Sincere writings by South American authors in defense of the Indian are sufficiently rare to generate a fair amount of interest, as has recently been the case with the work of the Brazilians Cláudio and Orlando Villas Boas. The present translation of Víctor Daniel Bonilla’s political and economic study of a Capuchin mission in southern Colombia, and its effect on the Inga and Sibundoy Indians, belongs in this category as well, given the author’s evident sympathy for the native peoples involved. While this is laudable, a word of caution is in order: the reader soon discovers that Bonilla develops a rather polemical anti-Capuchin stance. The question formed by the title of the book is merely rhetorical, since the missionaries are here portrayed as “servants of God” in theory, but very much tyrannical “masters of men” in practice.

Bonilla divides his study into three major parts, beginning with a historical review of contacts between Spanish, Inga, and Sibundoy peoples, with adequate reference to general events of Spanish colonization, early missionary efforts, and ineffectiveness of colonial laws protecting the Indian. National laws enacted in the 1890s, and particularly the renewal of the “Convention of the Missions” in 1902, gave full authority to missionary orders, such as the Capuchins, to police, educate, and otherwise completely govern Indians of the interior; approximately 75 percent of the national territory was thus placed under missionary rule, for better or worse.

Bonilla’s main thesis begins in the second part of the book, “The New Crusade,” covering the period from 1906 to 1930, in which a group of Capuchins, primarily Catalonian, under the leadership of Fray Fidel de Montclar, established itself as the dominant political and economic power in the Sibundoy region at the expense of the Indian population. During this first period, the author documents quite well the territorial expansion of the Capuchins, along with implementation of a general program of economic development and “civilization” of the Indians. Bonilla notes that “In only a few years, the Catalan missionaries had joined the small ranks of the latifundiarios, the descendants of the original conquistadors . . .” (p. 157). The major Capuchin objective of this period was the establishment of roads, for trade and access, and towns, where the Indian was forcibly settled, brought totally into the mission’s domain. In the third part of the volume, “A State within a State,” (1930-1970), the author covers the consolidation of the mission’s situation as a theocratic dictatorship, with substantial displacement of the Indian as landowner.

Basically, the author is outraged, justifiably so in many instances, by the Capuchins’s imposition of the Western pattern of civilization, with consequent usurpation of the land and freedom of the Indians. He reports, perhaps a bit repetitiously, about the whippings and other arbitrary punishments used by the missionaries to enforce their authority, about the unscrupulous lawyers and white colonists who cheat the Indian of land and labor, in short, about all of that vast injustice that has seemingly been the universal pattern as regards treatment of the Amerindian. The publication of this work in Colombia (1969?) sparked a storm of controversy, which according to the author “wounded to the core” (p. 274) the Capuchin mission. In 1970 moves were apparently initiated to turn over the area in question to a different religious order, but the reader is left to wonder whether the situation of the Indians could possibly improve in the future.