The Mission brought to my attention a few key points regarding the Portuguese colonization. The overarching theme, in my eyes, was the path of the Church and the path of the State being two separate directions entirely. I think that the Portuguese and Spanish both believed that the spread of Christianity was necessary in colonization because it offered much more than their ideologies of “hope, faith, love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, etc.” By colonizing a people and teaching them the European beliefs, schooling, architecture, fashion, and so on, it solidified their presence in the New World.
However, the Jesuit priests represented in The Mission were genuine in their intent to spread a peaceful message of faith that was enthusiastically accepted by the Guarani, and practiced in a raw, emotional way that seemed like true conversion. This part of the movie seems to be “airbrushed” in the way that the indigenous gladly welcome these strange white men that worship a God completely unfamiliar to them. Many times in the encomienda and repartimiento systems the priests, friars, etc. were essential to the State’s plan in economic, agricultural, and social refinements. In fact, they often benefited from their efforts in obtaining cristianos nuevos. The Mission magnifies Father Gabriel’s role in conversion and organizing the “jungle” into a more European functioning town. The Portuguese government were most upset not with the conversions, but in the lack of slave incorporation. Their goal was to make a profit, and if the Christian message was genuine profit wasn’t going to occur because slavery would not exist.
Obviously, there are too many issues that came along during the colonization period to be thoroughly examined in a two hour period, but it was refreshing to see a positive light shone on missionary efforts in the Christian faith. It’s easy to categorize Spain or Portuguese missions under one umbrella, but I believe that (not all!) there were genuine efforts to convert indigenous beyond political and economic aspects. Saeger describes the historical relationship as an “early amicable Guarani-Spanish relationship, based on reciprocity and linked by marriage and kinship” that became “exploitative” (64-66). The Guaranis were easily manipulated and the greediness of the Crown resulted in disease, slavery, beatings, war, and destruction of language, culture, land…the list goes on and on.
I was sort of shocked to see that the movie itself focused on the warring between the Portuguese government and church and left out 99% of ill feelings between the Guarani and The Mission. Besides Rodrigo Mendoza’s initial trappings and killings, the Guarani and Jesuits got along just fine. Do I think it was possible? Sure! But I don’t think it was common enough in history to give the impression that the Guarani’s were a “forgive and forget” people that gladly accepted the Christian faith. They rebelled from 1539-1542, to no avail. I believe the role of Cpt. Mendoza as an Indian hunter was too brief seeing as his actions were defining in all realms of colonization.