Reductions of Paraguay

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Jesuit mission establishments that existed in Rio de la Plata from the beginning of the 17th century until the expulsion of the society from America in 1768. They were organized internally according to the Spanish mission system. [see aldeiamento system in brazil; mission in colonial america, i (spanish missions), 1.] The reductions, however, took on added importance because of their location on the borders of Spanish and Portuguese colonial claims. They were established among the Guarani, an extensive linguistic group who had developed a culture that included some agriculture, raising of domesticated animals, pottery, weaving, and the use of efficient tools and weapons.

History. At the end of 1609 Hernando Arias (15641645), Governor of Asunción, and Bishop Lizárraga requested Jesuit missions for Paraguay. The first Jesuit provincial of the area, Diego de Torres, sent three pairs of missionaries out to start the chain of missions. The first, founded in the southern part of Paraguay, was San Ignacio Guazú. Ultimately more than 50 reductions were founded in the modern areas of southern Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and northeastern Argentina.

From 1612 to 1656 the Paulistas of Brazil harassed the settlements with their slave raids. In 1627 and again in 1631, particularly severe attacks destroyed those nearest São Paulo, and the Jesuits were obliged to move the reductions further west. In the Treaty of Limits of 1750, settling the border dispute between Portuguese Brazil and the neighboring Spanish colonies, Spain ceded to Portugal an area in which seven reductions were located. The reductions were to be moved into Spanish territory, but the native peoples in them rebelled and had to be subjugated by force of arms. On the expulsion of the Jesuits, Spain divided the government of each reduction between a civil administrator and the priest. This began the decline of the missions.

Organization. The reductions were native villages from which European settlers were excluded. The population of each ranged from about 1,000 to 8,000, the average being between 3,000 and 4,000. In the peak period, 1730 to 1740, there were more than 100,000 native peoples in about 30 missions.

The settlements were usually located on or near a river in a fertile area and were grouped around a plaza. On one side were the church, the priests' house, a home for widows and orphans, the cemetery, storehouses, and offices. The other three sides were made up of native homes, long buildings housing many families in separate apartments. Frequently the church, and sometimes the house for the priests, was built of stone or hardwood depending on the materials available in the area. In each reduction were the pastor and at least one other priest, caciques, and the cabildo. Members of the cabildo were elected each year by the outgoing group, except for the chief magistrate who was appointed by the governor on the pastor's recommendation. Save for this slight connection, the reductions remained politically apart from the colonial administration. On occasion the governor of Paraguay visited them, as did visitors sent out by the audiencia of Charcas. Economically, as well, the reductions remained aloof. The Jesuits organized the settlements on a combination of private and collective property. Agriculture was largely a communal project, but each Indian family had its own gardens and sometimes a cow or horse. Domestic industries were encouraged, and their products, as well as agricultural surpluses, were sold by the Jesuits to the outside world to procure any items needed in the mission economy. The natives were taught Christian doctrine, reading, writing, and singing. Their native abilities in painting and sculpture were encouraged and used in decorating the churches. All work and play was tied in with communal religious prayers, songs, and processions.

Consequences. After the expulsion of the Jesuits and the transfer of the control of the reductions to civil and secular authority, the settlements gradually declined in prosperity and population. The natives did not immediately revert to a more primitive life as some critics of the system have charged. Many of them were absorbed into colonial society. The whole concept and operation of the Jesuit reductions has been a subject of controversy: in the 18th century, because of the political overtones; in the 20th century, because of the sociological implications. Cunninghame Graham notes that even the most bitter opponents of the system agree that in the reductions the Jesuits "instilled into the Indians that the land on which they lived, with missions, churches, herds, flocks, and the rest, was their own property. Of equal importance, the Jesuits told them they were free, and that they had the King of Spain's own edict in confirmation of their freedom, so that they never could be slaves."

Bibliography: a. armani, Ciudad de Dios y ciudad del sol (Mexico City 1996). p. caraman, The Lost Paradise (New York 1975). r. b. c. graham, A Vanished Arcadia (London 1901). m. durÁn, "The Reductions," in Enrique Dussel (ed.), The Church in Latin America, 14921992 (Maryknoll, N.Y. 1992) 351362. g. furlong, Misiones y sus pueblos guaraníes (Buenos Aires 1962). e. j. a. maeder, Misiones del Paraguay: Conflictos y disolución de la sociedad guaraní (17681850) (Madrid, Mapfre 1992). b. meliÀ and m. a. liane, Guaraníes y jesuitas en tiempo de las misiones: una bibliografía didáctica (Asunción, Paraguay 1995). m. mÖrner, The Political and Economic Activities of the Jesuits in La Plata Region, trans. by a. read (Stockholm 1955). s. palacios and e. zoffoli, Gloria y tragedia de las misiones guaraníes (Bilbao 1991). f. j. reiter, They Built Utopia: The Jesuit Missions in Paraguay, 16101768 (Potomac, Md. 1995). t. whigham, "Paraguay's Pueblos de Indios : Echoes of a Missionary Past," in e. langer and r.h. jackson (eds.), The New Latin American Mission History (Lincoln, Nebraska 1995) 157188.

[h. storni/

j.l. klaiber]