Chapter Title: Indian Resistance to Missionization

Chapter Title: Indian Resistance to Missionization
Book Title: Converting California
Book Subtitle: Indians and Franciscans in the Missions
Book Author(s): JAMES A. SANDOS
Published by: Yale University Press
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Converting California
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Indian Resistance to Missionization
Resistance to authority, unless expressed in a bloody uprising, is often
subtle. In a colonial encounter the need for the colonizer to impose order,
usually in a new language, further obscures detection of opposition by the
colonized. Accounts of colonization from the perspective of native peoples are
frequently revealing. California Indians had no written language, yet Indian
views of their mission experiences have been preserved. One of these is the
only known example of a Native American’s written history of the missionization of his people in California. Pablo Tac, born at mission San Luis Rey and
educated there in Spanish by the Franciscans, was sent to Europe to further his
studies and to become a priest. He died young, but, at about age thirteen he
wrote an account of the arrival of the Spanish among his people, whom the
Europeans called Luiseños, and of the missionary activities of the Franciscan
priests known as Fernandinos.∞
Because his command of Spanish grammar was weak and because the
priests undoubtedly made him write the account, it would be easy to dismiss
Tac’s document as immature and reflecting only Christophilic Triumphalism.
This approach, however, would miss the evidence of resistance to Spanish
invasion that Tac included in his version of events. Describing the first contact
between a Fernandino and a chief of the Quechnajuichom, as Tac called his
people in his native tongue, the Indian declared in his dialect, ‘‘What is it you
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Indian Resistance to Missionization 155
seek here? Get out of our country!’’ Tac concludes his narrative with an encounter between an armed Spanish soldier, seeking to restore order after participants in a ballgame between Luiseños and Indians from mission San Juan
Capistrano had become unruly, in which a Luiseño man challenges the Spaniard by saying, ‘‘Raise your saber and I will eat you.’’ Both of these encounters,
Tac tells us, are related in the original language of Quechla, his Indian territory, meaning that the Spanish could not understand them.≤
Tac’s account, however, is more revealing to our generation. Tac reflects a
Native American tradition of shifting to Indian language to convey an authentic feeling that cannot be expressed in the dominant language shared by Indian
and non-Indian groups.≥ Tac’s narrative discloses, albeit discreetly, the powerful opposition to the Spanish invasion Luiseños communicated both at initial
contact and in late mission times. In recounting daily life at the mission, he
also inserted a trickster tale involving a mission Indian boy who enters the
Fernandino’s forbidden garden to eat figs, is discovered by the Indian gardener, and then transforms himself into a raven, an enforcer of the moral code
of Chinigchinich, a Luiseño God.∂ Whatever else may have happened to Tac in
the course of his European education begun in California, continued in Mexico, and ended in Italy, where he wrote his history, he had lost neither his
Indian identity nor his sense of outrage at Spanish occupation. In this more
carefully controlled public tale of evangelization among the heathen, related
by a missionized Indian at the behest of the Franciscan missionaries, Tac’s
account manages to communicate neophyte resistance. Tac’s work, seemingly
telling one story while actually relating another, illustrates the difficulty in
analyzing Indian resistance in the missions.
Consider two other instances of Indian resistance. A thirty-five-year-old
unidentified Christian Indian at mission San Juan Capistrano (Juaneño), for
example, dying of a European disease, renounced his baptism and Christian
religion on his deathbed. Padre Gerónimo Boscana asked the neophyte to
confess his sins before meeting his God. ‘‘I will not,’’ replied the Indian. ‘‘If I
have been deceived whilst living,’’ he continued, ‘‘I do not wish to die in the
delusion!’’∑ To Boscana, this was the action of an apostate. In another example, during the Chumash uprising in 1824, an unnamed neophyte caught in a
chapel surrounded by armed Spaniards firing upon it spied a crucifix. Disregarding the Spanish-taught polite speech, the usted form, to be used by Indians
in addressing their superiors, including the Christian God, this neophyte used
the familiar tu form, and spoke to God on the crucifix as an equal. ‘‘Now I will
know if you are God Almighty as the padre says. Carrying you completely
hidden so that no one will see you, I am going alone to fight against all of the
soldiers. If they don’t kill me or shoot me, I will serve you well until I die.’’∏ The
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156 Indian Resistance to Missionization
armed Indian concealed the crucifix under his shirt, then fled the church. Once
outside, he emptied his quiver at the soldiers and returned, walking at a normal pace, to the chapel. Despite the shots fired at him he remained untouched.
Afterward he fulfilled his vow, working as sacristan at the mission until he
died. This instance of Indian self-shaping occurred during the largest rebellion
in California mission history, one in which Indians from missions La Purísima,
Santa Inés, and Santa Barbara challenged Spanish and Franciscan authority.
This individual incident within the collective experience underscores the diversity of Indian resistance to the missions.
Over the past twenty years scholars have focused on overt Indian resistance to
the California missions but have had difficulty clarifying the more subtle forms
of resistance that undergirded overt violence.Ï€ This anomaly is perhaps due to
the tendency of recent mission critics to focus almost exclusively on the exploitation of the Indian at the expense of the Christianization and civilization
components of the Franciscan goal. Such a focus omits such stories as those of
Tac, the Juaneño, and the Chumash. To correct this anomaly, the original
intention of colonization must be recalled.
The Spanish sovereigns’ intentions toward the Indian were, as the dean
of borderlands historians wrote, ‘‘to convert him, to civilize [sic] him, and
to exploit him. . . . It was soon found that if the savage [sic] were to be
converted, or disciplined, or exploited, he must be put under control.’’∫ Hence
Indians became neophytes and worked at priestly assigned tasks. Some Indians did so through genuine transformation, but others did so grudgingly and
only temporarily.
Relationships between neophytes and gentiles, the unbaptized Indians still
in the wild, were always complex. These relationships changed over time
when new Indian groups became the targets of missionization as older groups
either became incorporated or died. Neophytes confronted two constellations
of conflicting motives, the desire to leave the mission and the desire to stay.
Reasons to leave included a longing to see and be with family and friends, to
live in the culture in which they had been reared, and to associate with people
of their own kind. Such motives intensified if gentile family or friends became
ill or if new people, not of the neophytes’ own kind, perhaps even their enemies, became incorporated into their mission. Sorrow and shock from the
deaths at the mission could impel neophytes to flee. Freedom in all its multiple
guises—freedom from abuse by Indian alcaldes (overseers), freedom from
priestly ordered punishment, freedom from forced social change, from new
ritual, from Europeanized ideas of work—served to increase the powerful
allure to return to previous ways.

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