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© 2018 | Jaime Gómez

The boarding school: a great strategy to civilize Indians.

March 20, 2018

On a certain afternoon in La Guajira, two girls, students of one of the Capuchin order's boarding schools, were overheard by a monk while talking about how happy they were at the school and how their life had changed for good after they had moved there. The girls were also puzzled because they didn't understand why some people spoke badly of the boarding schools the Capuchin monks had built with so much effort to help the Indians. This conversation, likely fictitious, was published in one of the issues of Ecos de la Misión (Mission's Echoes), the periodical of La Guajira's Capuchin order. The conversation joined other articles published frequently in the periodical, depicting boarding schools as the best strategy to "civilize" Indians.(1) Boarding schools were so important for the Capuchin monks, that the first photography ever published in Ecos de la Misión was that of the San Antonio boarding school, the first school of this type in La Guajira region, founded in 1910 (see image).(2) In later issues of the periodical, the activities of this school were extensively reported, highlighting insistently the school's importance for the Capuchin order's mission in La Guajira.



One of the articles supporting boarding schools in the region that is worth mentioning was published in Ecos de la Misión in 1912. It was written by Fray Segismundo del Real de Gandia, an influential Capuchin monk. In his piece, Fray Segismundo explains that the Wayúu natives' nomadism is caused by the region's permanent drought, which has forced them to wander constantly in search of water for their cattle. The solution to this nomadism, he explains, would make missioners' work most successful. He then suggests that boarding schools, a "new method of reduction, and moral and scientific education," are a good strategy to prevent the Wayúu natives' nomadism.(3) All these writings published in Ecos de la Misión reached an audience beyond the Capuchin order's clericals. Ads appearing in the periodical advertising consumer goods, published lists of lay patrons that supported the order's endeavors, and the fact that copies of the periodical were sent to public institutions as far as Bogotá, support this thesis. It would not be mistaken to assume that part of the periodical's mission was to find possible donors for the Capuchin order's work, including the expensive-to-maintain boarding schools.


Ecos de la Misión was not alone in supporting boarding schools for Indians. Other material produced by the Capuchin order did the same. In a report on La Guajira published in 1918, for example, the region's Apostolic vicar (the head of the Catholic church in the zone) expresses his pride of the region's four boarding schools for Indians. "Children are so settled [in the boarding schools] that they now hate the savage life and the customs they used to like," he writes. He also mentions how girls who studied in the boarding schools "stand out in their homes because of the cleanliness, good manners and culture that characterize every aspect of their social and private lives."(4) In other regions of the country, different actors also supported the establishment of these schools for Indians. A 1930's report on public education in Colombia's southern regions, for example, presents the boarding school as the best method to civilize Indians, because "in a few years children are completely transformed."(5) As late as the 1960s there were still official and clerical documents supporting boarding schools for Indians, although the term "civilization" had in most cases been replaced by terms such as "acculturation" or "integration."(6)



1. de Ibi., Fracy C., "Sorprendidas! Conversación de Angeles," Ecos de la Misión (Riohacha),  Aug. 15, 1913.

2. Ecos de la Misión (Riohacha), July 12, 1912. 

3. del Real de Gandia, Fray Segismundo, "Los Orfelinatos en la Goajira," Ecos de la Misión (Riohacha), Nov. 10, 1912.

4. AAVV. Informe que rinden el Vicario Apostólico de la Goajira y el Prefecto Apostólico del Caquetá y Putumayo al Ilmo. y Rev. señor Arzobispo: sobre los trabajos realizados por los misioneros en los respectivos territorios de su jurisdicción, 1917-1918. Bogotá: Imprenta Nacional, 1918.

5. Informe de Instrucción Pública de Caquetá, Putumayo, Amazonas y parte del Cauca. CO.AGN.SAA-II.22.14.88

6. For example: Letter sent by the Ministry of Education to the Ministry of Government in October 1966. CO.AGN.AO/100.MGOB[2]-3//34.3.1. Also, a study written by father Lino Rampón in 1962 quotes the bishop of La Guajira, the person responsible for the education of Indians in the region, supporting boarding schools as the best strategy to civilize Indians. See Rampón, Lino. Blancos e Indios en la Intendencia Nacional de la Guajira. Unpublished manuscript, Bogotá, 1962. CO.AGN.AO/100.MGOB[2]-3//26.2.2.


Image:  Photo of the first boarding school in La Guajira, published in the periodical Ecos de la Misión in 1910. Source: Ecos de la Misión (Riohacha), July 12, 1912.


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