Toward a Political Anthropology of Mission Sound: Paraguay
in the 17th and 18th Centuries
Translated from the Spanish by Eric Ederer
of pre-Enlightenment art, particularly music, presents similar difficulties to
taking on any of the so-called “aesthetic experiences” of non-Western societies.
The globalizing concept of “aesthetics” inevitably becomes entangled with other
notions of greater historical and ideological charge that configure a contemporary
worldview—artistic individuality, creative will, and “the work of art,” among
others. Such notions presuppose the independence of the “aesthetic phenomenon”
from its social uses and ignore cultural and political factors. Beginning with
the modern secular era, these phenomena have acquired a status that is
ontologically and methodologically differentiated from other spheres of social
life. They are analytically fragmented into diverse aesthetic manifestations
(music, painting, sculpture, theater, etc.) and are treated separately by
different disciplines that privilege formal and technical attributes. As a
result, their integral relation to culture is lost.
The problem becomes
especially complicated when we approach an environment as socio-culturally diverse
as the Latin American colonial world, where such manifestations express
conflicts and negotiations between European traditions and local cultures.
Historiographic projects have tended to emphasize the more picturesque or
anecdotal aspects of the colonial experience, omitting, on the one hand,
critical analysis of the socio-cultural bases of such conflicts and their
symbolic negotiations, and, on the other, analyses of their multiple hegemonic
and counter-hegemonic political uses. With a few exceptions having to do with
imagery and music, the search has been mainly centered on the analysis of works
(the determination of a “repertoire”) and the search for original authors. As
a result, a modern bias has been imposed upon the worldview of that era.
with authorship, repertoire, and works finds its roots in romanticism and thus
postdates the period under consideration. As demonstrated in a few recent
studies on colonial music, notions of “the author” and “the work” have been
impediments to a clear understanding of music of the colonial era. The
relationship between the concepts of “work” and “repertoire” is barely
relevant, since musical products were then conceived in ways that were open,
flexible, plural, and fluid. This makes it difficult to apply the kind of
strict classification schemes we use for other periods. In colonial musical
products, the “author function” as we understand it today was not present. The
musical texts, for the most part anonymous, possessed a religious functionality:
the individuality of the composers was dissolved, while important
“extramusical” meanings accrued in multiple ceremonial and religious contexts.
The Jesuit missions
among the Guaraní and Chiquito peoples, who lived along the borders that separate
present-day Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, were no exception. We know that
the “repertoire” was managed pragmatically, selection of music being a function
of availability, the discretion of mission authorities, and accessibility to
indigenous musicians. It is true that important features in the works of
Jesuits Domenico Zipoli and Martin Schmid provide clues about local
compositional modalities and concrete aesthetics, at least for certain periods.
But the sources are not sufficient to establish the existence of indigenous
composers with a style of their own. In terms of specific genres—mass, motet,
dances, and others—the information is quite fragmentary and lacks detail. The
most important Jesuit reports provide very general descriptions that prevent the
formation of clear ideas regarding local variation.
"Paraquaria Vulgo Paraguay cum
adjacentibus. Joannes Blaeu Atlas Maior." (Amsterdam 1662). Published
by: FURLONG, Guillerrno 1936 Cartografía jesuítica del Río de la Plata.
Buenos Aires. Publicaciones del Instituto de Investigaciones históricas, Nro.
LXXI. Facultad de Filosofía y Letras. , Lamina III, n. 06 do Catálogo,
Now, if our modern
vision is not appropriate for understanding music of the colonial era, how
shall we approach the sonic experiences of the past? What are the
characteristics of the indigenous musical experience in missionary regions of Paraguay during the 17th and 18th centuries?
In this article I
will explore a few ways to respond to these questions. In the first section, I
discuss analytical models for the “sonic experience” in the missionary regions,
putting special emphasis on what such models reveal about the native categories
that define the limits of the sonic world. I continue by describing concrete
uses of sound in the daily routine and rituals of the missions, showing how it
served as a hegemonic mechanism that reinforced regimes of temporality and
corporality. In the third section I refer to what can be called
“counter-hegemonic uses of sound”—that is, those instances in which sound is
openly linked to indigenous acts of resistance. Finally, I conclude by
presenting some considerations about ambiguous or hybrid zones, in which sound
is used as a means of negotiation between Jesuit authorities and the indigenous
Map of the thirty jesuít missions of Guarani, Paraguay (1609-1768), (author: Blanca Daus/Ethnohistory Program/UBA).
CLUES IN THE COLONIAL DOCUMENTS
music of the past, particularly from the colonial period in the Americas, presents a double problem. The first part of the problem is well known and holds
for any manifestation that could be classified as “aesthetic” in different
socio-cultural and historical spaces. This sort of problem arises at the
representational level: transposing the register of one experience inscribed on
the plane of fleeting corporeal and gestural sensations and emotions to the
linguistic register in order to make that experience intelligible in some way.
In the case of the lost sonic experience, primary source documents might
provide us with some clues that would allow us to understand the meaning of
that experience as lived by the actors at the time. Such meaning depends on a
socio-cultural context—or on a historical constellation, to use a term favored
by Adorno—that also must be reconstructed from traces that are found in the
same documents. This leads to the second part of the problem, which comes into
play at the methodological level: the historical constellation is fundamentally
alien to the modern framework with which we ourselves operate.
anthropological challenge thus consists of understanding not only the artifacts
and ideas (in this case sonic) but also the sensibility that produces and makes
sense of them. This mandates an inquiry that, paradoxically, moves beyond the
In any such operation of transposition we are presented with a dilemma:
something on the order of “the real” always escapes conceptualization, as
though meaning were being drained away. As Lévi-Strauss argues, the
relationship between musical structures and words (and thus meaning) is
open-ended in a way that is comparable to the relationship between the
structure of myth and sound.
With respect to the
South American missionary regions, discussions of recent years have been marked
by a determined search for native authors in an attempt to evaluate indigenous
creative capacity. But if such a search is laudable from an ideological point
of view, it is nonetheless inconsistent with the information available in the
sources. Moreover, it does not seem to be truly relevant for understanding the
concrete musical dynamic of the era in the sense of bringing us closer to a
native point of view about sonic experience. Various methods have been
attempted in order to overcome this modern bias.
One of them,
outlined recently by Bernardo Illari, involves a model of exploration and
analysis of missionary sound and its associations with the construction of
identities. Illari suggests moving the focus of research from the musical text
to the field of interpretation or the audible result of practice, which is the
dimension in which indigenous agency appears best to express itself. Illari
employs the category of the “sonic type,” understood as the integrated features
of sound produced by a human group defined at a particular moment in its
history. It is possible to describe these “types” by identifying a series of
characteristics. Thus the sonic type of a missionary “Indigenous-Jesuit
culture” could be defined by describing: a) the instrumental and vocal forces
used to interpret a work, b) the techniques of vocal production and the ways
instruments are played, c) the texture of the music, d) the use of dynamics, e)
varieties of ornamentation, and f) the approach to rhythm and character. If
this approach appears a bit schematic and its reference to “culture”
questionable, it still seems effective for attempting a sonic reconstruction,
village by village, that allows us to determine local particularities within
the broad mission context.
At the same time, this model can help us to establish interpretations not only
of sound production but also of the reception of European music among the
analytical approach is that which I am presenting here. It consists of placing
the sonic experiences in a broader tapestry of ritual and daily practices, and
not isolating them in a musical domain.
In my judgment, to speak of “ritualized sound” instead of “music” opens the
analysis to the possibility of considering the political uses made of those
sounds in particular circumstances. It also facilitates the reconstruction of
the indigenous conceptualizations in play, which were generally linked to
religious and social practices.
begins with the premise that the native populations possessed categories and
“theories” for defining and conceptualizing sonic practices, even though these
are very different in character from the ones familiar today. We cannot make
use of the objectivist perspective of the modern observer, which emphasizes
formal properties and stylistic features. The perspective of the native
populations stresses the subjective since it refers concretely to the modes of
employing sonic practice, the privilege of owning or specializing in them, the
most propitious moments for deploying them, their nature, name, and origin, and
their value and associations with other practices and objects.
These conceptual categories are effected in certain ritual or daily
circumstances, for which reason they can neither be understood strictly as
“musical theories” nor as “aesthetic theories.”
However, it is not
precisely this subjective vision of the indigenous actors that is the first to
manifest itself in the missionary sources. On the contrary, what emerge
immediately are the uses of sonic experience for political hegemonic purposes,
for the slow, subtle, and gradual imposition of a colonial order on groups that
previously had had little contact with the Spanish. Anything we learn about
indigenous sonic conceptualizations from these sources is distorted through the
Jesuit voice, which translates, selects, elides, and emphasizes. But Jesuit
writings do offer some clues. For example, Jesuit Ruiz de Montoya, in his
linguistic writings, dedicates an important section to the terms pú and ndú,
in Guaraní “noise” or “the sound of a thing.”
De Montoya’s work reveals that “the sonic” is more appropriate for defining the
indigenous experience than “the musical” inasmuch as the Guaraní notion of
sound is linked to a realm that encompasses more human practices and actions.
Village of San Ignacio Miní, view
of the entrance of the chruch from the plaza, Misiones, Argentina (author´s photo).
What then are the
various daily and ritual uses made of sound in the missionary regions? Before
taking up this subject it is necessary to make a brief assessment of some of
the central aspects of the mentality that inspired the imposition of symbolic
practices and Christian rituals in the missionary villages. This mentality is
shaped by the baroque conception of ritual, which is characteristic of the
so-called Ancien Régime. It is worth
considering not only for the insights it provides on the efficacy of the
activities of the Jesuit missionaries—the vehicle of a determined political and
symbolic apparatus—but also, and above all, to reveal the concepts of society
and subjectivity that underlie Jesuit actions among the indigenous people of
the region. The Ancien Régime framework was behind the radical opposition of
the Jesuits (expressed at least in their discourse) to the indigenous religious
traditions they encountered upon their arrival and which they tried to
Reducción de Santísima Trinidad, Paraguay
MUSIC, POWER, AND CIVILITY IN THE ANCIEN
reference to a mentality of the Ancien Régime is overly simplistic, a brief
explication of certain predominant features of the political philosophy of the
era makes possible an understanding of the ideology that informed the intellectuals
and religious men who arrived in South America, and whose agenda it was to
expand Iberian religious and socio-cultural values. The following description
is based on the works of Antonio Manuel Hespanha concerning juridical law of
the continental European Ancien Régime.
In the treatises of
the era, politics was understood as the correct exercise of life in the city,
which is to say an instrument at the service of the common good. The juridical
terminology of the times abounds with concepts like affectio for
explaining the nature of the social order. According to the paradigm formalized
by Saint Thomas, there existed necessary links between the things that
comprised the order—links that were maintained by love or some similar affect.
The view held by the intellectuals of the day was that objects of the world
tended naturally toward order by means of a force, an affect or love of order
intrinsic to those objects themselves. This love was, in the first and last
instance, a love for the common good, the glue of human societies. Thus
creation consisted of an organic network of sympathies. This was the basis of
the link between citizens of the Republic, beyond the hierarchies and
inequalities intrinsic to the order.
All beings and things collaborated in the eschatological destiny of the world.
Thus “subordination” did not represent a lesser dignity but rather a specific
place in the order, which alloted to each position obligations and rights with
a natural basis.
this view, persons were not conceived as independent individuals—autonomous and
possessing a will—in the way we have understood them to be since the
Enlightenment. Instead they were members of collective entities, each
occupying a place in the social structure, a status, or “state,” to use
a term very dear to jurisprudence of the era.
It is interesting to note that the category of “person” or juridical subject
could be extended even beyond that which is properly human. Given the universal
character of order, everything in the world possessed rights and obligations.
Angels and other supernatural beings, animals, inanimate objects, corporations,
newborns and the deceased, or even God Himself—all were entitled to certain
judicially protected rights.
What place then did
music and ritual occupy in this concept of order? According to Ancien Régime
principles, ritual acts, in their quality of being bodily or verbal acts, were
also inscribed on the natural order. They were not fantastic or metaphoric
representations of order, but rather they constituted the order itself, making
it visible and revitalizing its basic principles. Actions such as genuflection,
the kissing of hands or face, the sexual relations within a family, removing or
putting on a hat or other item of clothing, the use of words, and so many other
practices both public and private, were bound up in the nature of things. They
gave expression to objective positions in the natural order of society and
therefore were delineated in a detailed and rigorous manner.
Musical harmony was
a central property of order. Although heterogeneous, the things of creation
worked together toward a common end, creating, according to the intellectuals
of the time, a universal polyphony. In that era, Hespanha notes, the perfection
of creation was seen as residing in the heterogeneity of things as they wove
themselves together, sharing an objective as if a polyphonic texture
encompassed the universe. The idea of a universal harmony was invoked through
the image of a choir of many voices or an orchestra of angels that exalted
diversity and the unity of the world at the same time.
More than a
metaphor for order, the notion of harmony emulated the fundamental nature of
things. Although this was taken as a given, it was not regarded as being
manifestly obvious; it had to be laboriously extrapolated. Thus there existed a
hermeneutics of order that could only be reached through revelation, gnosis, or
observation. The world was conceived as a mirror in which each element was
capable of reflecting the whole; each thing was a sign of all other things and
of the order that regulated them. Music, arithmetic, and geometry were the
principle fields of knowledge charged with deciphering the meaning of an order
that was, above all, a political and civic order. It is no coincidence that we
find, starting many centuries earlier, references to harmony and music in
successive treatises dedicated to politics.
Let us return now to our South American missionary context. An
exploration of the best known Jesuit chronicles of the eighteenth century
allows us to conclude that ceremony in the missions was a central vehicle for
the conceptions of subjectivity and society that the Jesuits brought to America and tried to impose upon the converted indigenous populations. Their ideal of subjectivity found expression in the
context of an urban life, which was conceived along the lines of the ancient
notion of Polis. It is not coincidence that the Jesuit José Manuel
Peramás refers to the mission of the Guaraní of Paraguay in terms explicitly
drawn from Plato’s Republic. This vision is probably also informed by
other utopias imagined in antiquity.
The very idea of
the mission (reducción) presupposed Christian life in the city.
Thus Peramás points out that the conversion of the indigenous populations began
when they were convinced to leave their isolated huts. Under the orders of
their chiefs, they grouped themselves in common settlements, thus founding
“cit[ies]” in which they could help each other, “consolidating their ideas and
Urban organization, in its regular and harmonious distribution of streets and
buildings, was the physical manifestation of a utopia, a “happy Christian
[community]” that could maintain its vitality and coherence through religious ceremony.
of the village of Candelaria currently located in Misiones, Argentina (Picture from: Peramás  1946)
the virtues of city life, identifying them one by one and describing the ways
in which the Jesuits managed to impose them in such a far-flung corner of the
world as Paraguay. He mentions “moderation” and “prudence” as being among the
principle qualities of civility. Following Plato, he highlights the importance
of the “moderate man” who controls his appetites for fear of the law and with
reason as his guide.
As a result, he commends the values of frugality and sobriety manifest in the
public meals the Guaraní held to mark certain solemn occasions. “All was done
there [affirms the Jesuit] with moderation.”
Also following Plato, Peramás underscores the importance of music, dance, and
the arts for reinforcing civic virtues, for contributing to the education and
control of a citizenry’s body and soul—or, to put it another way, to control
in the village of San Juan Bautista (ca. 1750). Picture from: Torre Revelo, José 1938 Mapas y
planos referentes al Virreinato del Plata conservados en el Archivo General de
Aires [original in
colors at the General Archive of Simancas, Valladolid, Spain).
In sum, music,
sound, and ritual served as useful devices for imposing a traditional European
subjectivity upon the indigenous peoples under direct missionary control.
European socio-cultural traditions are evident in the organization of
indigenous daily life according to a double disciplinary regimen of body and
time. As far as the discipline of time is concerned, reports about the rational
order of missionary village life are well known: the alternation of mass and
labor designed to eliminate the uneven handling of productive activities. The
sound of bells and drums were often used to guide the movements of the
indigenous populations through the various daily activities and rituals. Jesuit
José Cardiel notes in his Declaración de la verdad (“Declaration of Truth”)
that all villages possess a sundial and that a bell is rung at each part of the
hour. After meals, there was conversation around the table until the bell was
sounded again, signaling that it was time to gather at the church for the Holy
Sacrament. In the afternoon “Vespers and Compline are rung, and at their times
Matins and Lauds, and we go to confession.” At four, a large bell in the
mission tower was rung, calling the priests and people to gather together for
catechism and subsequently the rosary. The Jesuit adds that in each tower there
are between six and eight large and small bells. Mission Villages also made use of the sound of drums
to call the boys and girls under the age of seventeen to the catechism.
Different kinds of bells, village of San Miguel, Brazil (author’s photo).
Small bells from the village of Santa Ana, Chiquitos
region, Bolivia. Picture from: Szarán, Luis & Jesús
Ruyiz Nestosa 1999 Música en las reducciones jesuíticas de América del Sur.
Colección de instrumentos de Chiquitos, Bolivia. Fundación Paracuaria,
Missionsprojur S.J. Nürnberg, Centro de Estudios Paraguayos “Antonio Guasch”. Asunción
contributed to the regimentation of indigenous bodily habits and sexual
behavior. Thus, for example, we know from an official of the period following
the expulsion that, during the time of the
Jesuits, it was the custom to beat boxes at various junctures during the night,
particularly in the early morning. The object was to remind married Indians of
their marital obligations, since many returned from their labors so tired that
they did not maintain sexual relations with their wives, resulting in a decline
of the population.
This amusing anecdote reveals the efficacy of sound as an instrument of social
control that operated daily in a naturalized manner. Here, the sound of the
boxes at night is functionally equivalent to the daily ringing of bells to
prompt attendance at prayers and collective labors. We are not able to give the
production and playing of musical instruments the special treatment it deserves
here, but it is worth pointing out that to a considerable degree instruments
were used in activities oriented toward establishing a daily order governed by
Mission Orchestra, detail from the plan of San Juan
General Archive of Simancas, Valladolid, Spain.
the root of European juridical culture during the Ancien Régime was the concept
of human society as part of a universal and natural order, and it was this
concept that motivated the imposition of regimens of temporality and
corporality. That order, established by God, predated human will, which
remained subordinate to the natural tendency toward harmonic and equilibrated
integration dictated by the laws of the universe. The law, which made social
life possible, was in this sense an act of reason more than of will. In the
missions, Jesuits inevitably attempted to impose a conception of “the civic”
that was based on these ideas, silencing traditional indigenous practices that
seemed antithetical to it.
must be kept in mind that the cited descriptions of Cardiel and Escandón are
from a later period, and that the process of imposing Christian ritual
practices was achieved gradually and not without resistance. It is obvious that
the indigenous population did not accept these impositions in a passive manner.
When they did not oppose them openly, as did occur in the period of the
formation of the missions, they developed subtle ways of incorporating them
into their previous customs, some of which were tolerated by mission
authorities. It is useful to survey the uses of sound and indigenous ritual
practices in the formative period of Guaraní missions, even though the scarcity
of sources dictates that such a survey will inevitably be brief.
OF INDIGENOUS RESISTANCE
Upon their arrival
in Paraguay, the Jesuits encountered indigenous rituals that were expressive of
religious cosmologies and modes of living that were radically different from
European ones. Disgracefully, practically no testimony about these rituals has
been left to us, which also makes it difficult to discern the ways the Jesuits
came to impose Christian ritual practices. Two issues should be kept in mind.
First, the process of converting the indigenous population to Christianity was
slow and it was not until the beginning of the eighteenth century that a
well-defined pattern of Christian of ceremonies took hold.
Surely an important period of ambiguity persisted for some time. Various early
accounts are suggestive in this regard, for example the following comments by
Diego Boroa in reference to the village of Santos Mártires:
“They had a well rooted and barbarous custom of crying
superstitiously and immoderately over their deceased [...] They have corrected
it through the efforts of the Fathers, mixing it with Christian demonstrations
and sentiments and pity toward the dead, and, upon hearing the tolling of the
bell, they come together, ordinarily more than 1,000 souls, and they accompany
the dead until giving them burial [...]”
The second issue is
that the Jesuit sources probably declined to mention those indigenous practices
that would have compromised the general image that they wanted to convey to the
European world about the missions of Paraguay. If indeed it is true that those
elements tied to the former reko or “way of being” of the Guaraní were
eradicated, many aspects of this long process of resignification still remain
religious practice in the Guaraní missions, especially those dating from the
eighteenth century (like the writings of Peramás), tend to draw a stark
contrast with the ways of life and former religion of the groups under
missionary control. Only a few accounts of the old rituals can be found in the
early writings of the Jesuits, and these are generally based on secondary
information. For example, consider the letter that the Jesuit Barzana wrote ten
years before the creation of the Jesuit Province of Paraguay, in which he
supplied information on the indigenous Guaraní and Chaqueño. In this letter,
Barzana writes, “[the Guaraní] have so many dances based on their religion and
perform them so stubbornly that some die during them.”
These sources do
not bring anything new to ethno-historic or musicological research.
Nonetheless, it is interesting to extract from them the fact that the Jesuit
perceived indigenous practices as a permanent threat to missionary activities
insofar as they served as the basis of resistance conducted by the indigenous
religious leaders. Barzana writes,
“And this propensity of theirs to obey religious titles
has caused not only many infidel Indians to pretend amongst themselves to be
children of God and teachers, but also [Christian] Indians, raised amongst
Spaniards, to run away and join those still at war, and some calling themselves
Popes, others calling themselves Jesus Christ, have clumsily set up monasteries
with nuns quipus abutuntur; and, to this day, those who serve and those
who do not serve have sown a thousand omens and superstitions and rites [learned]
from these teachers, whose principle doctrine is that one must dance, day and
night, and as a result [Indians] die of hunger, having forgotten their crops.”
Dance and song were
conceived as performances that had irrevocable consequences: they were the
means by which “sorcerers” reached a state of perfection known as agujye, in
which the physical world dropped away.
Much later the Jesuit Pedro Lozano would highlight similar practices while
documenting the famous rebellion against the Spanish led by Oberá. He writes:
“Oberá took his time on the way to the Paraná, enjoying
the torpid delights. He maintained a crowd of concubines with which he
occupied himself in abominable dances and songs composed for his own praise,
and he persuaded all the others that if they should wish to remain in his
favor, then they should do the same day and night. They obeyed him promptly,
because the license to do vice is the most powerful aid to garner obedience
among barbarians. All the time they were not heading to infest Asuncion they spent singing praises to their adored Oberá, extolling his power, majesty,
and other attributes he credited himself with in his diabolical pride. The
danger in the province grew moment by moment because of the entourage and
potency of Oberá, attracting Indians from distant parts to worship this
descriptions do not afford us greater details, which makes it practically
impossible to reconstruct the characteristics of the older rituals. Also, it
should be kept in mind that the groups that came under missionary control
during the seventeenth century were diverse and had different cultural
traditions. This makes it difficult to speak of homogeneous socio-cultural
practices when the Jesuit missions first began.
The only thing we
can say with certainty is that the tradition of the festival was fundamental
among the groups under direct missionary control. This was documented in the
seventeenth century in the linguistic work of Ruiz de Montoya, who devotes many
definitions to the Guaraní term “festival.”
These definitions were clearly appropriated and re-signified in the missions for the purposes of evangelization. Ruiz de
Montoya translates the term “fiesta” (festival) as Areté. This
term, a compound of the particles Ara, “time (or day),” and Eté,
“true,” appears at the same time in the Tesoro de la Lengua Guaraní
(“Thesaurus of the Guaraní Language”) covering a wide range of uses and
contexts. It refers to Saint days, to the Easter celebration of the
resurrection (Areté guaçú), to the “Easter of the Nativity” (Tupa
mitangi areté guaçú), to the feasts in their totality, to feasts which fall
on Thursdays, to the actions of observation, preparation, and purification for
those feasts, the work done on feast days, the celebration of the mass, and the
act of going to church, among others.
The term festival also appears to be associated with the Guaraní concept of pepy—get-together
or feast—the intimate linkage being through similar practices and an emphasis
on group cooperation.
The use of these
terms would become common with the consolidation of Jesuit proselytizing
activities in the area. In the eighteenth century, for example, we find a
priest like Jaime Oliver for whom it is natural to use the term aretéguaçú
to refer to the “fiesta magna” of the Christian calendar among the Guaraní.
In short, such a redefinition makes evident the centrality of the concept of
the festival in the Guaraní worldview and daily practices. We should continue
to investigate the concrete meanings of terms such as this.
Now it is equally
evident that the Jesuits were clearly conscious of the limitations of
appropriating certain former practices. By their association with the figures
of religious leaders, some practices that persisted could put at risk the
stability of mission life and the imposition of Christian religious ideas.
Although we cannot confirm that an element of drunkenness was ubiquitous in the
old indigenous rituals, and are similarly limited with respect to the role of
body painting, nudity, or certain hairstyles, it was inevitable that Jesuit
officials would eradicate them, not only because they were seen as symbols of
barbarity and contrary to civic life, but, more importantly, because they were
signs of native religious identity. According to a Carta Anua (“Annual
Letter”) by Jesuit Diego de Torres, the Guaraní of Guayrà used the skulls of
their enemies as cups for chicha, a drink made from corn that they
frequently imbibed to make themselves drunk at their banquets.
Peramás also refers to the custom of “tinting the face” and identifies it with
Of practices like cannibalism, which was an anathema within the missionary
controlled regions, we have no generalized evidence, but we suspect that they
were found diffused throughout several areas where missionary activity took
Guarani Celebration (end of 19th Century) by
Adolf Methfessel for the book of Juan Bautista Ambrosetti 1894 "Los indios Cainguá del Alto Paraná
del Instituto Geográfico Argentino 15:661-744. Buenos Aires. Published by Vignati: Anales
del Museo de La Plata.
All of those
practices that could be identified with the old ways of indigenous life and
particularly those associated with celebrations were zealously persecuted. For
example, the practice of ritual drunkenness was gradually replaced by taking
infusions of yerba mate (Paraguayan tea) or, in the worst of cases,
measuring out chicha and guarapo of low alcohol content during
festivals and get-togethers. The Jesuit Muriel explains that after mass and
prayers, a ration of yerba was doled out to each Indian, which he or she
generally consumed during working periods. The drink, he indicates, was capable
of invigorating them without making them drunk.
Peramás later praised the drink in the following manner:
“During the whole time that I lived among them, I never
saw, in any city, a single drunk. They contented themselves with their own
drink of Paraguay herb [yerba mate], which they highly esteem; a
drink that can be taken twenty times an hour or in half that without the least
damage. I refer to what I myself have seen and experienced.”
We also know that,
at least in the beginning, the use of musical instruments with religious
significance, such as maracas and tacuaras, was condemned. It is
revealing to consider several surviving testimonies of indigenous people who
witnessed the martyrdom of the Jesuits Roque González de Santa Cruz, Alonso
Rodríguez, and Juan del Castillo, which occurred in the villages of the Tape
region. For example, Cristóbal Quirendí affirms that an old sorcerer named
Guaraibí ordered the kidnapping and murder of Juan del Castillo, saying to the
Indians: “Let us kill this priest: let us have only our chief Ñezú, let there
be heard in our lands the sounds of our gourds and taucaras.”
Once the Jesuit was taken prisoner, the Indians entered the priest’s house and
the church as a group, destroying images and the altar and gathering up the
ornaments to take them to the head of the rebellion, the sorcerer Ñezú, who
ordered them burned. Another witness, the chief Guirayú, from the village of Candelaria, corroborates this by indicating that the aforementioned sorcerer
Guaraibí exhorted the Indians, telling them that there should only be heard in
their land the sound of gourds and that “women Indians
should hear the sound of our tacuaras.” And he added: “These Fathers are
the reason we hide our gourds and tacuaras.”
Jesuit Martyrs of Caaró, Roque Gonzalez de
Santa Cruz, Alonso Rodriguez and Juan del Castillo
(picture from: Blanco 1929)
We reach the point
where an “ethnographic analogy” is opportune. As Irma Ruiz shows in successive
works, among the current mbyá guaraní groups in the province of Misiones, in the precinct called opy, there exist two sonorous instruments
that are indispensable to ritual undertakings due to their sacred character.
One of them, used by men, is the mbaraká, shakers made from a gourd
and later replaced by the five-string guitar. The other, the takuapú, is
a rhythm stick made from the takuara cane and used ritually only by
The link between these sound instruments and the religious and socio-cultural
identity of the mbyá and other Guarani subgroups like the
Chiripa/Ñandeva and the Kaoiwa/Paï is indisputable.
It is difficult to confirm the historic link between these contemporary
groups—which escaped subjugation—and the Guaraní of the seventeenth century in
Tape. But it is evident that both pairs of instruments, the takuapú and
the mbaraká on the one hand and the tacuaras and gourds on the
other, have similar roles in the construction of collective Guaraní identity.
Atanás Teixera and his wife Roberta with maraca
y takuá, Ñande ru Marangatú, Brazil, 2000. Picture
from: Mura, Fabio: A Procura do “Bom viver”. Territorio, tradiçao de conhecimento
e ecologia doméstica entre os Kaiowa. Doctoral dissertation,
Graduate Program of Social Anhtropology, Museo Nacional, Federal University of
Rio de Janeiro.
Pa´I Antonio Matinez and his wife Paula Mendoza with
mbya guitar (mbaraka) and takuapú
(picture from: Ruiz 1984)
To sum up, the
events of Ñezú’s rebellion allow us to infer that the indigenous populations
were conscious that rejecting the Christian subjectivity being imposed upon
them entailed destroying the sonic and visual symbols that served as its
vehicle. In doing so, they could restore the former sound and rituals that
constituted symbols of their own subjectivity.
The Jesuit sources refer frequently to this kind of ritual combat. At times,
the central goal of the indigenous rebels was to appropriate the images and
sounds employed by the Jesuits as instruments of domination. These would be
reused or destroyed, but in either case their hegemonic use was undermined. The
Jesuits related such rebellions with the intervention of malign beings.
It is worth
highlighting the importance of these “spaces of subverted order” that appear
and reappear through sonic traces in several moments in the history of the
missions of Paraguay. In order to understand the political uses of sound by
indigenous peoples, we need to consider other significant episodes like the
rise of Ñezú and his followers. An early Carta Anua relates that in the
zone called Ibiá, on the missionary front of Uruguay, a group of leaders spread
the idea that natural sounds were the voices of monsters hidden in the
interiors of mountains—monsters that would attack those Indians who accepted
Sources from the
Guayrá region describe a “sorcerer” who came from Brazil along with his wife
and a slave. In the village of Loreto, he presented himself in public
“[...] covered in a cape of feathers sounding
castanets made of goat skulls and jumping crazily; he claimed that he was
the true lord of death, of women and of grains; that all was subject to his
will; that with his breath he could annihilate the world and return to create
it, that he was a god in three persons, that through his ritual he had given
being to his slave and from the two of them was produced the girl they brought
with them and with whom they united carnally.”
If we move forward
in time to the eighteenth century, we discover another significant episode.
During the conflict known as “the guaranitic war,” which came about in the
decade of 1750, the indigenous populations of seven Guaraní villages arose against
the Spanish and Portuguese rulers, who had required the villagers to relocate
to new lands after signing a boundary treaty. Around 1753, the Jesuit of one of
the villages, who tried in vain to mitigate the conflict, wrote to the
authorities of the Society of Jesus. He explained that everything in the
village was agitated and that day and night the indigenous residents deafened
him with the beating of boxes. They stalked him and yelled incessantly like
infidels, accusing him of wanting to turn them over to the Portuguese.
In this episode, as
in the previous ones, sound is something more than an indication of political
resistance. Rather it establishes a space of indigenous subjectivity that
escapes control, evoking, in some cases, an older Guaraní “way of being”—or
better yet, “sound of being”—that codifies antecedents and calls for a
collective unity based on indigenous religion against the new Christian order.
A structural similarity links these episodes with the first stages of
resistance to conversion, marked by song and dance.
Guarani maraca from the colection of “Juan Bautista
Ambrosetti” Ethnographic Museum, School of Philosophy and Letters, Buenos Aires University (author’s photo).
Tupi maraca, according to Hans Staden (1557). Picture
Hans 1974 Duas viagens ao Brasil. Belo Horizonte: Ed. Itatiaia/ Ed. da
Universidade de São Paulo.
In effect, these
ancestral practices reveal to us a fundamental aspect of indigenous culture
that we may call an “erotic dimension of sound”; this is inscribed at the level
of bodily pleasures that, by being intrinsically linked with a space of
contestation of the established order, are generally controlled and repressed,
or in the best of cases laboriously resignified. Such a dimension is linked with
a singular subjectivity that unfolds in the daily and ritual environment and
creates connections with its ancestors. It is probably within this frame that
an interpretation of the persistence of the song-form known as guahú
should be mentioned. If indeed the missionaries did not assign it much
importance, its performance was strictly controlled in the missions and
considered dangerous to good manners.
As Escandón relates, this type of lamentation, which was practiced by women,
continued to be used in the Jesuit era for the celebration of indigenous
perhaps it is useful to return to the ideological construction that the Jesuits
bequeathed us. These men had been charged with constructing an opposition between the rituals of the Christian sphere, to which
the missions of Paraguay were to aspire, and the rituals proper to the older
indigenous “way of being,” described in a vague and confused manner in their
documents. In this simplistic dichotomy, the old rituals, manifest in the old dances
and songs, were expressions of a “barbarous” way of life, prolixity, excess,
disorder, and the impulsive release of the passions. By contrast Christian
rituals, embodied in the sounds of European music, symbols, and images, were
expressions of civil life, moderation, rationality and order. The dichotomy was
also expressed in terms of a disciplinary relationship, whereby the Christian
was meant to domesticate the “savage” by means of vigilance, public
humiliation, and corporal punishment.
Now we must ask, is it possible to go beyond this
dichotomy, making use of the Jesuit sources
DOMINATION AND RESISTANCE: HYBRID SONIC SPACES
It is useful to
point out that the analytical distinction between hegemonic and
counter-hegemonic uses of sound presented here is probably only valid for the
first, formative stage of the missions. As may already be noted from the
documents presented, the dual scheme turns out to be too simplistic to tackle
the ritual and sonic phenomenon in periods subsequent to the Paraguayan
missions. Though we know that the Jesuit model ended up being successfully
imposed, the result was not a pristine reflection of the model, but rather it
generated a series of hybrid spaces in which certain elements of the indigenous
vision were re-signified or kept covered in silence. In addition to the
traditional group of primary sources such as the cartas anuas and
reports, a broader and more diffuse corpus of Jesuit documentation needs
to be considered. Letters to Father General, memorials, rule books etc.—all of
these would allow us to gain a more precise image of this universe of
socio-cultural and political practices.
Frieze of Angel musicians, village of Santísima
Trinidad, Paraguay (author’s photo)
Between the poles
of domination and resistance surely we can find a broad repertoire with
intermediating nuances that express subtle modalities of indigenous agency. We
know practically nothing of the limits of the sonic universe of the missions,
the eventual acceptance of native musical instruments, and the performance
practices that developed for the European instruments adopted by the indigenous
people. For example, it is still necessary to explain the wide-scale
incorporation of instruments like the maracas (evidenced in the series
of angel musicians on the frieze from the village of Trinidad) into a sonic
context mainly defined by the presence of European instruments, or the enduring
staying power of the guahú, along with other similar continuities that
persist in indigenous groups today. We must also explain why certain European
instruments had greater acceptance among certain indigenous villages. How did
certain timbres contribute to defining collective identity and reflect social
or aesthetic preferences among the indigenous population? How did the knowledge
of music (interpretation, composition, the job of copyist or of chapel master)
influence the construction of political prestige? These questions, posed here
in the last section, have a preliminary character. They are oriented towards
the search for new elements that can be incorporated into the reconstruction of
native conceptualizations and into the drawing of a sonic missionary map.
In the previous
pages I have tried to delineate a model of analysis in which clues are extracted
concerning the linkage between the sonic universe and daily and ritual life in
the missions. I began with the premise that when we speak of sound we always
speak of something more, something that has to do with how subjects conceive of
themselves, and with the society in which they live, putting into play an
“erotic dimension of sound.” This dimension is situated on the plane of
pleasure and desire, emotions that, although they can be subjugated to an order
and the object of control, can also “subvert,” in ways open or subtle, escaping
even conceptualization, like remnants or remainders of a reality that is
irreducible to normal language.
Celebration among the kaiowá of Mato Grosso do Sul , Brazil . Picture from: Mura, Fabio: A Procura do "Bom
viver". Territorio, tradiçao de conhecimento e ecologia doméstica entre os
Kaiowa . Doctoral dissertation, Graduate Program of Social
Anhtropology, Museo Nacional, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
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