San Ignacio Miní

San Ignacio Miní, Argentina

Remembering the past to construct the future

The Jesuit Guaraní reducciones (settlements), which developed in the heart of the tropical forest in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil in the 17th and 18th centuries have for a long time been subject to controversies and admiration. Contemporaries such as Voltaire and later on the students of utopias considered them as social experiments close to the ideal model of society. During 150 years, within the very violent context of the American colonialization, the missions succeeded in establishing vibrant economies based on the unity of goods and production. These solidarian societies of the Guaraní were the first ones in the history of the world in reaching full alphabetization of the population. The arts, especially music, statuary and architecture, reached a very high level of sophistication, showing various mergers between the two cultures. During its heyday there existed 30 settlements with a total of 300,000 inhabitants. Five of these reducciones have been recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage sites, among them San Ignacio Miní (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/275). San Ignacio Miní dates back to 1611 and is the most eminent example of a reduccion preserved on Argentinian territory.

Despite the fact that every settlement only comprised of one or two Jesuit fathers and between 5,000 and 10,000 Guaraní, the official history has always presented the Jesuits as the creators of these communities, as the protectors and the civilizing force of a people without history or their own capacities. The great protagonism of the majority of the indigenous Guaraní, their profound knowledge of their environment and their obvious creative support in all aspects of the development of the reducciones have mostly been ignored. Today there are only few remains left of the reducciones, and the contemporary Guaraní do not have a direct relationship to their ancient places anymore.

The purpose of this workshop was to give the opportunity to a group of Mbya Guaraní youth to reconnect with this heritage. The group comprised of 28 Guaraní and also included two Guaraní from Paraquay. Working together during two weeks in September 2005 in the ancient reduccion and World Heritage Site of San Ignacio Miní, it was aimed to facilitate a space in which these youth could go back to “inhabit” this place, rediscovering the vital protagonism of their ancestors in the construction of this fascinating moment of history. During these days, the participants of the workshop tried to reconstruct the memory kept in the stones of the place, and afterwards, inspired by the example of the “elders”, began generating visions for the future of their own communities.

The workshop program also included a 3-day visit to Paraguay to explore the strong architectural influence of the Guaraní on the Jesuit reducciones and visit a Mbya Guaraní village there. This project was kindly supported by UNESCO’s Regional Office in Montevideo.

Voices from the group (in Spanish):

Damián: “Hoy en día nosotros, los jóvenes, tenemos la obligación de coger el peso que antes nuestros abuelos cargaron. Hemos vuelto a nuestra historia, gracias a este taller. Gracias porque he conocido jóvenes que piensan lo mismo que yo. Hoy en día aprendí algo nuevo: que tenemos que navegar por el río, utilizando lo que podamos de la cultura blanca para fortalecer la nuestra.”

Itati: “Sabemos que para los Opyguá (autoridades espírituales) fue muy difícil volver a pisar de nuevo este lugar, porque para ellos fueron unas pérdidas muy grandes, para ellos es como abrir de nuevo esa herida enterrada; para ellos hablar de la historia es como volver a vivir el pasado. Pero a nosotros los jóvenes nos dieron la oportunidad de reconstruir ese pasado y ese pasado es nuestra arma para seguir luchando adelante.”

Osvaldo: “Éste pasado que hemos recordado me ha enseñado que si nos unimos todos los guaraníes podemos mover las piedras, como nuestros antepasados, para seguir adelante. Aprendí que la vida del pueblo depende de los jóvenes.”