missions did not have large numbers of cattle as an alternative food source. There was also an epidemic among livestock in 1735, and in the same year Portuguese colonial troops occupied the Vaqueria de Pinares, an area where some 230,000 wild cattle grazed that the missions tapped to replenish their herds, and attacked herders sent by the Jesuits at San Luis Gonzaga mission to herd cattle near the sea in the disputed borderlands. Freezing temperatures during the nights of August 20, 21, and 22, 1734, during the planting season, further limited crop production, although abundant rains in November and December 1734 promised better harvests although the same document reported drought conditions in the missions located closest to Paraguay, where royal officials stationed the mission militia. The Jesuits also reported that mission residents consumed seed grain, which limited crop production and prolonged the famine. The need to supply the mission militia only exacerbated the suffering of those left in the missions.
Famine in 1734 and 1735 followed on the heels of an epidemic in 1733. Mortality in 1734 reached 10,130, including 6,094 parvulos (children under age ten), and thousands of Guaraní fled in search of food. The carta anua noted that 8,022 mission residents were fugitives in 1735, and that one group of fugitives established a community near Laguna de Yberá near the border of mission territory. The movement of thousands facilitated the spread of a measles epidemic through the region in 1735 that killed thousands.
Despite the hardship and disruption caused by troop mobilizations during a period of famine and mortality crises in the 1730s, the mission residents did not rise up against the Spanish colonial system. The debacle of the Treaty of Madrid (1750) two decades later, already discussed above, on the other hand, resulted in an uprising by Guaraní militiamen who resisted a joint Luso-Spanish military expedition dispatched to move the residents of the seven mission communities located east of the Uruguay River, but the Guaraní caciques did not a priori abandon their loyalty to the King. Nor did royal officials abandon their reliance on the Guaraní militia. Royal officials mobilized thousands of militiamen for military service in 1763, less than a decade after the Guaraní uprising. The new King Carlos III (1759-1788) repudiated the pro-Portuguese policy of his predecessor that had resulted in the signing of the ill-fated treaty, and recovered the mission territory east of the Uruguay River ceded to Portugal under the terms of the treaty. The Guaraní were still willing to join in making common cause against their traditional enemy, Portuguese in Brazil. The crises of the 1730s strained the relationship between the Guaraní and the Crown, but not to the point of breaking.
A second point of potential rupture in the relationship between the Guaraní and the abstract representation of royal authority occurred in 1768, with the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spanish America. Royal officials feared that the Guaraní would rise in response to the Jesuit expulsion, and the governor of Buenos Aires toured the missions in an attempt to maintain the loyalty of the Guaraní caciques and mission cabildos (town councils). However, despite the fears of royal authorities, the Guaraní remained loyal to the Crown. Moreover, royal officials reaffirmed the status and authority of the Guaraní caciques, and the civil administrators worked in collaboration with the cabildos in governing the mission communities. At the same time many Guaraní left the missions, and in some instances migrated to the Banda Oriental in search of work and contributed to the development of the rural labor force there, or in some cases as far away as Buenos Aires. The post-expulsion Guaraní diaspora did not represent a collective response to the removal of the Jesuits and the implementation of the new civil administration. Rather, it was a series of individual decisions made mostly by men of working age who elected to leave the missions to seek opportunities elsewhere. The diaspora also included some caciques. A similar diaspora did not occur on the Chiquitos missions, which were more geographically isolated and where fewer work opportunities existed outside of the missions.
Stable communities existed at the mission sites in some instances to the present. The same can not be said of the Paraguay missions. Conflict in the Río de la Plata region continued into the first decades of the nineteenth century, and competing armies damaged or destroyed many of the mission sites and dispersed the Guaraní populations. Colonization policies in the mid and late 19th century settled non-Guaraní at many of the mission sites, but the descendants of the mission populations survived and survive today as a distinct population, but not as stable communities at the mission sites.
Social, cultural, and religious change occurred in the Paraguay and Chiquitos missions, but on terms dictated as much by the natives congregated on the missions as by the Jesuit missionaries. The Jesuits measured the degree of religious conversion in terms of the numbers of baptisms and compliance with the sacraments, and particularly communion, which was a practice that could not measure the true extent of religious conversion. However, the Jesuits never supported the creation of a native clergy, and in this sense the Guarani and residents of the Chiquitos missions did not become full members of a Christian community. The translation of key doctrinal concepts that had embedded meanings from a different culture posed a problem for the conversion of natives on the Paraguay and Chiquitos missions. The doctrinal concepts had no parallel meaning in the cosmology of the natives.
The organization of processions and congregaciones was a way the Jesuit hoped to actively involve the natives in communal worship, but it appears to have provided a way for natives to perpetuate traditional practices, such as funeral practices. The description of the burial of the member of a congregacion at one of the Chiquitos missions suggests the important role of the clan chief in the funeral. The clan chiefs continued to exercise authority in the missions, and shared authority with the Jesuits. The clan social and political system continued in the missions, and through a cabildo the chiefs asserted their authority and influence.
As Langer documented for the later Chiriguano missions, the evidence indicates that the residents of the Paraguay and Chiquitos missions developed a sense of collective identity associated with the mission community. In the case of the Paraguay missions, conflict on a disputed frontier helped to form the new collective identity, and the Guarani identified with the Spanish, even in periods of extreme stress as in the 1730s. The debacle of the 1750 Treaty of Madrid strained the relationship, but it did not break. The Guarani allied with the Spanish, perhaps the lesser of two evils, in common cause against the Portuguese. The new collective identity can also be seen in the choice of marriage partners, as in the case of Corpus Christi mission. Guarani men selected wives from Corpus Christi, although from different clans. These marriage patterns helped solidify the social bonds within the mission communities.
By the time of the Jesuit expulsion from Spanish America in 1767/1768, a process of ethnogenesis in the missions was well advanced. The Chiquitos missions evolved into stable communities following the removal of the Black Robes. Continuing conflict on the disputed Rio de la Plata frontier resulted in the destruction of many of the ex-missions, and the dispersal of the Guarani. The Guarani diaspora following the Jesuit expulsion also undermined the creation of stable communities.
(c) The Middle Ground Journal, Number 5, Fall, 2012. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal's not-for-profit educational open-access policy.