The Papal Bull issued in 1537 declared Indians of the New World to be men with souls that could be converted and should not be enslaved. It was at this time that missionaries began their work in earnest to convert the Indians. Aldeias were Indian village settlements organized by clergy or colonial governors of Brazil. They were self-sufficient economic units that included a mission and the agricultural fields surrounding it. These mission villages stretched along the coast from the Amazon to the interior of southern and central Brazil. In Spanish America they were known as reducciones. Defeated Indians were often gathered into segregated fortified missions to facilitate conversion, pacification and civilization.

What made the aldeia different from the encomienda, which was run by conquistators, was the emphasis on religion over labor intitially. The Jesuits prime concern was the immortal soul of the Indians where as most colonists didn't see the Indians as more than beasts of burden to be used in the fields and mines. The Grande Debate between Bartolome de Las Casas and Juan Gines de Sepulveda in 1550 demonstrates these two schools of thought, with Las Casas on the side of the Indians and Sepulveda believing the Indians were born as a serving race - an idea generated by the teachings of Aristotle.

A good example of what an aldeia is in the movie The Mission starring Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro. It demonstrates one side of an argument about the purpose and intent of aldeias and the Jesuits in general, in Spanish America during colonization. Some believe the Jesuits used the aldeias to enslave the Indians while others believe their purpose was to save the Indians from the colonists who abused and killed them. The obvious overall intent was, of course, converting them to Christianity.

In the movie they portray the Indians as being perfectly happy to be clothed and living among the Jesuits. They seem overwhelmingly accepting of the Christian teachings of their care takers, as well. The brief example of the workshop of the aldeia presents a happy scene of adults and children making and playing violins that were then shipped off to Europe and touted as among the best crafted instruments. The truth is that the price of the protection of the church was accepting Catholicism, wearing white cloth to demonstrate cleanliness and purity, and working to earn money for the church. This is not to suggest that the Jesuits didn't have the best of intentions, they did want to help the Indians escape the brutality of the slave trade. Many of the people who worked for independence in Spanish America were clergymen, in fact. And the showing of the Indians as being accepting of their captors' religion is not false representation. Amerindians in Central and South America were used to adopting the religion of the ruling culture. What made the colonial period different was that they were now being asked to abandon their old gods. It was this, along with the intensive hard slave labor, that caused them to uprise against their captors eventaully.

Initially white merchants were not allowed into the aldeias at all. The aldeia was a place of religion not a plantation of slaves. The fact that they could not access the Indians within the aldeias enraged colonists. A struggle between the colonists and the Jesuits ensued and eventually the Jesuits were forced to compromise with them. They made a deal that allowed the renting out of Indians as laborers to the colonists. Men could be rented for agricultural labor and women for house worker. Still the white merchants couldn't enter the aldeia without a special license, and eventually in 1750 the Jesuits were expelled because the colonists felt they monopolized the labor trade.


source: all knowledge of dates and events presented here were gained through discussion and lecture at the University of Maryland, College Park in the Latin American Studies course taught by Janet Chernela.

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