The establishment of the Jesuit Province of Paraguay in 1609 expanded upon the “spiritual conquest” of the Guaranís of South America. The liminal position of this territory, located between the southern boundaries of the dominions of the Iberian monarchies in America, conditioned the policy of conversion applied to the indigenous peoples who inhabited this region. Missionaries sought to attract the attention of indigenous leaders to catechesis to ensure evangelization, but much of their positive results stemmed from a convergence of mythical and historical motivations. Along with the use of firearms, used to repel the attacks of the bandeirantes from the captaincy of São Paulo, these factors contributed to a political alliance forming between the Jesuits and the catechized Guaraní. This alliance, in turn, allowed for the creation of a successful social, political, and cultural arrangement.
The foundation of these Christian Indian settlements—known as missions—was one of the variants of the “Republic of Indians,” a framework for limited indigenous self-government codified in Spanish law, which enabled the Guaranís to overcome increasing social fragmentation and reorient their cultural activities. Since teaching “arts and crafts” was a leading vehicle for evangelization, many indigenous people also became literate. Lessons in reading and writing taught in the Guaraní language, through seminars, catechisms, and dictionaries, familiarized the population of the missions with written culture. Daily life in these Christian communities allowed the natives, under the tutelage of the Jesuits, to overcome the precariousness of the conditions to which they were subjected as exploited workers. It also afforded them an opportunity to recreate a semblance of their way of life (ñande reko) adjusted to colonial parameters.
In Argentina, tensions between the military and Indigenous People have been present since the formation of the nation-state in the late 19th century. During the so-called “Campañas al desierto” (Desert Campaigns), when the Argentine military occupied the northern and southern sovereign Indigenous territories, Indigenous Nations were seen as the main opponents to the military project of building a civilized nation. The confrontation between the military and Indigenous nations were seen as the main opponents to a civilized nation. Against analysis that regards relations between the military and Indigenous People as inherently violent, a new line in historiographical studies traces too the trajectories of Indigenous troops joining the military. The 19th-century relations between the military and Indigenous People were therefore more complex than an opposition between contrary nations. During the colonization of Indigenous lands in Pampa and Patagonia region to the south and in the Chaco region to the north west, Indigenous groups were both enemies and allies and necessary for the success of the nation-state’s advance. Within these alliances and relations of proximity, military officers produced a specific racialization of Indigenous bodies related to positive perceptions of them as strong and skillful soldiers. These sets of ideas, present in military memoirs in the 19th century, re-emerge in how Toba Indigenous men experience being racialized during the Mandatory Military Service in the mid- and late 20th century.
The mission economy supported tens of thousands of Guaraní Indians and made the Jesuit reducciones (1609 to 1767) the most populous and financially prosperous of all the missions among native peoples of the Americas. The communal structure of collective labor, shared ownership, and redistribution of communal property formed the basis of the mission economy and seemed to leave little room for the possession of private property, independent trade, and economic initiative on the part of the resident Guaraní. Late 18th century Jesuit authors reinforced such an understanding in an attempt to defend their order and its actions in Paraguay. They argued that the Guaraní were incapable of managing their own affairs and that Jesuit management of the communally structured economy was indispensible for the wellbeing of both the missions and the Guaraní. Such accounts overlook evidence to the contrary. Mission Guaraní did in fact own private property—yerba mate, horses, clothing, and jewelry—and Jesuit leaders repeatedly issued orders for the missionaries to allow the Guaraní to independently trade yerba mate. Furthermore, although Jesuit authors repeatedly denied that they paid mission Guaraní wages—to do so would go against the communal structure that they so vehemently defended—the missionaries acknowledged that they paid mission Guaraní bonuses as a reward for their skills or extra labor. These bonuses served as a way to motivate individual economic initiative or agency within the framework of the missions’ communal structure. In sum, the communal structure allowed for more flexibility in the ownership of private property, independent commerce, and economic initiative by the Guaraní than has been portrayed in both the 18th century writings of Jesuit authors and much of the current literature.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s 1807 invasion of Spain and Portugal set in motion a transatlantic imperial crisis that, within two decades, resulted in Spain’s losing nearly all of its American possessions. Typically, the founding of most Spanish South American nations is attributed to the heroic leadership of the great liberators: Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín. While San Martín is most famous for organizing the Army of the Andes that carried out the liberation of Chile, parts of Peru, and eventually, in 1822, reunited with Bolívar in Ecuador, his time in western Río de la Plata building his army is less understood. From 1814 until 1817, General San Martín took up residence in the western Río de la Plata (Argentina) city of Mendoza to build an army capable of defeating Spanish rule in Chile and Peru. To receive permission to cross the Andes westward into Chile, San Martín needed more than soldiers well trained in European military style and horses: he needed to negotiate with the local Pehuenche people—part of the broader Mapuche peoples of southern Chile and western Río de la Plata—who had successfully resisted Spanish conquest for centuries.
Before San Martín could cross the Andes to invade Chile, he participated in two interethnic diplomatic rituals known as parlamentos in Spanish and koyang in Mapudungun, with the Pehuenche. Nearly forty recorded Spanish–Mapuche parlamentos had taken place in Chile and near Mendoza since 1593. In the two 1816 parlamentos, interpreters translated the negotiations between Pehuenche representatives and San Martín over the exchange of horses, the giving of gifts, the recognition of Pehuenche dominion, and permission for the Army of the Andes to cross the mountains west to Chile. While San Martín chose to spread news of this agreement to confuse the Spanish forces in Chile as to the location of their crossing, opting not to cross Pehuenche lands, these parlamentos nevertheless speak to the power and importance of Pehuenche political traditions during the Age of Revolution.