Established in 1540 as a highly centralized religious order headed by a superior general in Rome, the Society of Jesus – commonly known as 'La Compañia de Jesús' in the Hispanic world – established its first Latin American mission in Florida in 1565, before moving to Mexico in 1572. There it soon opened residences in Mexico City, Oaxaca, Guadalajara and Guatemala, and a series of colleges, each with a church attached, in these and other major towns that catered for the educational and spiritual needs of both Spanish and Indian parishioners. Tuition was free, paid for by the profits of the estates, farms and cattle ranches established as part of the endowment of each college before it opened. Missionary work in the vast northwestern regions of the viceroyalty of New Spain began in Sinaloa in 1594, and a century later was extended into Baja California and southern Arizona by the expansionist Eusebio Francisco Kino, who not only evangelized the natives of Pimería Alta but also mapped Baja California, showing that it was not an island, as had been supposed by early explorers, but a peninsula. When, in 1767, 2,600 Jesuit priests and brothers were abruptly deported from Spanish America (first to Cádiz and eventually to exile in Italy), over a quarter of them – 678, of whom 500 were Creoles – were from the Mexican province of the Society.
This study concentrates almost entirely upon the Jesuit missions in the western district of Nayar (in the modern state of Nayarit) and the north-western frontier regions of Sonora and Baja California. Arguing that 'debido a los muchos trabajos en torno a la compañia de Jesús, parece innecesario recordar su importante papel en la organización colonial en Hispanoamérica' (24), it provides no contextual information about Jesuit activities in other major mission fields, with the consequence that it fails to refer not only to the standard works of authorities such as Magnus Mörner (on Paraguay) and Nicholas Cushner (on Quito, Peru and Tucumán) but also to the findings of recent studies of the development of mission cultures, such as David Block's, Mission Culture on the Upper Amazon: Native Tradition, Jesuit Enterprise & Secular Policy in Moxos, 1660–1880 (University of Nebraska Press, London 1994).
The introduction provides a literary review of selected works on cultural theory, including those of Pierre Bourdieu and his famous 'habitus', and Michel Foucault. Chapter 1 ('Epistemología y Subjetividad') embraces a critique of Foucault's analysis of the relationship between language, knowledge and power. It also stresses the significance of the fact that many of the missionaries in Baja California and Sonora [End Page 1025] were of Bohemian or German origin (whereas in the smaller Najarit region native speakers of Spanish predominated), thereby providing a pan-European character for the reports that they wrote, which detailed in particular the material and human resources of their mission territories. Chapters 2–4 analyse, in turn, the nature of the three selected mission territories. The first, Nayar, was relatively close to the centres of Spanish power in central Mexico, but remained relatively inaccessible because of its mountainous terrain, which enabled it to serve as a refuge for indigenous groups – notably the coras and tecualmes – unwilling to subject themselves to colonialism. Although the Jesuits had some success there in persuading their charges to convert to Christianity, the study concludes that even in the late eighteenth century 'la barbarie de la idolotría' continued to prevail, and the region remained an indigenous enclave with few white settlers.
In Sonora, by contrast, evangelization went hand in hand with the influx of settlers, attracted by the establishment of mining camps and the associated expansion of agriculture, ranching and trade, notwithstanding sporadic indigenous resistance, notably the 1751 rebellion of the Pimas, which resulted in the Jesuits abandoning some of their haciendas. In Baja California, too, there was a serious uprising in 1734, provoked in part by the influx of miners and pearl fishers. Chapter 5 discusses the...