Title

Missionization and the Persistence of Native Identity on the Colonial Frontier of Baja California

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

Spring 2010

Publisher

Duke University Press

Abstract

The indigenous groups incorporated into the Spanish missions of Alta and Baja California faced a variety of challenges during the colonial period and experienced a wide range of outcomes in the persistence of native identity. The indigenous Paipai community of Santa Catarina, located in northern Baja California, is composed of the direct descendants of native peoples who lived and worked at the Dominican mission of Santa Catalina and is one of the few remaining native communities in Baja California. Through the examination of a mission census dating to 1834, this article considers the demographic parameters of life at Santa Catalina as well as the ethnolinguistic composition of the mission’s indigenous population. This analysis points to two important patterns that likely had implications for the persistence of native identity at the mission. First, the mission’s native population does not appear to have suffered from the demographic collapse associated with introduced diseases. Second, the native population at Santa Catalina consisted of speakers of at least three languages and was drawn from a wide geographic area. The diversity of the native population at Santa Catalina may have provided the mission neophytes the opportunity to form a larger and stronger social group that could draw on various geographical homelands for support and refuge during the mission period.