Conversion of Natives to Christianity Term Paper

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"I do not think they will submit," Miranda writes (149). One of the Seri leaders told Miranda that "he loved neither God nor priest nor political authorities and preferred to die killing."

Miranda is clearly caught in a vicious conundrum: the more "industriously" and "diligently" he protects the welfare of the Indians, "the less relief and rest he will have from the Spaniards, whom he also serves." It is a "very ticklish" subject and he resents the fact that the Spanish political leaders in Mexico "watch over a priest's action in order to bring censure upon him. Many times the life I have described is simply not worth it, not worth it at all." He misses Spain, he writes: "There one lives, here one only dies." His worst fear is that once the presidio is finished, the plan will be to "extinguish and annihilate the Seri nation once and for all..."

Finally, he asks, "If victory is achieved, will all the Seris be put to the dagger?"

Portugal and the Colonization of Brazil

Meanwhile, the Portuguese did not have a belief that God put native Brazilians in Brazil for the Portuguese benefit. And unlike the Spaniards' reasons for conquering Mexico, when the Portuguese arrived in Brazil, around 1500, they were initially in search of "valuable goods for European trade" ( resources such as the brazil wood tree). They did not, as a general rule, come to bring Christianity and save souls for Christ. The early colonialist movement was also motivated by a desire by many impoverished sailors to escape the poverty of Portugal, and it was motivated by the lucrative slave trade industry. It seems the Portuguese were more interested in bringing slaves from Africa - and enslaving native peoples in Brazil - to grow sugar cane and coffee, and work the rich mines, than they were in converting existing native peoples to Christianity. Gold and diamond mines had been discovered in Brazil (Schultz, 2005) and while the Spaniards were threatening Portugal's peninsula from the east, and the Napoleonic invasion was about to conquer Portugal from the north, Brazil was a perfect place for Portuguese to find haven.

The Portuguese Jesuits did, however, play a role in converting natives to Christianity, and they did their best to protect the Indians from being forced into slavery by the Portuguese colonists. And there was, according to an article in the Bulletin of Latin American Research (Vainfas, 2005), in the year 1585 a serious rebellion on the part of Indians against slavery, colonial pressure, and the "disruptive indoctrination" of Portuguese interlopers.

Vainfas writes that before Jesuits arrived with Christianity (a relatively small effort compared with the Spaniards' assault on Mexico) the native Brazilian Indians had their own religion which they believed in. And perhaps this was a reason why the natives rebelled so heartily against the new religion that the Jesuits brought into Brazil. There was in the minds of 16th Century Brazilians a mythical, mystical place called a "Land without Evil" (like a paradise). By researching the writings of Jesuit Manoel de Nobrega (written in 1549), Vainfas learned that the Indians had "special sorcerers" who came to villages (and were welcomed) to "bring sanctity"; the sorcerers asked the women to "confess their sins" while preaching "at length in a child's voice." They the sorcerers would explain to local Indians that soon crops would grow on their own and arrows would do the hunting for them. And if they would kill and eat their enemies, they would have much longer lives. "According to Nobrega," Vainfas wrote, "at the end of the sorcerer's preaching, the Indians all started to shake, especially the women." new age of prosperity was coming, the sorcerers would say, and the inhaling of tobacco smoke was a main part of the ceremony. What this all boiled down to, Vainfas' research reveals, is a hostility toward Catholic priests, slave owners, and "in the end," the Indians so-called search for the "Land without Evil" and the prophecies was a "war against colonialism."

What Vainfas explains through a lengthy scholarly recounting of various Jesuit documents is that some native Indians, although they were against slavery and Christian indoctrination, "found protection within a plantation," belonging to notorious slave-owner Fernao Cabral, "where they constructed a church that combined Catholic and Tupinamba elements." The Portuguese governor of that region ordered Cabral to destroy the church, and charged that Cabral had "seriously offended God in the Christian lands." While other incidents of natives building churches were reported in the Jesuit writings, it is safe to say that the effort by Portuguese Christians to convert native Brazilians - by force or otherwise - to Christianity was far less successful than tactics used by Spaniards in Mexico.

Works Cited

Deeds, Susan M. Defiance and Deference in Mexico's Colonial North: Indians

Under Spanish Rule in Nueva Vizcaya. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003

Interknowledge Corporation. "Brazil: History." (2005). Retrieved 23 Nov. 2006 at

Meyer, Michael C., & Beezley, William H.. The Oxford History of Mexico. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Sheridan, Thomas E. Empire of Sand: the Seri Indians and the Struggle for Spanish

Sonora, 1645-1803. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1999.

Vainfas, Ronaldo. "From Indian Millenarianism to a Tropical Witches'…[continue]

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