The year of my birth was the year of the first dynamite
This I have seen myself, not thirty years ago, on the frontiers of the Argentine Republic. The popular Argentine poem, `La Vuelta de Martin Fierro', by Jose Hernandez (Buenos Ayres, 1880), has an illustration showing an expedition against the Indians returning. Some of the men are on foot; others are riding two on the same horse, and officers are animating their men with the flat of their swords. --
The Tobas, Mataguayos, Lules, Aguilotas, Abipones, and the rest, together with the warlike nations of the Vilelas and the Guaycurus, had from the first rejected Christianity. Attempts had several times been made to establish settlements amongst them, but the ferocity of all the tribes, their nomad habits -- for many of them passed their lives on horseback -- and the peculiar nature of their country, a vast domain of swamp, pierced by great rivers quite unknown to the Spanish settlers, had hitherto combined to render every effort vain. But, notwithstanding this, the Jesuits laboured incessantly, and not without success, amongst the wildest of the Chaco tribes. The gentle and eccentric Father Martin Dobrizhoffer passed many years amongst the Abipones, of whom he wrote his charming book. He enumerates many tribes, of whom he says* `these are for the most converted by us, and settled in towns.'
-- * `Account of the Abipones', p. 125. --
Nothing, perhaps, displays the Jesuits at their best, more than their efforts in the Chaco. The enormous territory was sparsely peopled by about seventy tribes,*1* whereof there were fifteen or sixteen of considerable size. Hardly two tribes spoke dialects by which they could communicate with one another, and almost every one of them lived in a state of warfare, not only with the Spaniards, but with the neighbouring tribes. The inventories preserved by Brabo*2* show us the town of Paisanes in the Chaco, with its rough wooden houses, and the Jesuits' habitation in the middle of the place, stockaded, and without doors, and with but narrow openings in the wall, through which the missionaries crept. The inside of the house contained five or six rough rooms, almost unfurnished, but for a few religious books and a plentiful supply of guns.*3* Their beds were of unvarnished wood, with curtains of rough cotton spun by the Indians. Sometimes they had a sofa of leather slung between four stakes, a rack for medicine bottles, and for the wine for Mass. Lastly, one priest, in the settlement amongst the Toquitistines, had among his books copies of Cervantes and Quevedo; one hopes he read them half smiling, half with a tear in his eye, for your true humour is akin to tears. Perhaps, reading `Don Quixote' or `El Gran Tacano', the poor priest forgot his troubles, and, wandering with Sancho in La Manchan oak-woods or through Castilian uplands, thought he was in Spain.*4*
-- *1* Brabo, `Inventarios', p. ix. *2* Francisco Xavier Brabo, `Inventarios de los bienes hallados a/ la expulsion de los Jesuitas' (Madrid, 1872). *3* The lists of cannons, guns, and arms of all kinds in the inventories of the Chaco towns, preserved by Brabo, serve to show not only the dangers to which the Jesuits were exposed, but also how thoroughly the Jesuits understood the fickle nature of those with whom they lived. *4* Another priest, the list of whose effects Brabo has preserved in his `Inventarios', had a book called `El Alivio de Tristes'. Even a Protestant may be excused for hoping that it merited its title. --
Throughout the territory of the Gran Chaco there were but seven reductions established by the Jesuits. These were San Jose de Bilelas, with its little town Petacas; San Juan Bautista de los Iristines, with its townlet of the same name; San Esteban de los Lules, with the town of Miraflores; Nuestra Senora del Buen Consejo de los Omarapas, capital Ortega; Nuestra Senora de Pilar de los Paisanes, with Macapillo as its centre; Nuestra Senora del Rosario de los Tobas, with its chief place called San Lucas; and, lastly, the establishment amongst the Abipones, known as La Concepcion. In all these missions the Jesuits lived in constant peril of their lives. In reading their old chronicles one finds the records of their obscure and half-forgotten martyrdoms, their sufferings, and the brief record of their deaths by an arrow or a club. In 1711 Father Cavallero, with all his following, was slain by the savage Pinzocas. In 1717 Father Romero, having, as a Jesuit writer says, `nothing but moral force behind him,'* was slain with twelve companions of the Guaranis of Paraguay. In 1718 Fathers Arco and Blende, Sylva and Maceo, received their dusted-over martyrs' crowns.
-- * Cretineau Joly, tome v., chap. ii., p. 95. Your moral force is excellent in a civilized country; but your modern missionary usually prefers something more in accordance with the spirit of the times. --
Right up the western bank of the river Paraguay, in the old maps, the crosses mark the sites where Jesuits were slain. That they all died to further crafty schemes, or for some hidden purpose of a Machiavelian nature, even a Dominican will scarcely urge. That they did good -- more or less good than Protestant fanatics of the same kidney might have achieved -- it were invidious to inquire. That which is certain is that they were single-hearted men, faithful unto the end to what they thought was right, faithful even to the shedding of their own blood, which is, one may believe, the way in which the scriptural injunction should be rightly read.
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