California Mission History: Native American Perspective

Posted by webisimo on September 3rd, 2014

As a US citizen, you are sure to have visited the twenty-one Missions in California at least once in life. They talk of the history of the Native Americans in the eighteenth century. They also speak of the arrival of Europeans intent on expanding their influence westward. The following is an overview of the life of the tribesmen at that time.

California Missions history: Life of Indians

As you know, Missions were the most effective weapons for colonization for Europeans, especially the Spaniards. This held true especially for the Native Americans “Indians” as the missionaries called the inhabitants in California. The Spanish King of the time felt that it was his moral duty to eliminate paganism. For this reason, he wanted as many Natives as possible to convert to Christianity. With this in view, he decided to establish Missions in Alta California. Franciscan order was assigned with this task.

Missionization as it is being referred today began with the missionaries recruiting those locals willing to convert to Catholicism. Reports say that upon conversion, the person was asked to relocate to the Mission. However, this was not as easy as was expected. Missionaries had to use gifts and the promise of a better life to allure the Indians. There also existed numerous unconverted villagers willing to work for wages for the Mission. However, this supply began to be exhausted within a few years. The situation led to the efforts to expand their reach.

The first attempts

For missionaries, four things determined the location of a Mission. They were availability of materials, good farmland, water and the abundance of workforce. Reports say that it is the people who lived in these regions, the Indians are the ones who helped these missions to prosper. They provided cheap labor which is a must for great establishments to thrive.

History informs that the Indians before the arrivals of the missionaries were mostly hunters. It implies that they survived on the things nature supplied. They lived as small groups in villages; in homes made from the materials easily available in the area.

The Spaniards who wanted to expand their region were fully aware of the importance of cooperation from the residents if they wanted to survive. The Government entrusted the task with the Catholic priests. They began to feel that they have to convert the natives to Christianity at any cost. Numerous strategies were employed for the purpose; gifts, good clothing and prosperity are just a few among them. When converted, they were known as Neophytes which meant beginners.

Standard of life

The neophytes were required to do certain tasks in the mission. They were also expected to abide by the rules and regulations introduced by the priests who controlled the site. They were also assigned different quarters to live. Unmarried women and girls lived in dormitories. Men too were also given similar arrangements to live in. Every resident was given a task in accordance to his/her capabilities. Men cared for gardens, farms and animals. They also made adobe bricks. Women used to cook.

Explore Old Mission History by visiting San Luis Rey Museum at Oceanside, California. 

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