Colonial Perspectives: Works from the Louise Bulkeley Dillingham Collection

Conversion De Piritu, De Indios Cumanagotos, Palenques, Y Otros (1690)

Conversion De Piritu 1/4

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Friar Matías Ruiz Blanco. Conversion De Piritu, De Indios Cumanagotos, Palenques, Y Otros: Sus Principios, y Incrementos Que Hoy Tiene, Con Todas Las Cosas Mas Singulares Del Pais, Politica, Y Ritosde Sus Naturales, Practica Que Se Observa En Su Reduccion, y Otras Cosas Dignas De Memoria. Madrid: Juan Garcia Infançon, 1690.

Father Matías Ruiz Blanco (1643-c. 1708) was born Estepa, in the province of Andalucía, Spain. Very little is known regarding his early life, except that he joined the Franciscan order as a young man and was educated in art and theology. He became a professor at the Franciscan monastery in Seville at the age of twenty-three. After several years of this, he gave up his position in 1670 and immigrated to the New World to work in the Franciscan missions that had been established in Píritu, in present day northern Venezuela.

Living among the Cumanagotos and the Paleques, Father Ruiz Blanco became a determined missionary, establishing several new missions throughout the region. He often walked miles on foot in order to care for the spiritual and physical needs of the natives. He was elected president of the college of Píritu, and in 1683 sinodal examiner of the bishopric of Puerto Rico, which then included parts of northern Venezuela. Father Ruiz Blanco also returned to Spain several times, acting as a representative of the missionaries in their attempts to secure government support for the protection of the indigenous peoples against the abuses of the Spanish colonists. 


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In addition to his missionary work, Father Ruiz Blanco also studied native languages, and his publications provide some of the only documentation of the Cumanagoto language. In 1683 his Conversion de Piritu was published in Burgos; a revised edition was also published in Madrid in 1690, to which the Bryn Mawr copy belongs, dedicated to the Marqués de los Velez, then head of the Council of the Indies.

According to Father Ruiz Blanco, the purpose of the Conversion was to both attract and guide prospective missionaries, although it is very clear in regards to the dangers such struggles such a life entail. In the first part of the text he describes the physical aspects of the Piritu region, including the plant and animal life, natural features and climate, as well as the descriptions of the natives themselves. He also offers guidance on how a missionary can maintain his health in this harsh environment. The second part focuses on his studies of native languages and the difficulties in translating Catholic texts to these languages for the purpose of missionary work.

Although the exact date of his death is still unclear, it is believed that Father Ruiz Blanco died in the missions no later than 1708.


  • Mary Watters. “Conversión en Píritu.” The Hispanic American Review, vol. 16, no. 2 (May 1936). pp. 270-74.

  • Fidel de Lejarza and Matias Ruiz Blanco. Conversion de Piritu. Caracas: Biblioteca de la Academia Nacional de Historia, Fuentes para la Historia Colonial de Venezuela, 1965.