By Daniel K. Lewis
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Extra info for A South American Frontier: The Tri-border Region (Arbitrary Borders)
In particular, the missions developed the yerba mate industry to new levels. Yerba mate trees grew wild in the woods north and east of Asunción. To make yerba mate, teams of foragers had to travel to the woods and gather the leaves. In a process that took weeks, the foragers dried the leaves, then crushed and bagged them for transport back to Asunción. 37 38 A SOUTH AMERICAN FRONTIER: THE TRI-BORDER REGION Spanish settlers and their descendants relied on the encomienda system to provide them with the laborers necessary for the harvesting of yerba mate.
The following selection from Irala’s Memoria provides an early description of the native peoples and their difficult relations with the European invaders. This selection highlights the ways in which the Spaniards relied on the indigenous peoples of the region in a unique manner that shaped the development of Asunción and the tri-border region for centuries. This relationship forged a bond between European and American worlds unlike any other in Spanish or Portuguese America. We hold the Guarani or Cario Indians who live for thirty leagues around [Asunción] as vassals of His Majesty, and both they and their wives serve the Christians in all the things they need; 700 women have gone to serve the Christians in their fields and their houses, and because of their work and especially because it was God’s pleasure, there is such an abundance of food that there is enough not only for the people who live there but for another 3,000 in addition.
The Jesuits would continue to sponsor missions in other parts of South America, but the Order’s fortune began to decline as a result of events outside their control. The general mobilization of troops during the Comunero Revolt disrupted the agricultural and commercial operations that the missions depended on for their survival. In the wake of the revolt, famine plagued the mission lands. Disease and hardship led many of the neophytes to abandon the missions, and the declining population made the missions less profitable and less powerful.