Expecting Pears from an Elm Tree

Franciscan Missions on the Chiriguano Frontier in the Heart of South America, 1830–1949

Expecting Pears from an Elm Tree

Book Pages: 392 Illustrations: 12 illustraions, 18 tables, 1 map Published: August 2009

Author: Erick D. Langer

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, History > Latin American History, Religious Studies

Missions played a vital role in frontier development in Latin America throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They were key to the penetration of national societies into the regions and indigenous lands that the nascent republics claimed as their jurisdictions. In Expecting Pears from an Elm Tree, Erick D. Langer examines one of the most important Catholic mission systems in republican-era Latin America, the Franciscan missions among the Chiriguano Indians in southeastern Bolivia. Using that mission system as a model for understanding the relationship between indigenous peoples and missionaries in the post-independence period, Langer explains how the missions changed over their lifespan and how power shifted between indigenous leaders and the missionaries in an ongoing process of negotiation.

Expecting Pears from an Elm Tree is based on twenty years of research, including visits to the sites of nearly every mission discussed and interviews with descendants of mission Indians, Indian chiefs, Franciscan friars, mestizo settlers, and teachers. Langer chronicles how, beginning in the 1840s, the establishment of missions fundamentally changed the relationship between the Chiriguano villages and national society. He looks at the Franciscan missionaries’ motives, their visions of ideal missions, and the realities they faced. He also examines mission life from the Chiriguano point of view, considering their reasons for joining missions and their resistance to conversion, as well as the interrelated issues of Indian acculturation and the development of the mission economy, particularly in light of the relatively high rates of Indian mortality and outmigration. Expanding his focus, Langer delves into the complex interplay of Indians, missionaries, frontier society, and the national government until the last remaining missions were secularized in 1949. He concludes with a comparative analysis between colonial and republican-era missions throughout Latin America.


“[Expecting Pears from an Elm Tree] is an excellent study for those with an interest in mission history in Latin America, especially for those with a focus on Bolivia. It is also useful for those interested in the dynamics of power and the impact of missions on economic development. It is hoped that more studies from this neglected period of mission history will be done, and that they will reach a similar caliber of academic rigor and excellence.” — Robert Danielson, Missiology

“[A] splendid study. . . . It is no small measure of this book’s worth to say that Langer has brought this corner of nineteenth-century Latin America into full view for the first time.” — Brooke Larson, Journal of Latin American Studies

“[T]he case itself, developed through meticulous archival research . . . demonstrates Langer’s skill as a historian and makes his book a lasting contribution to the field. . . . The book presents valuable new information on a region of South America that has not been extensively studied but was contested by Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay in the twentieth century.” — David Block, Catholic Historical Review

“Erick D. Langer has produced a richly textured study of Catholic mission work among the Chiriguano ‘Indians’ of the Chaco region of Southeastern Bolivia, an indigenous peoples whose isolation and coherence allowed them to remain unconquered and unconverted, to some extent at least, until well into the twentieth century.” — Virginia Garrard-Burnett, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“In this study Langer offers a detailed, meticulously researched examination of the Franciscan missions to the Chiriguano in the frontier region of southeastern Bolivia during the republican period, 1830-1949. . . . Langer’s book is a valuable study that will undoubtedly serve as a model for other historians of Latin American missions in the republican era.” — Edward T. Brett, International Bulletin of Missionary Research

“Langer’s treatment is notable for its wide range of comparative discussions of the patterns of the Chiriguano missions with other mission territories—California, New Mexico, and closer at hand, the colonial missions of the Jesuits in Paraguay and of the Mojos region in Bolivia.” — Frank Safford, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“Langer’s well-documented study is a valuable addition to the growing collection of scholarship dedicated to frontier studies in Latin America. Expecting Pears from an Elm Tree should serve as a template for future studies of post-colonial mission systems.” — Michael R. Hall, The Latin Americanist

“This book is an excellent case study of the republican-era Franciscan mission among the Chiriguanos in southeastern Bolivia. . . . [Langer’s] impressive portrayal of the mission has successfully raised the qualitative benchmark for future mission studies; no one working on this period or this area can ignore his contribution.” — Bettina Schmidt, Journal of Ecclesiastical History

“This fascinating, comprehensive book represents many years of research and writing by Erick D. Langer on modern Bolivia and Franciscan frontier missions. It is essential reading not only for Bolivianists and students of mendicant religious orders but also for anyone interested in issues of state formation, citizenship, and processes of cultural change in Latin America. It is particularly timely because of growing interest in the experiences of the Guaranı´ and other indigenous peoples of South America.” — Ann Zulawski, American Historical Review

Expecting Pears from an Elm Tree is a superb book. Erick D. Langer departs from previous historical work with his portrayals of the mission life cycle (which no future historian writing on the topic will be able to ignore); missions in the republican period; the Bolivian Chaco; the frontier as a permeable, advancing and contracting concept, rather than a bright line; and the ethnohistory of the Chirguano, from autonomy to dependence.” — David Block, author of Mission Culture on the Upper Amazon

“Culminating over a decade of research, Expecting Pears from an Elm Tree brings the republican-era Franciscan missions of the Chiriguanía of southeastern Bolivia into the center of frontier history. Erick D. Langer integrates the empirical data from numerous archives into cultural frameworks in ways that create a powerful narrative of ethnogenesis in the ‘fields of interaction’ that emerged from the institutional mission.” — Cynthia Radding, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Erick D. Langer is Professor of History and core faculty at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is the author of Economic Change and Rural Resistance in Southern Bolivia, 1880-1930; editor of Contemporary Indigenous Movements in Latin America; and co-editor of The New Latin American Mission History.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations and Tables ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

1. The "Chiriguano Wars": Indian Warfare and the Establishment of the Missions 21

2. The Franciscans 61

3. Death and Migration: The Population Decline of the Missions 101

4. Daily Life and the Development of Mission Culture 126

5. Conversion, Chiefs, and Rebellions: Relationships of Power on the Missions 160

6. Missions and the Frontier Economy 196

7. Outside Relations and the Decline of the Missions 218

8. From the Chaco War to Secularization, 1932–1949 257

9. Comparions 270

Appendix: The Inauguration of Tiguipa Church (1902) 284

Glossary 289

Notes 291

Bibliography 337

Index 355

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4504-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4491-9
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