Imagine if the Internet existed when Christopher Columbus landed on Hispaniola in 1492 and we’d read about what ensued. Would our selective memory get the best of us and keep us in the dark for centuries about the systematic extermination of the Amerindians? Even if Bartolemé de las Casas (1484-1566), a historian and Dominican friar, wrote about these atrocities , we still teach children at our schools about a “great man” called Columbus.
The most harrowing fact about the conquest of the Americas by Europeans is that nobody was sentenced for the genocide and mass destruction that took place there. All the spoils went to the victors.
Surprisingly some anti-immigration groups oddly compare the colonization of the Americas by Europeans to immigrants moving to Europe. This is wrong because immigrants bring a service and economic growth to a country instead of pillage and destroy it. Anti-immigration groups, who use this argument, have been watching too many Hollywood Westerns.
Bartolomé de las Casas’ Brief account of the destruction of the Indies (Brevísima relación de la destruición de las Indias) was published in 1542.
Why is Columbus pictured as a hero when he brought so much destruction on Native Americans? Columbus proves that we can live with our collective heads stuck deeply in the ground for centuries.
When we read the history of the Americas, it’s usually from the white man’s perspective. Women, like Amerindians, don’t have much of a role or say in the history of that region.
Conversely, some may ask why the European media doesn’t bother to report enough about the prejudice, racism and plight of minorities in Europe. The Romany minority as a good example. The answer is simple: Our media is not controlled by minorities.
If a major Finnish daily writes about family reunification of refugees, for example, it will rarely write about the human tragedy that our tightened laws have caused on people who must live separated from their loved ones for years.
Even if De las Casas did a service by documenting the barbarity that he saw in the New World, he wasn’t against abolishing slavery.
Our reaction to intolerance, thanks to the Internet, must be faster today. We cannot wait for centuries to correct an injustice. As we challenge social ills more effectively, we reduce the likelihood of future wars and conflicts, which definitely have their roots in the fifteenth century, when Europeans started to colonize and pillage the New World.
What happened to Amerindians in the Americas is an example of the destruction that blind racism and greed can foster. Even if we don’t go around burning people at the steak as happened during de la Casas’ time, the white man has devised ingenious ways to destroy the self-esteem of minorities.
Malcolm X said it eloquently in the following quote: “Racism is like a Cadillac, they bring out a new model every year.”
The Indies were discovered in the year one thousand four hundred and ninety-two. Forty nine years have passed since the first settlers penetrated the land. The first, being the large and most happy isle called Hispaniola, perhaps the most densely populated place in the world.
There must be close to two hundred leagues of land on this island. And all the land so far discovered is a bee hive of people; it is though God crowded into these lands the great majority of mankind. And of all the infinite universe of humanity, these people are the most guideless, most devoid of wickedness and duplicity, the most obedient and faithful to their native masters, the Spanish Christians they serve. And because they are so weak and complacent, they are less able to endure heavy labor and soon die of no matter what malady, yet into this sheepfold, in to this land of meek outcasts, there came some Spaniards who immediately behaved like ravening wild beasts, wolves, tigers or lions that have been starved for many days, killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing and destroying the native peoples.
Doing all this with the strangest and most varied methods of cruelty never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree that this island of Hispaniola of once so populace, having a population I estimated to be more than three million, has now a population of barely 200 persons. Their reasons for killing and destroying such an infinite number of souls is that Christians have an ultimate aim is to acquire gold and to swell themselves with riches in a very brief time disproportionate to their merits.
It should be kept in mind that their insatiable greed and ambition, the greatest ever seen in the world, is the cause of their villainess. And also, those lands are rich and so felicitous that the native peoples, so meek and patient, so easy to subject, that all Spanish have no more consideration for them than beasts. No, for thank be to god, they have treated beasts with more respect; I should say instead like excrement on the public squares.
The Indian began to seek ways to throw the Christians out of their lands. They took up arms, but their weapons were very weak and little service in offence and still less in defense . The Christians with their horses and swords and pikes began to carry out massacres and strange cruelties against them. They attacked the towns and spared neither the children nor the aged nor the pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them and dismembering them, but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in a slaughterhouse. They made some low wide gallows on which they hanged victims’ feet almost touched the ground, stringing their victims in lots of 13, in memory of our redeemer and twelve apostles, then set burning wood at their feet and thus burn them alive.
When tied to the stake, the cacique Hathaway, a very important noble, was told by a Franciscan friar about the god of the Christians and the articles of faith, and he was told what he could do in the brief time that remained to him in order to be saved and go to heaven.
The cacique Hatuey, who had never heard any of this before, was told he would go to inferno where if he not adopt the Christian faith, he would suffer eternal torment. Asked the Christian friar, if Christians all went to heaven, when told that they did, he said he would prefer to go to hell.*
Source: Bartolemé de la Casa´s Breif account of the devastation of the Indies (1542).