Mission Culture on the Upper Amazon: Native Tradition, Jesuit Enterprise & Secular Policy in Moxos, 1660-1880

By David Block | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Fleeing retribution for crimes of passion committed in Europe, Candide visits the Jesuit missions of Paraguay. Through the voice of his satirical alter ego, Voltaire expresses a fascination with these outposts of Western civilization located on the edge of El Dorado. And his sentiments resonate through generations of treatments of the tropical missionary enterprise, whose titles -- A Vanished Arcadia and The Lost Paradise to mention two of the most illustrative -- reflect the often millenarian character of their messages.1 Perhaps the most accessible example of this imagery is a recent film, The Mission, which offers its viewers soft-focused images of tropical scenery, noble savages, heroic priests, and corrupt Europeans. The work you have before you explores the mission from another perspective, stressing process over personality and daily life over heroism. It examines the role of the encounters between Europeans and native Americans in establishing new societies.

The region of Moxos, lying on the upper Amazon in what is modern Bolivia, forms the basis of this study. Jesuits reached Moxos in the mid- seventeenth century and began missionary activities that would fundamentally change the area and its inhabitants. Here, as they did in Paraguay, missionaries and Indians established centers that became the focus of economic, social, and spiritual life for two centuries. Also as in Paraguay, these centers became the focus of rivalries between the Society of Jesus and secular governors. And as a final parallel to the Paraguayan saga, Jesuit operatives were forced to leave Moxos when the Society's fortunes declined after 1767. But the departure of the missionaries did not spell the end of the centers they had helped to establish. For in the hundred years of Jesuit presence, Moxos witnessed the evolution of new systems -- biological, techno

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Mission Culture on the Upper Amazon: Native Tradition, Jesuit Enterprise & Secular Policy in Moxos, 1660-1880
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • List of Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • I The Setting 11
  • II The Jesuit Century 33
  • III The Missions 55
  • IV Mission Indians: Gentiles and Neophytes 78
  • V The Missionaries: Fathers and Brothers 103
  • VI Mission Culture Under Spanish Rule 125
  • VII Moxos to Beni: the Dissolution of Mission Culture 149
  • CONCLUSIONS 174
  • APPENDIX: - Sources of Demographic Data on Moxos Settlements, 1683-1882 183
  • Notes 185
  • Bibliography 215
  • Index 227
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