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The Jesuit Reductions were a particular version of the general Catholic strategy used in the 17th and 18th centuries of building reduction (reducciones de indios), in order to Christianize the indigenous populations of the Americas more efficiently. The reductions were created by the Catholic order of the Jesuits in South America, in areas inhabited by the Tupi-Guarani peoples, which generally corresponds to modern day Paraguaymarker. Later reductions were extended into the areas that correspond to Argentinamarker, Brazilmarker, Boliviamarker and Uruguaymarker.

In these regions the Jesuit reductions were different from the reductions in other regions, because the Indians were expected to adopt Christianity but not European culture. Under the Jesuit leadership of the Indians through native "puppet" caciques, the reductions achieved a high degree of autonomy within the Spanish and Portuguese colonial empires. With the use of Indian labour, the reductions became economically successful. When their existence was threatened by the incursions of Bandeirante slave traders, Indian militia were created that fought effectively against the colonists. The resistance by the Jesuit reductions to slave raids, as well as their high degree of autonomy and economic success, have been cited as contributing factors to the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Americas in 1767. The Jesuit reductions present a controversial chapter of the evangelisational history of the Americas, and are variously described as jungle utopias or as theocratic regimes of terror.


The missionaries employed the strategy of gathering the often nomadic indigenous populations in larger communities to more effectively Christianize them throughout the Americas during the first century of European colonization of the Americas. In Mexico the policy was called congregación, and also took the form of the hospitals of Vasco de Quiroga, and the Franciscan Missions of Californiamarker, and in Portuguese Brazil they were known as aldeias.Legally, under colonial rule, Indians were classified as minors, in effect children living in a state of sin, to be protected and guided to salvation by European missionaries. Reductions generally were also construed as an instrument to make the Indians adopt European lifestyles and values; however, this was not the case with the Jesuit reductions.

The reductions originated in the early seventeenth century when the Bishop Lizarraga asked for missionaries for Paraguay. In 1609 three Jesuits began the first mission in San Ignacio Guazú. In the next 25 years, 15 missions were founded in the province of Guairá—but since some of these were within the Portuguese area they were subjected to frequent destructive raids by Bandeirantes of São Paulomarker to enslave the Indians. In 1631, most of the reductions moved west into Uruguay, which was under Spanish jurisdiction. The missions also secured the Spanish Crown's permission to raise militias of Indians to defend the reductions against raids. The bandeirantes followed the reductions into Spanish territory and in 1641 the Indian militia stopped them at Mbororé.

At the height of the reductions there were around 40 different communities that were home to as many as 150,000 Indians, most of whom were Guaraní, Tupi and Chiquitos. Reductions were laid out according to a standardised cityplan: the main buildings, like the church, college and churchyard were concentrated around a wide square, with houses facing the other three sides. Each village also provided a house for widows, a hospital, and several warehouses. In the centre of the square, there was a cross and a statue of the mission's patron saint. The reductions were ruled by indigenous rulers who served as the reduction's governor, but were controlled by the Jesuits. The social organization of the reductions has often been described as extremely efficient; most were self-supporting and even produced surpluses of goods, which they traded to outside communities, which laid the foundation of the belief that Jesuits were guarding immense riches acquired through Indian labour. In reality the communities were economically successful but hardly constituted any important source of income for the Jesuit order.

The reductions came to be considered a threat by the secular authorities. The economic success of the reductions, which was considerable, although not as great as it has often been described, combined with the Jesuits' independence, became a cause of fear. When the Jesuits were expelled from the Spanish realm in 1767, the reductions slowly died out, becoming victims of slave raids or being absorbed into European society. All that remains today are ruins of some of the Reductions and two creole languages based on Guaraní, Tupi and Portuguese called Língua Geral and Nheengatu.

Jesuit Reductions by country

Location of the most important reductions in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, with present political divisions.





See also



  1. Lippy, Choquette & Poole (1992) pp. 98-100
  2. Ganson (2003)
  3. Lippy, Choquette & Poole (1992) pp. 98-100


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