Jesuit Missions of the Guarani Panorama, Argentina

A Jesuit reduction was a type of settlement for indigenous people in North and South America established by the Jesuit Order from the 16th to the 18th centuries. The Spanish and Portuguese Empires 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 organize and exploit the labor of the native indigenous inhabitants (archaic term "Indians") while also imparting Christianity and European culture. Secular as well as religious authorities created reductions.

The Jesuit reductions, also called missions, were most extensive and successful in an area straddling the borders of present-day Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina (the triple frontera) amongst the Guarani peoples. These missions are often called collectively the Rio de la Plata missions or the Paraguay reductions. The Jesuits attempted to create a theocratic "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 labor 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 militia were set up which fought effectively against the Portuguese colonists. In 1767, the Jesuits were expelled from the Guaraní missions and the Americas by order of the Spanish king, Charles III, and the era of Jesuit reductions ended. The reasons for the expulsion related more to politics in Europe than the activities of the Jesuit missions.

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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