Indian reductions

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Indian reductions (Spanish: reducciones) were mission towns built by Spanish Jesuit missionaries in Central and South America and populated by the forcible relocation of indigenous populations. The goal was to consolidate previously scattered populations to exert more control over them including increasing baptisms and to improve the flow of silver to the government in Spain. The local populations, who had adapted to a way of life suitable to the many, minor microclimates throughout the Andes, were uprooted and forced to assimilate. They new towns were sometimes located in areas know to be prone to natural disasters including flooding. The large population centers disrupted family and kinship relationships. The indigenous people were exposed to many new diseases like Smallpox, for which they had no immunity, and many died as a result.


Reductions were part of the larger reforms of Francisco de Toledo, the fifth viceroy of Peru, beginning in 1567.[1] This concept was part of what were known as the Toledo reforms, adopted by the Spanish crown to "aggrandize Spanish power by consolidating viceregal rule and to revive the flow of Andean silver to the metropolitan treasury."[2] In order to achieve these economic and political goals efficiently, Toledo attempted to relocate the scattered Native American population of the Andes into larger settlements.[3]


Before the construction of the relocation towns, Native Americans throughout Peru and colonial South America generally lived in small, localized and dispersed villages, which were difficult for Spanish colonial authorities to oversee. The purpose of the massive resettlement program "was to establish direct state control and facilitate the church's Christianization of the native population, while enhancing the collection of the tribute tax and the allocation of labor."[4]

Besides the settlements under the Toledo reforms, the Franciscans and the Jesuits also organized reductions, mainly in the Viceroyalty of Peru. These eventually achieved the most economic and cultural development, success, and fame, especially the Jesuit reductions of the Province of Paraguay (then including parts of Argentina and Brazil.) This was a result in a difference between the application of the reduction system between Viceroyalty of La Plata and the Viceroyalty of Peru.


The structural layout of the reducciones was based on a repeatable template, modeled after a Spanish-style rural town. Each settlement town was built in a rectangular or square grid formation. The reducciones each had a town square, around which were arranged the chief buildings: a church with an assigned priest, a prison, and a travelers lodge. They can best be described as a type of camp designed to model an ordered town.

Impact on indigenous people

The shift into the reductions had highly disruptive effects on the indigenous society. Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, a Native American chronicler, recounts the changes due to the reductions in The First New Chronicle and Good Government. He notes that the local Andean agricultural system thrived based on plots cultivated according to the microclimates up and down the Andean mountain range. Each microclimate and corresponding agricultural product contributed to the health and overall well-being of the Native American population. However, the reductions destroyed this "'vertical' organization of farming."[5]

The people were torn from their established agricultural system and crops, and their familiar villages, but they were relocated to potentially completely different climate zones, requiring new crops and techniques. Poma also notes that the new sites were "sometimes set in damp lands that cause pestilence" (disease).[6]

The Spanish sometimes located the settlement villages in what the natives knew to be natural disaster zones, prone to flooding or avalanche. The resettlements destroyed the longstanding and key kin and other familial relationships between villages. The social disruption resulted in adversely and dramatically affecting the indigenous populations. The reductions increased the risk of smallpox transmission, because the native population had no natural immunity to this new disease, they suffered very high fatalities from its epidemics. Through the reductions, the Spanish colonists completely controlled and exploited the indigenous population, under the guise of attempting to culturally transform and "Hispanicize" or assimilate them.

Humane treatment attempted

The work of Vasco de Quiroga, the Bishop of Michoacán who founded a number of hospital towns, and Francisco de Toledo, Count of Oropesa, the Viceroy of Peru who promoted the system, convinced the Jesuits to work within it and tried to eliminate inhumane treatment of the natives. Father Eusebio Kino worked for humane practices at the Spanish missions in the Sonoran Desert and in the forced labor conditions at the silver mines and ranchos in Provincia Interna de Sonora y Sinaloa.

See also


  1. Peru: Society and Nationhood in the Andes, Klarén 58
  2. Klarén 59
  3. Klarén 60
  4. Klarén 60
  5. Poma 148
  6. Poma 327

es:Reducciones de indios

fr:Réduction (catholicisme et politique) he:רדוקסיון nl:Reductie (missie) pl:Redukcje misyjne pt:Missões