- Expecting Pears from an Elm Tree: Franciscan Missions on the Chiriguano Frontier in the Heart of South America, 1830–1949
Langer has devoted a great part of his research to the southeastern region of Bolivia. This work, on the Franciscan missions in a broad region southeast of Potosi and Sucre and west of the dry Chaco region, focuses on the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The wars of independence had brought a hiatus in missionary work. The founding of new missions in the region began with somewhat hostile relations between the Franciscans and the liberal government of the Venezuelan General Antonio José de Sucre in the 1820s. A period of greater government encouragement ensued from 1840 to about 1900; more anti-clerical governments after 1900 led in 1949 to the secularization of the missions, which became agricultural cooperatives.
Langer’s treatment is notable for its wide range of comparative discussions of the patterns of the Chiriguano missions with other mission territories—California, New Mexico, and closer at hand, the colonial missions of the Jesuits in Paraguay and of the Mojos region in Bolivia. He also bears in mind studies of patterns of European-indigenous interactions in North America. He makes clear that the different political contexts of the colonial and republican periods importantly affected how the missions operated. In the colonial period, friars could order the indigenes to do their bidding; in the republican context, friars had to persuade and negotiate with the indigenes.
The Franciscans and the Chiriguanos had an association (not really a marriage) of convenience. The Chiriguanos came to the missions with a mixture of motives, none of them having to do with a desire to be converted to Christianity. The Chiriguano chiefs brought their people to the missions, seeking refuge from attack by other indigenes and protection from the cattle of Bolivian colonists (51–52). Adult Chiriguanos refused conversion to Christianity, except for the occasional death-bed baptism. The friars therefore focused their efforts on indigenous youths, whom they took into mission schools. Control of younger Chiriguanos was perennially contested between the friars and the senior indigenous leaders. Nonetheless, the mission Chiriguanos defended the missions [End Page 486] from attack by other indigenes. However, it appears that in the long run the missionary control was defeated by the chiefs: Demand for labor on sugar plantations in northwestern Argentina turned the chiefs into contractors of the labor of converted and unconverted indigenes in the missions. From the point of view of the missionaries, the flow of mission indigenes to Argentina was a disaster, as the friars lost control of the migrating population, who abandoned their wives and children and became enthusiastic consumers of aguardiente (cane brandy).
Many interesting features of this book cannot be discussed within the limits of this review. Langer concludes with a systematic comparison of the Chiriguano missions with those in other parts of Spanish America, discussing varying patterns in demographic decline, acculturation, indigenous resistance, and the economic roles of the missions.