Topic: South America/Paraguay

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Jesuit Reduction

Brazil Portugal Catholicism Indigenous peoples of the Americas Brazil/History of Brazil Spain South America South America/Paraguay

The Jesuit reductions were a type of settlement for indigenous people specifically in the Rio Grande do Sul area of Brazil, Paraguay and neighbouring Argentina in South America, established by the Jesuit Order early in the 17th century and wound up in the 18th century with the banning of the Jesuit order in several European countries. Subsequently, it has been called an experiment in "socialist theocracy" or a rare example of "benign colonialism".

In their newly acquired South American dominions, the Spanish and Portuguese Empires had adopted a strategy of gathering native populations into communities called "Indian reductions" (Spanish: reducciones de indios) and Portuguese: redução (plural reduções). The objectives of the reductions were to impart Christianity and European culture. Secular as well as religious authorities created "reductions".

The Jesuit reductions were Christian missions that extended successfully in an area straddling the borders of present-day Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina (the triple frontera) amongst the Guaraní peoples. The reductions are often called collectively the Río de la Plata missions. The Jesuits attempted to create a "state within a state" in which the native peoples in the reductions, guided by the Jesuits, would remain autonomous and isolated from Spanish colonists and Spanish rule. A major factor attracting the natives to the reductions was the protection they afforded from enslavement and the forced labour of encomiendas.

Under the leadership of both the Jesuits and native caciques, the reductions achieved a high degree of autonomy within the Spanish colonial empire. With the use of native labour, the reductions became economically successful. When the incursions of Brazilian Bandeirante slave-traders threatened the existence of the reductions, Indian militias were set up, which fought effectively against the Portuguese colonists. However, directly as a result of the Suppression of the Society of Jesus in several European countries, including Spain, in 1767, the Jesuits were expelled from the Guaraní missions (and the Americas) by order of the Spanish king, Charles III. So ended the era of the Paraguayan reductions. The reasons for the expulsion related more to politics in Europe than the activities of the Jesuit missions themselves.

The Jesuit Rio de la Plata reductions reached a maximum population of 141,182 in 1732 in 30 missions in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. The reductions of the Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos in eastern Bolivia reached a maximum population of 25,000 in 1766. Jesuit reductions in the Llanos de Moxos, also in Bolivia, reached a population of about 30,000 in 1720. In Chiquitos, the first reduction was founded in 1691 and in the Llanos de Moxos in 1682.

The Jesuit reductions have been lavishly praised as a "socialist utopia" and a "Christian communistic republic" as well as criticized for their "rigid, severe and meticulous regimentation" of the lives of the Indian people they ruled with a firm hand through Guaraní intermediaries.

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