Samuel Fritz

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Fritz's 1707 map showing the Amazon and the Orinoco, on either side of the mythical Lake Parime.

Samuel Fritz (1654 – 20 March 1725, 1728 or 1730)[1] was a Czech Jesuit missionary, noted for his exploration of the Amazon River and its basin. He spent most of his life preaching to Native American communities in the western Amazon region, including the Omaguas, the Yurimaguas, the Aisuare, the Ibanomas, and the Ticunas.


Fritz was born at Trautenau, Bohemia. He entered the Society of Jesus as a novice in 1673, and studied mathematics, geodesy and surveying. In 1684 he was sent to Quito as a missionary. For over forty years Fritz acted in this capacity among the Indians of the Upper Marañon. Between 1686 and 1715, he founded thirty-eight missions along the length of the Amazon River, in the country between the Rio Napo and Rio Negro, that were called the Omagua Missions.[2] The most important of these were Nuestra Señora de las Nieves de Yurimaguas and San Joaquín de Omaguas, founded in the first years of Fritz’s missionary activities, and then moved, by January 1689 to the mouth of the Ampiyacu river, near the modern-day town of Pebas in the Peruvian Department of Loreto. These missions were continually attacked by the Brazilian Bandeirantes beginning in the 1690s.[3]

Adept in technical arts and handicrafts, he also was a physician, a painter, a carpenter, a joiner and a linguist skilled at interacting with the Indians.[4] He was effective and respected, and helpful to the Viceroyalty of Peru in its boundary dispute with the State of Brazil. At the request of the Real Audiencia of Quito he began in 1687 to delineate the disputed missionary territory on the Upper Marañon between Peru and Quito.[5]

Fritz detailed his early missionary activity among the Omagua people in a set of personal diaries written between 1689 and 1723. Lengthy passages from these diaries were compiled and interspersed with commentary by an anonymous author in the time between Fritz’s death and 1738, when they appear in the collection of Pablo Maroni.[6]

Work with the Omagua people[edit]

Fritz established himself among the Omaguas (Omayas or Cambebas) and within a few years had developed his own Omagua catechism in the Omagua language. The Omagua people had requested protection from Portuguese slavers who had begun raiding their communities by the 1680s. When Fritz arrived in their territory in 1686, the Omagua inhabited the islands in the middle of the Amazon River, in a region stretching approximately from the confluence of the Amazon and Napo River to the Juruá River.[7] Towards the end of his first year among the Omaguas, he began a lengthy journey downriver to visit all thirty-eight existing villages, spending two months at each one. He renamed them using the names of patron saints, constructed several rudimentary chapels and baptized mainly children because he found most adults to be insufficiently indoctrinated, as well as "reluctant to give up entirely certain heathen abuses." At the conclusion of this journey, which lasted about three years, he conducted a baptismal ceremony over the entire tribe before returning to San Joaquín de Omaguas.[8] He later concentrated indigenous peoples from different communities into so-called "Jesuit reductions." He also preached intermittently to the Yurimagua, the Aisuare, the Ibanoma and the Ticunas.[9]

Charting the Amazon[edit]

In 1689 he undertook, in a primitive pirogue, a daring expedition down the Amazon to Pará, where he went for medical treatment,[10] probably for malaria.[5] "I fell sick of the most violent attacks of fever and dropsy that began in my feet, and other complaints," he later wrote in an account of his journey. Fritz set off downstream "in the hope of getting some remedy for my sufferings," reaching the mouth of the Rio Negro after three weeks.[11] There he met a group of Tupinambarana warriors who escorted him to the Mercedarian mission, where he was treated with bloodletting and therapeutic fumigation, "but instead of being benefitted, I was made worse than before." Fritz was taken by some Portuguese missionaries to the Jesuit College in the city of Pará, but when he felt well enough to return to his mission, he was detained and imprisoned for eighteen months by Artur de Sá Meneses, the Governor of Pará, on the accusation of being a Spanish spy.[2] In fact, the Portuguese were concerned that Spanish missions on the Upper Solimões River would lead indigenous communities to support Spain against Portugal. Fritz made use of this time to prepare a map of the river.[8] In 1691, after a complaint was made before the Council of the Indies, his release was authorized by the King of Portugal, who also reprimanded and dismissed the governor. Fritz was accompanied for part of his return journey by a contingent of Portuguese soldiers, with whom he visited fortresses at Gurupá and Tapajós. After leaving Fritz at the mouth of the Coari River in October of 1691, the soldiers "cruelly killed very many people and took the rest away as slaves," as Fritz later learned.[5]

Fritz then continued up the Huallaga River to Huánuco, and thence to Lima, returning by way of Jaén to the missions of the Marañón River in February 1692. Poorly equipped with instruments, he completed a comparatively accurate chart of the course of the Amazon from Belém to Quito. In Lima he presented his report to the Viceroy Conde de la Monclova Melchor Portocarrero Lasso de la Vega, including a detailed map that he had made of the Amazon region.[5] The Viceroy was so impressed with Fritz's work that he gave him a thousand silver pesos from the treasury and another thousand out of his own pocket for the purchase of "bells, ornaments and other costly articles conducive to the adornment and decent furnishing of his new churches." Nonetheless, the Viceroy told Fritz that he seriously doubted that the production potential of the Amazon forests was sufficient to justify fighting the Portuguese to gain control of it, or even defending any particular outpost.[8]

Fritz's maps[edit]

Fritz produced at least six maps, possibly more, and of these only four have survived. Fritz created a draft map of the river during his journey to Pará, presenting this to the governor there in 1689. During his imprisonment, he created a second draft of this map on four adjoining sheets of paper, which included the names of indigenous communities and ethnic groups. Upon arriving in Lima in 1692, he created a larger version of this map to submit to the printer. Difficulties in reproducing this map prevented it from being published until 1707.[11]

Fritz's maps were the first approximately correct charts of the Marañón territory. Fritz was also the first to follow the Tunguragua instead of the Gran Pará (Ucayali) and prove it the real source of the Marañón. In 1707 this map was printed at Quito and a revised version, edited by Hermann Moll, was included in the Atlas Geographus in 1732.[12] It was reproduced in the German-language Jesuit publication Der Neue Welt-Bott (Augsburg, 1726, I),[2] and its French version, Lettres Edifiantes et Curieuses, Écrites des Missions Étrangères, (Paris, 1781),[13] as well as in Charles Marie de La Condamine's Relation abrégée d'un voyage fait dans l'intérieur de l'Amérique Méridionale (Paris, 1745),[14][15] which contains a revised chart based on Fritz's map, for comparative study. One prominent error in the map is the inclusion of Lake Parime, of which Fritz knew only through hearsay, and which had been sought unsuccessfully since Sir Walter Raleigh had surmised its existence in 1595.[16] Later explorers concluded that the lake was a myth.[17]

Indigenous beliefs about Fritz[edit]

In 1692, upon his return from being held prisoner by the Portuguese, Fritz discovered that an Omagua cult had grown up around claims that he possessed supernatural powers related to curing, rites of passage, and the movement of rivers, and a belief that Fritz himself was immortal. During his absence, in June of 1690, a massive earthquake occurred,[18] which was attributed by the Indians to the anger of their deities at Fritz's imprisonment.[8] Rumors also spread that the Portuguese had cut Fritz into pieces, but that he had miraculously reassembled himself. Some of these beliefs, however, portrayed Fritz as evil.[10] Following a solar eclipse in June of 1695, an Aisuari chief sent gifts to Fritz with a message begging him not to extinguish the sun.[8] On a more practical note, many of the Indians viewed the presence of Spanish missionaries as protection against the Portuguese, who were subjecting indigenous communities to forced labor.[7] Fritz understood that the Indians viewed him as different from other Europeans--more kindly and patient, less self-serving, and not exploitative, in addition to being very possibly immortal. Once, when talking about the afterlife, he was interrupted by an Aisuari chief who said that Fritz could surely never die, because then there would be no one to serve as their "Father, Lover and Protector."[8]

Conflict with the Portuguese[edit]

Starting in 1693, Fritz began working to persuade the Omaguas in San Joaquín de Omaguas to give up their island communities and found new settlements on the nearby banks of the Amazon proper. Fritz wanted larger communities centered around a chapel or a church, and he recommended that these communities be defensible against the Portuguese slavers.[8] In 1695 San Joaquín de Omaguas was relocated to the mouth of the Ampiyacu River in the traditional territory of the Caumaris.[10] Gradually the community grew as people took refuge from the Caumaris and the Mayorunas, the traditional enemies of the Omaguas. Further to the east, Fritz established two other such reductions, San Pablo and Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.[8]

Soon slave raids launched intermittently from Pará (modern-day Belém) became so intense and frequent that the Omaguas from distant communities, as well as neighboring Yurimaguas, fled to the comparative safety of the Jesuit mission settlements near the mouth of the Napo River, including San Joaquin de Omaguas. This influx of refugees contributed to a deterioration of the relationship between the Jesuits and the longer-term Omagua residents of the mission settlements, partly due to the demands of Carmelite missions which were competing with the Jesuits for mission converts.

On 10 April 1697, at Nuestra Señora de las Nieves, Fritz met Friar Manoel da Esperança, Vice-Provincial of the Portuguese Carmelites, and a group of Portuguese soldiers who had arrived saying that they intended to take possession of the Upper Solimões. Fritz told them:

"For over eight years I have been in peaceful possession of this mission on behalf of the Crown of Castile. I formed a large part of these heathen Indians into mission settlements, when some were wandering through the forest as fugitives and others living in concealment near the lagoons because of the murders and enslavements they formerly suffered from the men of Pará. I myself, when I was in that city [Belem], saw many slaves from these tribes."[5]

Nonetheless, the Portuguese demanded that Fritz relocate his mission upstream, warning him that if he were caught by the Portuguese in that region, he would be sent to prison in Portugal.[7]

The Omagua rebellion[edit]

The process of relocation was difficult. In 1701, Omaguas in several settlements under the leadership of the Omagua cacique Payoreva, rose up against the Jesuit missionary presence, setting fire to the mission and killing some of the Jesuits. Fritz journeyed to Quito to request a small military force to quell the revolt, and subsequently instituted annual visits by secular military forces to intimidate the Omaguas and stave off potential uprisings.[1] Payoreva was arrested, flogged and imprisoned by the Spanish in Borja, however he escaped and returned to San Joaquin de los Omaguas in February 1702 to persuade the Omagua people to leave the influence of the missionaries, and most of the population left to establish new settlements along the Juruá River,[10]

Fritz attempted to persuade the Omaguas to return to the mission and even promised a pardon for Chief Payoreva.[19] The Portuguese Carmelites met with Fritz again several times, negotiating for the rights to unrestricted control over the various tribes.[7] Many of those who followed Payoreva were eventually enslaved by the Portuguese, as was Payoreva himself in 1704.[10]

The influence of the Carmelite missionaries became stronger after a visit by the Portuguese Friar Victoriano Pimentel in 1702. Pimentel discovered quickly that the Amazonians were interested in metal tools and other trade goods and that they could be persuaded to abandon the Jesuits by offerings of "hatchets, sickles, knives, fishhooks, pins, needles, ribbons, mirrors, reliquaries, rings and pieces of wire for their earrings."[8]

Later life[edit]

In 1704 Fritz succeeded Gaspar Vidal as Jesuit Superior relocating to Santiago de la Laguna on the Huallaga River. He left responsibility for the Omagua missions to the Sardinian Father Juan Baptista Sanna who had begun working among the Omagua people in 1701. In February 1709, the new king of Portugal, João V, sent a large contingent of Portuguese soldiers to raid the Upper Solimões and to demand the withdrawal of all Spanish missionaries from the region. Fritz wrote to the Portuguese commander begging him to desist, but the Portuguese destroyed several Yurimagua and Omagua communities. Finally, in July, Spanish authorities sent a military force to drive the Portuguese out, burning several Carmelite missions in the process. The Portuguese retaliated in December, killing hundreds of Indians and taking many captives including Juan Baptista Sanna. He was imprisoned in Portugal for a short time and eventually sent on a mission to Japan.[7]

The fighting dispersed nearly all the Yurimagua and Omagua communities, and the survivors were devastated by a smallpox epidemic which began in April 1710 and left the formerly populous region of the Upper Solimões uninhabited. Fritz was replaced as Superior by Gregorio Bobadilla in December 1712, and in January 1714 he began missionary work in Limpia Concepción de Jeberos, where he would live until his death.[20]

He died some time between 1725 and 1730 (the date is disputed)[21] in a mission village of the Jivaro Indians, attended by a priest named Wilhelm de Tres.[22]


In 1870, Johann Eduard Wappäus (1813–1879) wrote of Fritz:

"The great respect justly shown at that time by European scientists for the geographical work of the Jesuits led to the admission into their ranks of Father Fritz by acclamation."[23]

His Amazon map was reprinted in Madrid in 1892, on the occasion of the fourth centenary of the discovery of America. There was another reprint in the Recueil de voyages et de documents pour servir a l'histoire de la géographie.[24] Three of his letters are incorporated in the "N. Welt-Bott" (Augsburg, 1726), III, nos. 24, 25;[2] and according to Condamine, an original report of his travels is to be found in the archives of the Jesuit college at Quito.[15]

Further reading[edit]




  1. ^ a b Lev Michael and Zachary O’Hagan, "A Linguistic Analysis of Old Omagua Ecclesiastical Texts," University of California, Berkeley.
  2. ^ a b c d Catholic Encyclopedia (1913): Samuel Fritz
  3. ^ Michael, Lev . 2014. "On the Pre-Columbian Origin of Proto-Omagua-Kokama." Journal of Language Contact 7(2):309{344.
  4. ^ Johann Christoph Adelung, Mithridates oder allgemeine Sprachenkunde: mit dem Vater Unser als Sprachprobe in beynahe fünfhundert Sprachen und Mundarten., (Berlin, 1806), III, ii, 611. "The linguistic abilities of Samuel Fritz."
  5. ^ a b c d e Samuel Fritz, Journal of the Travels and Labours of Father Samuel Fritz in the River of the Amazons Between 1686 and 1723, edited by George Edmundson; Issue 51 of Works issued by the Hakluyt Society, ISSN 0072-9396; Hakluyt Society, 1922.
  6. ^ Maroni, Pablo. [1738]1988. Noticias auténticas del famoso río Marañón. Iquitos: Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonía Peruana (IIAP); Centro de Estudios Teológicos de la Amazonía (CETA).
  7. ^ a b c d e John Hemming, Red Gold: The Conquest of the Brazilian Indians, 1500-1760, Harvard University Press, 1978. ISBN 0674751078
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i David Graham Sweet, "Samuel Fritz, S. J. and the Founding of the Portuguese Carmelite Mission to the Solimões," chapter 6 of A Rich Realm of Nature Destroyed: The Middle Amazon Valley, 1640-1750. Doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 1974.
  9. ^ Works Issued by the Hakluyt Society, Issue 24, 1859; University of Minnesota.
  10. ^ a b c d e Frank Salomon, Stuart B. Schwartz, eds.Indians of South America, Part 1 Volume 3 of Cambridge history of the native peoples of the Americas, Cambridge University Press, 1999. ISBN 0521333938
  11. ^ a b André Ferrand de Almeida, "Samuel Fritz and the Mapping of the Amazon," Imago Mundi. Vol. 55, (2003), pp. 113-119.
  12. ^ "The Great River Marañon or of the Amazons Geographically describ'd by Samuel Fritz missioner on the Said River," Atlas Geographus (volume 5), London, 1732.
  13. ^ Lettres édifiantes et curieuses, écrites des missions étrangères. [Collected by Charles le Gobien, J.-B. Du Halde, N. Maréchal, Louis Patouillet, Yves Mathurin Marie Tréandet de Querbeuf.] (Paris: N. Leclerc 1707-1776; new edition 1780) Links to digitized versions at Biblioteca Sinica 2.0 (Vienna). WorldCat listing Lettres édifiantes et curieuses.
  14. ^ Charles de la Condamine, "Carte du Cours du Maragnon ou de la Grande Riviere des Amazones dans sa partie navigable depuis Jaen de Bracomoros jusqu'à son embouchure et qui comprend la Province de Quito, et la Côte de la Guiane depuis le Cap de Nord jusqu'à Esséquebè," Veuve Pissot, Paris: 1745
  15. ^ a b Charles Marie de La Condamine, Relation abrégée d'un voyage fait dans l'intérieur de l'Amérique méridionale: depuis la côte de la mer du Sud, jusqu'aux côtes du Brésil et de la Guyane, en descendant la rivière des Amazones..., Jean-Edme Dufour & Philippe Roux, 1778; University of Lausanne
  16. ^ Sir Walter Raleigh, The Discoverie of the Large, Rich, and Bewtiful Empyre of Guiana 1596; repr., Amsterdam: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1968
  17. ^ Alexander von Humboldt, Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America During the Years 1799-1804, (chapter 25). Henry G. Bohn, London, 1853.
  18. ^ Alberto V. Veloso, "On the footprints of a major Brazilian Amazon earthquake," An. Acad. Bras. Ciênc., vol. 86 no.3 Rio de Janeiro Sept. 2014.
  19. ^ Edmond Herbert Grove-Hills, Annexe au Contre-mémoire, Vol. I; Imprimé au Foreign Office, par Harrison and Sons, 1903.
  20. ^ Sierra, Vicente D. 1944. Los jesuitas germanos en la conquista espiritual de Hispano- América. Buenos Aires. [Spanish]
  21. ^ Astrain, Antonio. 1925. Historia de la Compañía de Jesús en la Asistencia de España, vol. VII. Madrid: Administración de Razón y Fe.
  22. ^ Clements Robert Markham, Expeditions into the valley of the Amazons, 1539: The expedition of Gonzalo Pizarro, by Garcilasso Inca de la Vega, from the 2nd Part of his Royal commentaries, book iii, and The voyage of Francisco de Orellana, by A. de Herrera, from the 6th decade of his 'General history of the Western Indies, Works issued by the Hakluyt Society, 1859, Oxford University
  23. ^ Stein, Christian, Hörschelmann, Ferdinand, and Wappäus, Johann Eduard. Handbuch der Geographie und Statistik, Leipzig, 1863–70, I, pt. III, 595
  24. ^ Recueil de voyages et de documents pour servir a l'histoire de la géographie, ed. by Schéfer and Cordier, Paris, 1893.
  25. ^ Anton Huonder, Deutsche Jesuitenmissionare des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts : Ein Beitrag zur Missionsgeschichte und zur deutschen Biographie, Freiburg im Breisgau, 1899.
  26. ^ José Chantre y Herrera, Historia de las misiones de la Campañía de Jesús en el Marañón español, Aurelio Elias Mera, ed. A. Avrial, 1901
  27. ^ Teodoro Wolf, Geogr. y Geologia del Ecuador, Leipzig, 1892.