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Aldeias, Indian village settlements also known as reduções. Aldeias were Indian villages organized as missions by the regular clergy or colonial governors of Brazil. They were self-sufficient economic units that included the mission proper and the agricultural fields surrounding it. These mission villages stretched along the coast from the Amazon to the interior of southern and central Brazil. In Spanish America they were known as reducciones. Defeated Indians were often gathered into segregated fortified missions to facilitate conversion, pacification, and civilization. White merchants were not allowed into the aldeias without a special license. The missionaries tried to protect the Indians from mistreatment and enslavement by the white settlers, who disdained manual labor.

The most successful aldeias were established after 1549 by the Jesuits in Brazil. Since the Jesuits were few in number, the creation of permanent villages facilitated mass conversion. A handful of missionaries usually gathered scattered tribes into an aldeia, with a church, school, dormitory, kitchen, and warehouse, usually leaving one or two brothers behind to preside over these Christian settlements. To facilitate conversion of the entire tribe, evangelization usually aimed at converting the caciques (chiefs) and shamans first. The missionaries mastered the Tupi language, writing a dictionary, grammar, and catechism. The protection and gifts, as well as the religious ritual and music, offered by the Jesuit missionaries attracted the Indians. By 1655 the Jesuit Order was given complete control over all the Indian aldeias in Brazil.

Because of the threat of disease and enslavement, the missions were isolated from white settlements. For over two hundred years the Jesuits fought against Indian enslavement with the support of the crown. This resulted in white rebellion and Jesuit expulsions in 1662 and 1684. By the mid-seventeenth century the Jesuits had to compromise with the white settlers' desire for Indian labor by allowing a contract labor system for up to six months. The Jesuits began to arm their mission villages to protect the Indians from the slave-hunting expeditions (bandeiras) from São Paulo. In 1759 the Jesuit order was expelled from Brazil by order of the marquis of Pombal. With the expulsion of the Jesuits, the larger aldeias fell under the control of the secular clergy, who incorporated the missions into the parish system; others were placed under secular directors until they were all disbanded by the end of the century.

Life was regimented in the aldeias; the ringing of bells summoned the Indians to pray, hear mass, study, and work in the fields. The Indians were often forced to accept Christianity and to perform manual labor for the missionaries. The congregation of the Indian tribes often facilitated the spread of diseases, such as smallpox and measles, which decimated whole tribes. Nonetheless, the aldeias provided a safe haven for many small tribes and helped to ensure Portuguese settlement and control of Brazil.


John Hemming, Red Gold: The Conquest of the Brazilian Indians, 1500–1760 (1978).

E. Bradford Burns, A History of Brazil, 2d ed. (1980).

John Hemming, Amazon Frontier (1987).

Additional Bibliography

Almeida, Maria Regina Celestino de. Metamorfoses indígenas: Identidade e cultura nas aldeias coloniais do Rio de Janeiro. Rio de Janeiro: Presidencia da República, Arquivo Nacional, 2003.

Fausto, Boris. A Concise History of Brazil. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Flores, Moacyr. Reduções jesuíticas dos guaranis. Porto Alegre: EDIPUCRS, 1997.

Pompa, Cristina. Religião como tradução: Missionários, Tupi e Tapuia no Brasil colonial. Bauru: EDUSC; São Paulo: ANPOCS, 2003.

                                        Patricia Mulvey

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