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What Rocks!

December 23, 2009

The Misiones province of Argentina which juts northward between Brazil and Paraguay is so named because of the Jesuit missions that once existed there. Their ruins are now scattered across an area that stretches into Brazil and Paraguay and I was able to see some of them after I saw the Igauzù Falls.

Church Entrance, San Ignacio Miní

The most impressive missions was San Ignacio, where the large walls of the church are still standing.

A Jesuit monogram that apparently comes from the first three letters of Jesus's name in Greek.

The missions seem to be a rare example of Europeans who didn’t harm the indigenous people that they encountered. Generally, two Jesuits ran the missions, one as the priest and the other as the administrator. The civic leaders of the Guaraní retained their power and a democratically-elected town council possessed significant decision-making authority. Voltaire, snide and skeptical as he was, reportedly described the missions as “a triumph of humanity which seems to expiate the cruelties of the first conquerors.” The missionaries in fact often relocated the missions in order to protect the Guaraní from raiding parties in search of fresh slaves.

The stairway to more jungle.

The exhibits and information supplied by the state tourist agency did seem a bit colonialistic, however, as they considered only minimally the way of life that the Guaraní left behind. Their previous beliefs were accommodated to a certain degree but the former religious leaders of the communities were marginalized. The agriculture of the missions perhaps possessed the potential for an increased quality of life but I wonder whether it was as adept at using the richness of the jungle as the Guaraní’s native lifestyle.

An altar, four hundred years ago.

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