This letter, written by the Jesuit priest Roque González, describes one of the “reducciones”—or settlement villages—that his order established among Guaraní speaking peoples in Paraguay. The Jesuits were like other religious orders in trying to create Christian utopias among indigenous peoples in the New World. In Paraguay, the Jesuits met resistance from Portuguese slave traders, who preyed on the Guaraní, and from other indigenous groups. González himself was assassinated in 1627 at the orders of a rival indigenous lord, and would become the first Jesuit saint of the Americas. In 1641, supported by the Jesuits, the Guaraní took up arms and defeated the slavetraders; they remained one of the most powerful indigenous groups through Independence.
Visual Culture
The account of the Jesuit Roque González gives us a clear sense of the what new towns founded by the Spanish looked like. The town, San Ignacio, clearly follows the ideal model promoted by the Spanish government in a document that can be found in the Vistas library. It is a 9-block plan with an open plaza in the center, flanked by the church. Much of this town was probably quite simple, with dirt streets, plank buildings, and a quickly cleared plaza. Nonetheless, González clearly shared the crown’s view that such urban order, however basic, would lead the Guaraní to a state of “policía”—which Spaniards understood to be civic order and Catholic religion.

In following the dictates of the crown plan, González breaks up the traditional patterns of communal living among the Guaraní which he saw as a hindrance to “policia.” Since this is a letter in anticipation of a visit of his superior, and therefore likely to paint a positive picture, González writes that the Guaraní did not object to their new houses in the town, but in other regions, we know that indigenous people were often not eager to move. González welcomed the new town, in part because he saw it as bringing some relief from the damp and sickness that came with living outside.

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