Early morning the next day, we caught the bus to San Ignacio to visit the ruins of the old Jesuit missions, which dates back to the early 17th century. During that time the Jesuits started establishing these so-called “Reducciónes”. By 1732, around 140.000 Guarani lived in 30 missions, most of them in what is today the province of Misiones in the northeast of Argentina, but also in neighboring areas of today Brazil and Paraguay.
The overall purpose of these missions was of course the evangelization of the indigenous population. The way the Jesuits did this was different and thus very successful. They learned the native language, did not question the authorities of the elders and used music and art to teach the gospel. But most important, they protected the indigenous from slave hunters.
In these Reducciónes the Guarani, who were nomads, were settled and congregated. Everybody worked in the fields or in trades that the priests taught them. The make-up and economy of this society was very communal based. This almost utopian project fell in decline after the Jesuits were forced to leave in 1767 and most missions were destroyed when Portuguese forces invaded the region in the early 19th century.
The layout of these missions is always the same, with a plaza headed by the church and a school, the workshops and the residence of the priest on one side and the cemetery one the other side. The living quarters of the Guarani were on the opposite side.