8. The Missions and Government

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8.1. The Missions: Their Churches, Furnishings, Worship, and Teachings

Although in these miserable times opposing opinions have arisen among critics, some praising and others condemning the care and expense of adorning and maintaining the temples with all possible dignity and decency for the reverence due to the Supreme Maker of all creation, I will not enter into a dispute over the subject, but I believe in what Our Mother, the Holy Roman Catholic Church, has always praised, approved, practised, and in a certain fashion glorified in the lives of its Saints. One learns from the lessons of St Ignatius of Loyola, father and founder of the Society of Jesus, when he says in praise of that Holy Patriarch, “Templorum nitor, catechismi traditio, concionum ac Sacramentorum frequentia ab ipso incrementum accepere.”1 I shall say that my heart rejoices with delight, and I feel more inclined to worship and praise Our Lord when I enter any well adorned church. I must let the admiration argument prevail, a maiori ad minorem [from the highest to the lowest], for if we who are more rational than the Indians find incentive and devotion in temples that outshine others by their glowing adornments and will choose those in preference to the slovenly ones for Mass, Sermon, Confession, and Communion, how much more must the Indians be in need of such stimuli when nothing of

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what they hear takes hold upon them unless it enters through their eyes with some sort of demonstration of the Supreme Creator about whom the preacher is speaking? So, when they see that the house of God is well ordered, clean, and beautifully adorned, they perceive at once the magnificence of its Owner and Ruler. I praise the missionaries of Sonora for imitating their great Father St. Ignatius.

Making use of their own perseverance and the meager labor of the Indians, the missionaries of Sonora have been able to maintain their churches properly, thanks to the Lord. And this is true in all Sonora and almost all the Pimería Alta. However, there are some visiting stations which up till now have not had the means to be restored after being ruined by time and the rebellious enemies.

Because the churches are constructed of adobe, except the one at Batuc, they are in need of repair continually, and only those who build in Sonora know how costly it is. A certain missionary in need of fifty pine rafters offered to pay 2,500 pesos in silver for them but found no sellers. Since there are stone quarries everywhere, if there were stone masons available to construct arches and vaults, the larger investment would mean a saving in the long run.

All the churches have side altars, appropriate ornaments, and chalices of silver and in three instances of gold. There are other sacred vessels such as ciboriums, monstrances, large and small candlesticks and crosses, and nearly all churches have silver statues of the Virgin, organs, bassoons, oboes, and bells, not only at the principal missions but at the dependent ones as well. There are also choruses of Indian singers, and masses are celebrated nearly every Sunday, on days of obligation and on the principal festival days with vespers the evening before when required. And there are processions and other ceremonies of the Holy Church which are accomplished with all possible dignity in order to present a visual display of the majesty of our Holy Religion to the neophytes so that they may remain impressed with its splendor and be attracted to it. Their disposition piae affectionis2 is to believe through their eyes rather than their ears.

On Sundays and festive days the missionaries preach, using as their subjects the Gospel, the significance of the mass itself, the mysteries

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of the faith, and the sacraments, commandments and precepts of the church. After mass on these days all present, young and old, recite the catechism in their language. On other days the boys and girls recite it twice, the first time after mass in their own tongue, and the second time in the evening in Spanish. The native parish officials, the teachers of catechism, and the missionary if he is not occupied with more urgent matters also participate. During Lent it is necessary to preach more often on the Sacraments of Penitence and Communion. The preacher must insist that these sacraments be recited fittingly and properly, and he must not take it for granted that because he preached on the subject the year before it will still be remembered. This is not the case. These sermons must be repeated every year without fail because in such matters the memories of the natives are exceedingly weak. An old-time missionary of Sonora used to say, “There are no Christians in the world who recite the catechism more often and know it less than these Indians.” By teaching the Indians diligently the missionaries succeed in having the Indian children conform to the dictates of the Church. They go to confession and receive communion at Easter. And rarely do any of the Opata adults fail to comply unless it be, occasionally, out of ignorance. Among the Opatas, particularly among the women, there are some who confess and receive communion at other holidays during the year which is a source of gratification for their missionary. In some missions, especially those where the Virgin of Loreto is venerated as in Mátape, Bacoachi, and Oposura, the rosary is recited every night in her chapel even if there is only one parishioner in the church. In other places the catechism is recited for a third time in some home so that all may hear it and have their memories refreshed. In every mission the rosary, the litanies, and Hail Marys are recited on Saturday nights, and in most of them the litanies and Hail Marys are sung with musical accompaniment. The Opatas are so devout that they insist upon hearing mass every Saturday night in spite of their having been told that it is not obligatory.

8.2. Ecclesiastical and Civil Governments

Let us deal first with the ecclesiastical government. The catechism class must be attended by boys and girls from the age of seven until

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they are married and have children. At that time they are examined by the missionary, and if found proficient they are excused. The missionary is assisted by one to three fiscales,3 depending upon the number of inhabitants in the parish. Fiscales are also known as madores. Their duties are to notarize the marriage bans and serve as sextons and grave diggers. The temastianes4 act as prompters during the catechism and also teach the catechism class. They, too, serve as sextons. If the teacher knows how to read and write music, he will serve as the musical director of both the chorus and band which take part in religious ceremonies and perform chants as well as musical selections.5 The teacher also serves as scribe for the town council. It is admirable that these illiterate people are able to memorize chants for as many as four different types of masses, the Psalms, and responses for pertinent burial services.

The civil government consists of the governor,6 the alcalde,7 the alguacil,8 and topil.9 The governor is a native selected by the inhabitants of the pueblo in the presence of the missionary who directs the inhabitants to be sure that the elected man is one who leads a good life thus setting an example that will stimulate and spur them to be good. This is in accord with the laws of September 25, 1716, issued by the Royal Court of Guadalajara and a dispatch of November 25, 1746, from the Viceroy Don Juan Francisco Gïemes y Horcasitas which

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contain points of great importance. Would to God that these points be observed to the letter so that thousands of offenses to God, our Lord, might be stopped, and the decline of the pueblos might be prevented. As it is now, the natives leave the pueblos to go to reales de minas with no desire to return. This leaves their wives as widows and their children as orphans.

Once the governor is selected, the people of the pueblo select the justice of the peace, the constable, and the policeman in the same way. Then in the same manner they select their warchief,10 and all together these elected officials form the senate or council of these republics, maintaining order and safeguarding the property of the king and the church, settling disputes, chastising delinquents, and imposing penalties of one or two dozen lashes according to the crime, especially if it is a public offense. The council regulates what is to be done for the church and has authority over the cultivation of the soil, sowing, reaping, and other occupations in which the natives are supposed to spend three days a week. But actually the Indians work less than a day. For no matter how much the justices may exert themselves to get the Indians out at an early hour, they arrive on the job at noon when the sun is at its zenith. Once there, they do not apply themselves to finish the work but rather play around until three or four in the afternoon. Then, even though the day has been miserably lost, they are well satisfied with what they have done and gorge themselves with pozole, a stew prepared for them containing lima beans, chick-peas, carob beans, wheat, and even meat when available to improve the flavor. The food is obtained from the storerooms of the mission.

When harvesting wheat they receive a whole cow every day, but even though the Indians know and admit that the work they are asked to do is for their own benefit, the justices and the missionary must exert great effort, especially among the Pimas, to prevent the Indians from entirely neglecting to provide for their own sustenance. At times it is necessary for the justices to apply the penalty of a few lashes. This has even been done with the Opatas, reasonable as they seem to be.

The warchief in the smaller settlements has an ensign and a

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sergeant under his command. In the larger pueblos he may also have one or two corporals, etc. Their duty is to reconnoiter in all directions for a distance of two or three leagues from the village looking for enemy tracks. Should any be found, the governor is notified, and he orders out as many warriors as he judges necessary. The warriors, then, are under the command of the warchief. Moreover, the warchief or one of his officers commands the escort that accompanies traders, travelers, and the missionary when he goes on visitations or trips to see fellow missionaries. Furthermore, the warchief furnishes the guard when mission crops are transported to be sold at some mining district. He has no duty in the town.

Lately the rank of captain-general has been introduced, which serves no purpose either to religion, the kingdom, or the public. Such an office did not exist among the natives.11 They only recognized and obeyed the boldest and most courageous who led them in offensive warfare and scrimmages that occurred among them such as when the people of Bacerac would come by night and steal the salt rock of Bacadéhuachi which was needed as a condiment in their stews because the Baceracas had none. Then the Bacadéhuachis would come out and defend what they claimed was theirs. The captain-general rank is not good for the faith, because no matter how good an Indian might have been before he was shown this esteem, the praise and prestige he receives make him arrogant rather than humble, and lazy rather than diligent. There is nothing more for him to attain. While he had been obedient and gentle, he becomes stubborn and willful, and the worst is that with the honor conferred upon him he turns from being a good Christian to being a bad one. Many examples could be cited, but it is enough to say that Luis de Sáric would never have plotted his insurrection12 had he not been captain-general of the Pimas Altos.

If a captain-general becomes corrupt, all the vicious and wayward Indians find protection under his shadow and revert to the pagan

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practices of drunkenness, dances, and orgies. The captain-general avails himself not only of their services but also their possessions. He considers them his inferiors, and while he remains in office, they do not dare open their mouths in the slightest whimper to reveal their suffering, even to their missionary, for the fear they have of such a leader. Therefore, it is evident that such an office is not beneficial to the kingdom. It is contrary to the royal will as prescribed by the Laws of Indies. In case of emergencies the warriors can be gathered quicker by notifying the gobernadorcillos, who can send messengers who travel in relays over great distances. From a far corner of the province, then, the gobernadorcillos can issue one order dispatching the required number of warriors from each pueblo. But if the request goes first to the captain-general, as I have seen many times, he will send many orders, each one prepared very slowly beginning with “I,” then the name of the captain-general, “order …” This is a hindrance rather than a benefit to the public good. Such an office does not benefit the natives. It is prejudicial to Christianity and the welfare of their souls.

Furthermore, in the Indians' desire to imitate Spanish officers they lose the value and efficiency of their own weapons, disdaining to go on foot and carry bows and arrows. So they demand firearms, horses and the necessary riding gear, but they do not know how to use them.13 They make themselves utterly useless and ridiculous, and the civil authorities do not try to stop them as prescribed by the Laws of Indies.14 Thus the number of warriors on foot handling native weapons with proficiency becomes fewer each day. Therefore, it is my opinion that it would be wiser to allow those who hold the office of captain-general to continue serving in that capacity unless they abuse it, but as they die off or prove themselves unworthy, new ones should not be appointed.15

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Although this may not be the proper place, I wish to make reference to the subject of dealing with the Indians. I wish to call to the attention of those who deal with Indians that they should not praise any of them to their faces. To the native it is a poison of a violent kind to hear himself praised and addressed as señor as is often done by incautious Spaniards in order to obtain what they would never acquire without such folly. Not long ago I saw a paper written by a Spaniard who had been a judge for years. He addressed it to a native, and he began with these words, “Señor Gobernador …” If this style were used by a Negro or a mulatto it wouldn't surprise me because he would be addressing a superior, but it becomes an offense to his noble race for a Spaniard to address an Indian that way. It is a despicable, stupid affront, even more so if it is used as bait to obtain favors.


1. “He promoted the erection of splendid churches, fostered the teaching of catechism, encouraged the attendance of sermons and the reception of sacraments.” This is from the sixth lesson of the Roman Breviary for July 31, feast day of St. Ignatius.

2. Impressionable nature.

3. The native parish officials referred to in section one of this chapter were known as fiscales.

4. The native teachers of catechism referred to in section one were known as temastianes.

5. Nentvig uses the expressions canto llano and canto figurado. Canto llano meant Gregorian chants or simple music with extremely regular cadences. Canto figurado referred to music with varied rhythms, songs which could be adapted to varying times and different rhymes.

6. The native governor was usually referred to as gobernadorcillo to distinguish him from the governor of the province.

7. Alcalde, usually mayor of the town, was actually a justice of the peace in the pueblos. Alcalde Mayor refers to the governor of the whole province.

8. Alguacil was a sort of constable.

9. Topil was the lowest native official. He was a combination policeman and caretaker of church property.

10. Capitán de guerra or Capitán a guerra.

11. Governor of Sonora Diego Ortiz Parrilla conferred the honorary title of Captain-General of the Aboriginal Tribes on Luis de Sáric in 1750. While there had been such a rank in the Spanish Army, there had not been such a rank among the aboriginal tribes.

12. The Pima uprising of 1751.

13. Here Nentvig gives the impression that the Indians were poor horsemen as well as inefficient with firearms. Actually, the Indians were quite competent in both.

14. Book VI, Title 1, Articles 31 and 33.

15. Although Nentvig gives the impression that there were many Indians with the rank of captain-general, this was not the case. Only one captain-general served in the province of Sonora.

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