Several things came to my mind last Wednesday while sitting in class as we watched The Mission, examples of patriarchy, loyalty, and controversy resulting from shifting political currents a half a world away. This is my final history class in a long, long line of undergraduate history courses, and the approach taken is by far the most unique.
First off, the first scene painted a picture of typical indigenous rejection of the Jesuit missionaries, I seem to recall a similar reaction when the Portuguese went to japan in the 1800s. Those poor Jesuits just cannot seem to figure out how to make a good first impression. However secondary attempts appeared to work in this case when Father Gabriel approaches this tribe of Guarani Indians once again shortly thereafter to try and try to present Christianity in a manner that is less confrontational and more appealing to them. The final straw was the image of De Niro’s character pulling the sack full of his armor and weapons up the fall for penance for killing his brother for sleeping with his fiancée, thus ruining their potential monogamous relationship (paternalism anyone?) and the realization that he wasn’t seeking forgiveness from the Jesuits, but rather the Indians It was only when they saw the faith in his eyes that a small Indian boy relieved him of his burden and dropped his armor and weapons into the river below and accepted him as well as the Jesuit missionaries into their village and permitted them to establish a mission and preach Christianity to them.
This act of obtaining acceptance essentially justified the creation of the mission in the tribe, the were willing to accept the ideals of Christianity, the values that the missionaries so passionately taught to them. This idea is something they were willing to defend even to the death after the Iberian governments had to choose between the ultimatum of outlawing the missions and enslaving the tribes or sanctioning the mission and face excommunication by the Jesuit order. They chose outlawing the mission in order ensure that they retained their source of spiritual guidance. So how does this fit in the big picture? We have the context, all that is left is to provide the historical facts.
The facts, plain and simple, is that the Iberian powers in place were there to colonize and make money off of their colonies, it was a huge business venture on the part of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns. They needed labor in order to gain a profit, and this was most easily done through enslaved labor and the indigenous population was far cheaper than importing slaves from Africa. Many of these indigenous people were not willing to go peacefully and stuck to their (metaphorical) guns and their Christian ideas of faith and honor that were instilled in them by the members of the Jesuit order, even to the point of dying for their somewhat newly planted beliefs. This is often what happened, however they were never any match for the superior firepower of the Iberian viceregencies.