HomeThe Journal of Historyvol. 61 no. 1 (2015)

If Church Ruins Could Speak: Re-thinking Reduccion and the Plaza Complex in Northern Cordillera

Maria Nela B. Florendo



The church ruins at Capinatan (now Matagisi) and Pudtol in Apayao stand as witnesses to early Spanish colonization in a non-Christian territory. Among highlanders and unpacified areas, the policy of reducción embodied the Spanish empire’s psychology of conquest and consolidation. The Recopilación de Leyes de los Reynos de las Indias (Vol. 2, 94 cited in Scott 1974, 75) states: “For worthy cause and considerations, it is suitable that in all capitulations made for new discoveries, the word ‘conquest’ be avoided, and those of ‘pacification’ and ‘settling’ be used instead, since everything having been undertaken in total peace and charity, it is our desire that even if this word be interpreted contrary to our intention, it does not occasion, or discolor the terms to condone, the use of force or aggression against the indios.” The task of reducción in early Spanish colonization went to the religious. From the Spanish term reducir, the policy embodied a comprehensive change that included new spatial arrangements from dispersed inaccessible rugged terrain to clustered settlements usually close to rivers which served as highways. Reducción did not end there, however. The next stages included conversion to the Christian faith as well as integration into the colonial polity. The transformation of space resulted in the plaza complex, which was a display of power relations between the colonizer and the subject population, and on another level the principalía and the kailianes (the common people). The plaza complex served as indicator of conversion to the colonial order, both in the areas of religion and civic duties. This paper examines the localization of reducción. Based on material culture and documents, this paper explores the distinct experience of both missionaries and the Isneg of Northern Cordillera. The church ruins of Capinatan and Pudtol of Apayao are vestiges of Dominican mission centers in the early 1600s. But the experience of reducción in Apayao did not bring about the colonial plaza complex. This brings the paper to a discussion on the character of Isneg response to colonial efforts at resettlement and conversion.