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Reviewed by:
  • Missions, Missionaries, and Native Americans: Long-Term Processes and Daily Practices
  • Cynthia Radding
Missions, Missionaries, and Native Americans: Long-Term Processes and Daily Practices. By Maria F. Wade. (Gainesville: University of Florida Press. 2008. Pp. xxiii, 301. $69.50. ISBN 978-0-813-03280-1.)

This comparative study is woven around the leitmotiv of conversion. Its conceptual framework centers on Pierre Bourdieu's notion of habitus, interpreted by Maria F. Wade as the habits of nourishment and requirements of subsistence among native peoples, in which their seasonal movements contrasted with the daily and weekly schedules established in the missions. The book provides a broad view, stretching from Florida to the Californias, but skipping over the longstanding mission fields of Sonora-Sinaloa and Nueva Vizcaya. Wade brings her anthropological training to bear on the questions of directed culture change and the unintended consequences of mission programs that were focused on the indigenous groups gathered in the reducciones of northern New Spain. Her comparative framework opens a fresh perspective on questions of intent and the methods for establishing and maintaining missions by the Franciscan and Jesuit orders; Wade's overview and thoughtful comparative summaries in a number of chapters as well as the final conclusions helps us to understand that mission methodologies were not religious blueprints for conversion, but rather projects that underwent considerable experimentation and modification in different natural environments and cultural settings. The discussion in part 1 of the basic philosophies and internal conflicts within the Society of Jesus and the Order of Friars Minor provides a useful preface to the author's examination of the mission programs and their outcomes in the regions she has chosen to compare.

Perhaps because of the author's ambitious comparative scope, the analysis of historical processes in each region is at times thin, and the treatment of the book's main themes is uneven across the geographical and temporal perimeters of the study. Wade's discussions of the failed Jesuit sixteenth-century mission to the Calusa in Florida and of the early Jesuit and Franciscan missions in Coahuila and Nuevo León are weaker than those of the Franciscan missions in Texas and of the Jesuits and Franciscans in Baja and Alta California. The author focuses on settlement, work regimes, and patterns of religious conversion, presenting very interesting information drawn from inventories and mission reports on handicraft production, crop cycles, and livestock in different mission districts;however, she stops short of quantitative analysis or even tabular presentation that would clarify the comparison across these regions and permit meaningful engagement with recently published historical literature on the missions. Similarly, Wade's treatment of the thorny issues of repression and punishment in the missions remains at the level of description, drawn largely from missionary manuals rather than from litigated cases that might have yielded unexpected complaints and illustrated the ways in which indigenous peoples framed their mission experiences. [End Page 850]

The author returns repeatedly to the question of conversion, understood to mean the degrees of acceptance by the Indians of Christian precepts and practices. She offers interesting observations concerning the alteration of native life ways (habitus) through both the work regimes and the sacramental life course that marked the central tenets of ritual and discipline in the missions. Even so, she does not bring to this discussion the cosmographies recorded in published ethnographies and anthropological archives that would permit formulating hypotheses concerning the transculturated construction of spiritual power by indigenous groups that lived in the missions—in some cases, over multiple generations. The depth and persuasiveness of this comparative study would have been strengthened if the author had made more extensive use of archival sources. Unquestionably she has mined well the microfilm and manuscript collections available at the University of Texas at Austin, and Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. Her findings are limited primarily, however, to transcribed formal reports that Franciscan and Jesuit mission administrators prepared for their superiors, which Wade paraphrased and summarized in several chapters of the book. The impressions drawn from them are telling, but they could have been nuanced and enriched by the candid remarks that frequently appear in less guarded correspondence, ledger sheets...


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