Part IV: The Jesuits in the New World
Ignatius Loyola founded the Jesuit Order in 1539 as a defense against the Protestant Reformation. The Jesuits were to be teachers, educators in philosophy and religion. They became the intellectual elite of the church, advisors to the kings and queens of Europe. For two hundred years they were a confident and powerful arm of the papacy. Even their governance held them apart: their bishopric lies in Rome, with the head of the Order known as The Black Pope.
Within ten years of their founding, Jesuits were in South America and other Catholic colonies. They quickly developed a systematic and extensive educational structure to support the colonists as, they did in Spain.
In 1549 Tome de Sousa headed the official party which included six Jesuits to found the capital of Brazil. The king mandated conversion of the Indians to Roman Catholicism. From the very beginning relations between the church and the Indians were very serious. Believing that enslavement of Indians was against royal decree, the Jesuits began to gather them into villages for protection and catechism. These villages became missions or reducciones. Gradually the Jesuits were able to develop these successful autonomous cooperative centers throughout Paraguay and in other parts of South America.
As early as 1511 we find evidence of the political conflict about Indian enslavement. A Portuguese decree stated that for those Indians who fought against Portugal, slavery was just. Also any Indians who were cannibals, or who sold themselves or family members out of need, or those who were rescued from being sacrificed were not protected. The settlers claimed that they were feeding the Indians and teaching them farming skills. Jesuits claimed any Indian slavery was against the mandate. Eventually the debate was resolved by the high death rate among Indians, and the flight to the interior of the survivors.
The first Jesuits in Paraguay arrived in 1588, in Asuncion, the capital. Asuncion is a natural center for an internal land-locked country lying on the junction of two great rivers, the Pilcomayo and the Paraguay. It was also a geographic center for the Guarani. A combination of factors, geographical and political, left Paraguay isolated from her neighbors for most of her story. From this outpost, the Jesuits involved themselves with the forest Indians.
The Jesuit purpose was to convert and to civilize this untamed population. It became apparent early on that a third goal was to protect them from the Portuguese slave traders, known as Mamelucos, who invaded the area from the northeast. Tension immediately arose among the three groups: the protective Jesuits, the Portuguese slave hunters, and the Spanish landowners of Paraguay.
The Jesuits were able to gather into thirty missions 100,000 Guarani Indians by the end of the seventeenth century. These mission towns were called “reducciones,” and organized for communal work. They were often built around a central square, with the church on one side, and long houses on the other three sides. The missions were scattered throughout Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, in a variety of ecosystems. The products of the missions included cotton, hides, carintery, rope, ships, musical instruments, manuscripts and printed books, and yerba mate. Mate is to the South American cone as coffee is to much of our world. It is a beverage, a tea, made from the leaves of the mate tree. More importantly it is a social break. Mate drinking is time out, as a coffee break is delineated in minutes, not ounces. Even then it was a lucrative business. In her isolation, Paraguay often ran out of legal tender, and mate was used to replace it. A system of barter, an exchange of goods and services in lieu of money, is still common in the rural areas of Paraguay.
Where there is profit, there is greed. The land owners of Paraguay grew jealous of the success of the Jesuit “reducciones.” Instead of protecting these missions from the invading Mamelucos, they allowed the raids. The highly successful missions, housing tens of thousands of Christianized Indians in communal and profitable centers, were under attack from all sides.
In Europe in the early eighteenth century church politics were becoming heated. The Protestant Reformation had taken root and extended throughout northern Europe. In France and Portugal a theological argument had arisen within the Catholic Church leaving the Jesuits as defenders of the Papacy and at odds with the crowns of Europe. The Catholic states began to resist the power of the Pope. In 1759 Portugal expelled all Jesuits from her realms and in 1760 Portugal broke off relations with the Pope, and left church power in the hands of the Bishops. In 1764 France expelled Jesuits from her realms. In Spain, Jesuits had controlled education for two centuries. Now, under Carlos III, a push toward Enlightenment led the resistance to Jesuit control. Finally in 1767, Carlos expelled the Jesuits from Spain and from all Spanish realms. The defenders of the papacy did not find their defense in the Pope. In 1773, the Company of Jesuit, the Order of Jesuits was abolished. The Fathers themselves were arrested, detained and removed from Spanish America. According to Hargreaves-Mawdsley, 2267 Fathers and novices were in the Spanish Empire at the time of expulsion. They were loaded on ships and taken to the Papal States, where they were not received by the Pope. It wasn’t until 1891 that Pius VII allowed the Jesuits to reform in Russia.
In politics as well as religion, the Catholic kingdoms and Jesuit missions were in conflict. Since the Treaty of Tordesillas, the boundaries between Portuguese and Spanish America had taken a more natural shape. Portuguese pushed west and south, and Spaniards pushed north. As a result, some boundaries were contested. Beginning in 1750, a series of treaties addressed the contested border. The principles at stake were the preexisting treaty, and “uti possidetis,” which basically intends that the possessor has 9/10 of the law. The Treaty of Madrid upheld “uti possidetis,” allowing the Portuguese territory deep into Alto Parana, where Jesuit missions were. In 1759 Jesuits were expelled from all Portuguese realms, and hence at risk of expulsion from Alto Parana. In 1761, The Treaty of El Pardo nullified the Treaty of Madrid, giving the Jesuits a reprieve. The issue of territorial boundaries was not resolved until 1777 with the Treaty of San Ildefonso, ten years after the expulsion of the Jesuits from the New World.
The reducciones of South America were largely abandoned. Franciscans attempted to continue the operation of some, but the Indians did not stay. The rain forests reclaimed the land and tumbled the buildings of brick and quebracho. The mission was ended.
The Fate of the Survivors
Today, two hundred twenty five years later, most of the rain forest Indians have become part of the new civilization, or perished. Paraguay in particular is a mestizo nation, peopled by the descendants of the early Spanish explorers and Guarani mothers. It is the only true bilingual country in Latin America. Nearly all Paraguayans speak Spanish and Guarani. For the most part, the fate of the rain forest Indians has spun out. Yet there are still some forest tribes which have remained apart, and live as their ancestors lived five hundred years ago. The fate of these survivors will be decided during the lives of our students. The issues of that fate are to be explored by teaching this curriculum unit.
Activity I: Perspectivism
As part of the history of the initial contact between Europeans and Indians, selections from early writings and later reinterpretations will be prepared for students. As an example, I will pair excerpts from Columbus’ diaries with selections from
The Harp and the Shadow
. Students will be exposed to a record of Columbus’ reaction to the people he discovered, and to the fictional reaction of Dieguito to the Spaniards. Another pairing will be selections from Bartolome de las Casas in
The History of the Indies
with selections from Miguel Leon-Portilla’s,
. A passage from
, by Vargas Llosa will be contrasted with a description from Hudson’s
In each case I want students to compare and react to the different perspectives which they are reading. The reaction might be expressed artistically in dance or visual art or theater improvisation. It could be a pairing of original journal entries. Directions might be to write a journal entry about the first contact between Indians and Europeans in a setting of your choice. Include reactions to all sensory receptions (what do you see, hear, smell, taste, feel?) Then rewrite the same moment from the perspective of the Other, so you have written once as the European experienced it and once as the Indian experienced it. (Explorer, Slaver, Priest, Indian, Spanish conquistador.)
Activity II: “The Mission”
Once the students have studied the history presented by this paper, they will watch the film, “The Mission.”
Jeremy Irons and Robert DeNiro star in this haunting drama of the expulsion of the Jesuits from the New World in 1767. The locale of the story is Alto Parana, the rain forest above the falls, Foz IguaCu, and Asuncion, Paraguay. It is an adult drama, rated PG. The Indians are dressed historically accurately, which is to say breasts exposed. There is considerable violence in the film. I recommend it highly for its depiction of the multi-faceted conflict between the church, the powers of Europe, and the Jesuit protection of the Guarani Indians.
Before watching the film it will be important for students to participate in a discussion about the anthropological development of appropriate clothing. Issues to be explored will include how climate affects clothing, how clothing becomes a visual clue to a judgment about people, and the perspectivism that as we react to people who appear different, they are reacting to us. This should help put the issue of the Indian dress in perspective.
The movie is a fast-paced gripping drama. Students should have no difficulty following the plot which parallels the history they have just learned. Many activities are possible as a follow-up discussion.
1) Describe the Guaranies initial reaction to the Europeans who entered their territory. Why did they react this way? What made them react differently and accept Father Gabriel? Different levels of response will be appropriate. We want to aim for students to be thinking reflectively and critically. They may discover that the music Father Gabriel played and its spiritual expression was a point of mutual perspective.
2) Read a selection from
. Write a letter or journal entry which might have been written by a Guarani Indian during the period of the conquest of the rain forest. Include responses to the slave traders as well as to the priests.
3) Have a debate about which Jesuit was right: Father Gabriel who resisted violence with non violence or Rodrigo Mendoza who armed the Indians and fought the invading Europeans. Use examples from other historical incidents to support your argument, (e.g., Martin Luther King, The Shining Path, Ghandi, Hitler, South Africa.)
Activity III: The Separation of Church and State
Having studied the Treaty of Tordesillas and the Line of Demarcation, investigate the issue of the separation of church and state. What are the laws in the USA now? If there were no legal separation of church and state, how would our lives be different? How did the separation come to be? What conflicts arise from the separation? Who is the arbiter in world matters now? Ill the discussion issues should arise such as prayer in school, legalization of abortion, the Bill of Rights which guarantees freedom of religion, the United Nations, and the conflict of Israel and the Palestinians.
Activity IV: Geography
As a class prepare a set of maps, perhaps using overlays of several geographic notions.
1) The known world in 1494, the year of theTreaty of Tordesillas
2) 100 leagues west of Cape Verde
3) 350 leagues west of Cape Verde
4) The current division between Portuguese-speaking and Spanish-speaking Latin America. (A league is between 2.4 and 4.6 statue miles.)
5) Why does Brazil speak Portuguese?
6) A world map of Portuguese settlements in the route to the East Indies as well as the New World including dates
7) An overlay of Spanish settlements including dates
Activity V: Communal Property
Who Owns Nature?: a debate.
Investigate the concept of ownership. What is ecology about? How does it imply communal use? When does ‘use’ become ‘abuse?’ Who owns chalk in the classroom? - the moon? the sunset? Are these three similar or different? Work toward a concept of communal responsibility.
In the 21st century what is the responsible course of action for the industrialized world to take in response to rain forest stone age peoples? If, for example, health care were extended to the Amazon tribes, how would their lives and culture be affected? Is the survival of the individuals, through health and nutrition, more valuable than the survival of their way of life? Who decides? Have students role play the arrival of a medical team at a Yanomano village. The purpose of the visit is to inoculate the tribe against DPT, polio, and MMR.