Five hundred years ago the military invasion of South American Indian lands began with the arrival of the Spanish and Portuguese conquistadores. The invasion was accompanied by a religious crusade -an often violent battle for souls in the fertile fields of the “New World.” The battle for these tribal lands and people continues today with modern techniques and traditional cruelty.
Remarkably, despite five centuries of persecution, enslavement, and disease, there are some “wild” Paraguayan Indians who have managed to evade contact with society.
But now the New Tribes Mission (NTM) is in the midst of writing the final tragic chapter to the Indian’s history. The New Tribes Mission is a Florida-based organization with an uncompromising message that promises salvation to the “born-again” and the “unending punishment of the unsaved,” including tribal people who have the misfortune to die before they are “reached.” With over 2,500 missionaries and a $12.5-million budget for “tribal evangelism and indigenous church plant,” the New Tribes Mission operates in some 16 countries worldwide.
Using their own pilots to spot Indian camps from the air, NTM organizes “commando squads” which go on manhunts to capture the remaining groups of tribal people who live in the forests. Once the Indians have been captured they are transported back to the NTM base camp, where the process of “saving” them begins. After this process is completed, the “tame” Indians are then sent out to hunt down their remaining “tribal families.”
Forest clashes with the “wild” Indians are often violent. In one recorded case, a mission Indian named Ahinacay was clubbed and speared to death. With his traditionally long hair shorn and wearing the clothes of the white man, his former clansmen had identified him with the enemy. He had been killed by members of his own Indian family. Ironically, he had joined the mission party not out of evangelical fervor, but simply to renew contact with his family.
Many of the captured Indians do not survive the ordeal. The trauma of capture, a lack of adequate medical care, and the sudden change of diet soon take their toll.
NTM missionaries in Paraguay enjoy a close relationship with the Paraguayan government. Unlike the Catholic Church, they have never criticized the repressive, 34-year regime of President Alfredo Stoessner. The government welcomes the NTM missionary presence since its efforts have finally opened up the last Indian lands to oil men, loggers, settlers, and cattle ranchers.
NTM activities have attracted repeated criticism from other church groups, Indian organizations, anthropologists, and Survival International, a human rights organization that campaigns to defend tribal peoples’ rights.
Despite the criticism, the New Tribes Mission has refused to give any assurance that it will not renew its manhunts against the last group of just 21 Totbiegosode Indians, the remaining forest nomads who are still struggling to defend their lands and maintain their traditional way of life.
Five hundred years later the work of the Spanish conquistadores is being completed in Paraguay by Florida fundamentalists.
BRIARPATCH, October 1988, “Commandos for Christ,” by Luke Holland, pp 26-28.