A History of Paraguay
By Baruja, Paiva & Pinto

Chapter 3

Over the next 200 years, the Catholic Church had an extreme amount of influence on every asset of life and on many people. One of the groups that had a great influence on the social life and economy were the Jesuit, who had even greater power than that of the weak governors that succeeded Irala and Hernandarias. Three Jesuit groups, an Irish, a Catalan, and a Portuguese, arrived from Brazil in 1588. They quickly moved out of Asuncion and went beyond the superior cursor of the Parana because they were eager to preach to the Indians. The Jesuit had great success because the Guarani Indians came out to be great students in the religion areas due to their previous beliefs in a higher being.

In 1610, Phillip III (1598- 1621), proclaimed that only “the sword of the word” would be used to conquer the Indians. The Bible would be used to make these Indians truly happy, peaceful, and submissive. Due to the word of Phillip III, the Jesuit father, Diego Torres, was given extensive power to carry out this new plan of “conquering in the name of Jesus”. Due to this new system, the old system of the encomienda was thrown out. Many of the people that depended on Indian labor abhorred this new plan. All the complaining of the people convinced the Jesuits to move their activities to the province Guaira, which is located in the distant south east. After setting up their houses and infrastructure, the Jesuits worked hard to civilize the recalcitrant guaycurues. The Jesuits were not going to let go this time, and so they put all their minds and resources into trying to convert the Guarani Indians. In order to work better with the Indians, the Jesuits made little houses for them to live in. The Jesuits plans were one of the biggest community life experiments in History. They organized 100,000 guaranies into twenty some municipalities, and dreamed of having an entire Jesuit empire that would embark from the confluence of the Paraguayan and Parana rivers to the headwaters of the Parana. Without rank in the community, it is said that the Jesuits had a communist society, maybe the first in the entire world.

The new location of the Jesuit reductions had an atrocious location because it was right in the middle of the pillaging of the bandeirantes. The bandeirantes were a mix of Portuguese and adventurous Hollanders who would recruit slaves. They would recruit armies of “mamelucos”, who were a mixture of Indians and blacks, and they would make them go into first the most dangerous adventures. The base land of the bandeirantes was San Pablo, Brazil, which was the den of all the pillagers and pirates in the beginning of the XVII. The reason for this was because they were not under the rule of the Portuguese. The way they made money was capturing the Indians and selling them to the Brazilian farmers. When the population of the Indians in San Pablo decreased because of this, the bandeirantes decided to move out into the more rural areas, where they met the Jesuits. The Spanish government knew about this problem, but they decided not to send any troops to help defend the Jesuits.

Spain and Portugal joined together to form one government in 1580 to 1640. Although the colonies were in a state of war, the governor of Rio de la Plata decided not to send troops to fight against an enemy that was supposedly from the same side. Another factor that did not help out for the defense of the Jesuits was that they were not popular in Asuncion because the colonist had their power for the governor secured.


Because of all this the Jesuits and their neophytes had very little protection from the “paulistas” (bandeirantes). In a big move in 1629, about 3,000 paulistas destroyed all the reductions they passed by destroying churches, killing the elderly and children. They saw them all as capable for slavery, so they took them all to the coast just as they would cattle. In their first raids on the reduction they obtained least 15,000 captives.

Face to face before the imposing challenge of a virtual holocaust that was scaring the neophytes inducing them to return to paganism, the ingenious and brave Jesuits took drastic measurements. Under the order of father Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, something more than 30.000 Indians (2.500 families) retired using canoes traveling hundreds of kilometers towards the south to the other side of the great concentration of Jesuit reductions near the lowest coarse of Paraná. Approximately 12.000 people managed to survive. But the retirement didn’t stop the paulistas (Indians from Brazil) continued making an incursion in which they almost extinct the reductions. The threat to the paulistas ended in 1639, when the viceroy in Perú permitted the Indians to arm themselves. Well trained and highly motivated by the Jesuits the Indian units defeated the invaders greatly and expelled them.

The overwhelming victory on the paulistas inaugurated the golden age of the Jesuits in Paraguay. The guaranies were unaccustomed to the discipline and the sedentary prevalent life in the reductions but adapted easily to both things since they were offered high living norms, protection of the cruel and insensible Asunción colonists and the physical security. In 1700 the Jesuits could count 100.000 neophytes in approximately 30 reductions. The reductions exported raw materials and varied products including cotton and linen fabric, leather, tobacco, and mainly the yerba mate (an infusion like tea but bitter that is very famous in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay and the south of Brazil). The Jesuits also raised reserves of food and taught arts and skills. They also gave a considerable service to the proportionate Indian military crown against the penetrated attacks by the Portuguese, English and French. At the moment of the expulsion of the Jesuits of the Spanish Empire in 1767, the reductions were extremely rich and were composed by more than 21.000 families. Its immense herds included approximately 725.000 cattle heads, 47.000 oxen, 99.000 horses, 230.000 sheep, 14.000 mules and 8.000 asses.

Due to its success, the 14.000 Jesuits that offered voluntarily to serve in Paraguay won many enemies. These men of God were a bad thorn in the spirit of the colonists who saw them with envious eyes and resentment. Later they spread rumors about hidden gold mines and the threat to the Crown proclaiming a presumed independent Jesuit republic in a short future. But to the Crown, the reductions were like an apple that was matured and hoping to be gathered.

The reductions were imprisoned of the changing times. Between the years 1720 and 1730, the Paraguayan colonist revealed against the Jesuit privileges and the government that protected them. Although this revolt failed, it was one of the most virulent against the Spanish authority in the New World and provoked in the Crown the doubt about the convenience to keep on supporting the Jesuits. The War of the Seven Reductions (1750-61) that was rid in order to avoid the delivery of the seven missions to the south of the Uruguay River in the control of the Portuguese caused the feeling in Madrid of which they would have to suppress “the empire within an empire.”

In a movement to adjudge the riches of the reductions to help the falling finances of the Crown, the Spanish king, Carlos lll (1759-88), expelled the Jesuits in 1767. After several decades of the expulsion, most of all that was good that the Jesuits have done was wasted. The missions lost its value, they were administered wrong and were abandoned by the guaranties. The Jesuits almost disappeared without a trace. Today, some ruins are covered by moss and it’s the only testimony of that long and varied period of 160 years of the history of Paraguay.

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