Proyecto Rescate del "Paraguay Cultivado"

Critical edition of an unknown manuscript by J. Sánchez Labrador, S.J.

Father Francisco José Sánchez Labrador (1717 - 1798) is one of the best known Jesuit missionaries and founders of the famous Indian Reductions (reducciones) that arose between 1608 and 1767/68 in the Río de la Plata and adjacent areas. Sánchez Labrador is also considered one of the most productive Jesuit authors of that region and period. Paradoxically, to the present day his main work, the voluminous encyclopaedic description of Gran Paraguay, has not been printed in its entirety. It was not until 1910, over a century after his death, that Sánchez Labrador's first work came out of print. It is a part of the great encyclopaedia (Paraguay Catholico, edited by S. Lafone Quevedo, Buenos Aires, 2 vols.). Throughout the rest of the 20th century, publication remained slow and sporadic. But this situation is radically changing in recent times. In various countries and in various scientific disciplines, a renewed interest in the American historical experiment of the Jesuits is noticeable.

From the point of view of linguistics and anthropology, we share this interest and aim, with our publishing project, to contribute to establishing a solid documentary foundation for this period.

Sánchez Labrador's encyclopaedic work consists of three parts, each part comprising four volumes:


- El Paraguay Natural Ilustrado (1767-1776)

- El Paraguay Catholico (1769-1772)

- El Paraguay Cultivado (around 1790).


Throughout the history of the reception of Sánchez Labrador's work, access to Paraguay Natural Ilustrado has always been the easiest because the whereabouts of the manuscript in the Roman Archives of the Society of Jesus have been known for a long time. However, there is still no comprehensive printed edition of the more than 1850 pages of this manuscript, nor, as far as we know, a current plan for such an undertaking. Segments of the work covering various sections have been published: on zoology (birds and fishes in the edition by M.N. Castex, 1968; amphibians and reptiles in the edition by E.O. Lavilla and G. Wilde, 2020), but quadrupeds and insects are still missing; the largest published block is the one dedicated to botany (E.C. Deckmann Fleck, 2015). There is also, in the form of an anthology, the study by A. Ruíz Moreno, 1948, on medicine in the Paraguay Natural Ilustrado.


Only selectively has some of the first volume been published, this being the longest of the entire Paraguay Natural Ilustrado, i.e. the part dedicated to lands, waters and airs. The parts published so far undoubtedly constitute an important contribution to our knowledge of Jesuit science in the 18th century and can satisfy the interests of many disciplines. But the same is not always equally true for the purposes of linguistics, the history of written Spanish in South America and the contact between Spanish and the indigenous languages, among which Guarani stands out. With the exception of E.C. Deckmann Fleck's edition, all the other editions mentioned show strong tendencies towards modernisation that make it difficult to access the authentic language of Sánchez Labrador. This accommodation is a tribute paid to the convenience of the modern reader. In our view it is an unnecessary adjustment because it is a text that respects the norms of a century not too far removed from our own and which is, with few exceptions, comprehensible to an averagely informed reader. The second common shortcoming of the editions cited is, to a lesser or greater degree, the unsatisfactory reproduction of language segments in Guarani (and probably also of the other indigenous languages). 

The publishing situation of the second part of the encyclopaedic work, El Paraguay Catholico, is significantly better. Thanks to the enormous work of the Argentine historian Julio Folkenand who fortunately managed to complete the previous editions with the missing parts, we now have the complete edition of the central part of the trilogy (El Paraguay Catholico ... (1769-1772). Edición preparada de las cuatro partes que la componen, estudio preliminar y notas, Argentina 2020, 4 vols.). Linguistics, which joins the disciplines grateful for this breakthrough in the knowledge of Sánchez Labrador's work, nevertheless laments the modernisation of the author's language also applied in this editon.     


El Paraguay Cultivado is, at 857 pages, the shortest of the three parts of the encyclopaedia, but by no means the least interesting. Incidentally, it is the least known part of the trilogy, or rather, practically unknown. Long periods of its existence remain unknown and the reception of the work is to this day almost non-existent. It is not known in whose hands it was in after the death of its author in 1798 until 1878, when the manuscript was sold to an unknown buyer. Almost 140 years later, in 2017, a German bibliographer spread the news that he had rediscovered the manuscript and he presents it in a brief description. After that, several years have passed in which the discoverer refused our requests to edit the text or to provide access to the manuscript. Regrettably, he ended by repeatedly declaring that he had no plans for publication.


We have a particular interest in the Paraguay Cultivado manuscript. It is an essential complementary text for the analysis of the manuscripts on Jesuit and indigenous medicine that we are editing and translating in the framework of our German-Argentine project "Pa'i ha paje. Padres y chamanes" funded by CONICET and the DFG. Like the two preceding parts of the trilogy, El Paraguay Cultivado goes far beyond the thematic field indicated by the title of the work. Thus, El Paraguay Cultivado, besides being a yet unknown classic of the history of agriculture in South America, is also a source of information of all kinds, among which medicine and social life in the Reductions stand out.

We therefore decided to launch a new search for the manuscript and, thanks to the help of Fabián Vega, a collaborator of the "Pa'i ha paje" project, we have found it. The transliteration of the manuscript has begun and an application for support from the DFG is being drafted.

With our (digital and paper) edition we aim to complete the publication of Sánchez Labrador's encyclopaedic trilogy and to enable, for the first time in the history of its reception, a comprehensive comparative interpretation of the work. Also for the first time, a homogeneous edition is being attempted which follows the same editorial criteria from the first to the last line of the manuscript.  The transliteration will be, as we have already said, rigorously diplomatic both in Spanish and in the parts that reproduce words from indigenous languages. It seems necessary to us, moreover, to translate the numerous quotations in Latin.

The manuscript consists of the following parts:

Parte I:

De la labranza de las tierras (Principios fundam. de la vegetacion — Terrenos artificiales — Impedimentes de vegetacion — De las mieses — Del pan — Resumen de medidas y pesos).


Parte II:

De las huertas de arboles. (Cultivo en general y .en particular de los arboles — Arboles Europeos — Arboles Paraguayos.)


Parte III:

Las hortalizas y legumbres (Raices — Verduras — Ensaladas — Hierbas y plantas para usos provechosos — Legumbres — Frutas de tierra — Plantas de varias clases).


Parte IV: 

Jardines (Cultivo de las flores en general y en par­ticular).

Part IV contains the chapter "Modo de plantar el jardin con 5 laminas (bosqueijos de jardines)" and, finally, the chapter "Algunos usos de las plantas y de sus flores" and a Latin-Italian-French vocabulary of flowers. A particular feature of the Paraguay Cultivado manuscript is the dual presentation of the content, as explained in the pages of the "Prologo", which we reproduce as an example of our editorial principles (see below).


We are certain that El Paraguay Cultivado will, like the two preceding parts, open up new perspectives for various disciplines and even for the non-specialist public. Whether or not the natural sciences owe Sánchez Labrador original contributions to scientific research can be and has been discussed. But it is beyond doubt that Sánchez Labrador left a work of authentic observations. His insatiable curiosity, his passion as an explorer and his "practicality" (practicidad as M.N. Castex calls his constant interest in the usefulness of a particular mineral, plant or animal for human beings and especially for the indigenous people) are evident. His role not only as an eyewitness and "ear-witness" but also as an actor in a dramatic period of the history of the Rio de la Plata is indisputable.


The edition project is directed by:


Joachim Steffen (Universität Augsburg),

Leonardo Cerno (Universidad Nacional de Misiones, Posadas/CONICET),

Harald Thun (C.A.U. Kiel)


Associated researcher:


Corinna Gramatke


Angewandte Sprachwissenschaft (Romanistik)