How Were the Jesuits Different From Other Europeans in Latin America?

The Jesuits were different from other Europeans in Latin America because instead of enslaving or exterminating the indigenous people, they brought them together and educated them in mission settlements known as reductions. These settlements were autonomous, financially successful and thrived for more than 150 years.

Although the Jesuits expected the indigenous people they gathered in reductions to convert to and follow the traditions of Christianity, they did not exploit them for labor. Instead, beginning around 1610, they organized them into self-sufficient communities and taught them skills, such as carpentry, architecture, printing, leather tanning, cotton weaving, tailoring, boat building, art, music, reading and writing. They also armed the Indians to defend themselves against slave raiders.

The reductions were built with a church, school buildings, storehouses and dwellings for the inhabitants built around a central plaza. They also had hospitals, workshops and special quarters for widows. Some reductions became as large as villages, with populations of 2,000 to 7,000. Most of the Indians in reductions were of the Guarani, Tupi and Chiquitos tribes. Up to 150,000 Indians lived in about 40 communities when reductions were most popular.

Because the authorities considered the reductions too independent and perceived them as a threat, beginning in the 1750s, the Spanish and Portuguese attacked them and scattered or enslaved the inhabitants. In 1767, the Jesuits were expelled from South America, and the reductions were either abandoned or absorbed into mainstream culture.