Documents of Colonization: The Requerimiento, 1513

•October 22, 2008 • 2 Comments

This document was written by Palacios Rubios in 1513. The Requirement or the requerimiento required Aboriginal people who heard it to surrender their lands and freedom to Spain, or face war and slavery.  As it came to be used, the mere reading of the document — in Spanish, sometimes to sleeping villages, often out of earshot of the intended hearers — was intended and supposed to exonerate the invading conquistadors for any harm done to their victims in the course of attacking them.

Requerimiento (1513)

On the part of the King, Don Fernando, and of Doña Juana, his daughter, Queen of Castille and León, subduers of the barbarous nations, we their servants notify and make known to you, as best we can, that the Lord our God, Living and Eternal, created the Heaven and the Earth, and one man and one woman, of whom you and we, all the men of the world, were and are descendants, and all those who came after us.

But, on account of the multitude which has sprung from this man and woman in the five thousand years since the world was created, it was necessary that some men should go one way and some another, and that they should be divided into many kingdoms and provinces, for in one alone they could not be sustained.

Of all these nations God our Lord gave charge to one man, called St. Peter, that he should be Lord and Superior of all the men in the world, that all should obey him, and that he should be the head of the whole human race, wherever men should live, and under whatever law, sect, or belief they should be; and he gave him the world for his kingdom and jurisdiction.

And he commanded him to place his seat in Rome, as the spot most fitting to rule the world from; but also he permitted him to have his seat in any other part of the world, and to judge and govern all Christians, Moors, Jews, Gentiles, and all other sects.

This man was called Pope, as if to say, Admirable Great Father and Governor of men.

The men who lived in that time obeyed that St. Peter, and took him for Lord, King, and Superior of the universe; so also they have regarded the others who after him have been elected to the pontificate, and so has it been continued even till now, and will continue till the end of the world.

One of these Pontiffs, who succeeded that St. Peter as Lord of the world, in the dignity and seat which I have before mentioned, made donation of these isles and Tierra-firme to the aforesaid King and Queen and to their successors, our lords, with all that there are in these territories, as is contained in certain writings which passed upon the subject as aforesaid, which you can see if you wish.

So their Highnesses are kings and lords of these islands and land of Tierra-firme by virtue of this donation: and some islands, and indeed almost all those to whom this has been notified, have received and served their Highnesses, as lords and kings, in the way that subjects ought to do, with good will, without any resistance, immediately, without delay, when they were informed of the aforesaid facts.

And also they received and obeyed the priests whom their Highnesses sent to preach to them and to teach them our Holy Faith; and all these, of their own free will, without any reward or condition, have become Christians, and are so, and their Highnesses have joyfully and benignantly received them, and also have commanded them to be treated as their subjects and vassals; and you too are held and obliged to do the same.

Wherefore, as best we can, we ask and require you that you consider what we have said to you, and that you take the time that shall be necessary to understand and deliberate upon it, and that you acknowledge the Church as the Ruler and Superior of the whole world, and the high priest called Pope, and in his name the King and Queen Doña Juana our lords, in his place, as superiors and lords and kings of these islands and this Tierra-firme by virtue of the said donation, and that you consent and give place that these religious fathers should declare and preach to you the aforesaid.

If you do so, you will do well, and that which you are obliged to do to their Highnesses, and we in their name shall receive you in all love and charity, and shall leave you, your wives, and your children, and your lands, free without servitude, that you may do with them and with yourselves freely that which you like and think best, and they shall not compel you to turn Christians, unless you yourselves, when informed of the truth, should wish to be converted to our Holy Catholic Faith, as almost all the inhabitants of the rest of the islands have done.

And, besides this, their Highnesses award you many privileges and exemptions and will grant you many benefits.

But, if you do not do this, and maliciously make delay in it, I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their Highnesses; we shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their Highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him; and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their Highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us.

And that we have said this to you and made this Requisition, we request the notary here present to give us his testimony in writing, and we ask the rest who are present that they should be witnesses of this Requisition.


Cited at

Documents of Colonization: Inter Caetera, May 4, 1493: The Pope Grants America to Spain

•October 22, 2008 • Leave a Comment
Pope Alexander VI was born in Spain.  His original name was Rodrigo Borgia.  He was the father of Lucrezia Borgia and Cesare Borgia.

Pope Alexander VI was born in Spain. His original name was Rodrigo Borgia. He was the father of Lucrezia Borgia and Cesare Borgia.

The papal bull Inter Caetera, issued by Pope Alexander VI on May 4, 1493, granted the Americas to Spain.  A papal bull was a papal decree, intended to taken as the lawful will of the Catholic church.

English Translation of the Papal Bull Inter Caetera issued by Pope Alexander VI, May 4, 1493.

Alexander, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to the illustrious sovereigns, our very dear son in Christ, Ferdinand, king, and our very dear daughter in Christ, Isabella, queen of Castile, Leon, Aragon, Sicily, and Granada, health and apostolic benediction.

Among other works well pleasing to the Divine Majesty and cherished of our heart, this assuredly ranks highest, that in our times especially the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.

Wherefore inasmuch as by the favor of divine clemency, we, though of insufficient merits, have been called to this Holy See of Peter, recognizing that as true Catholic kings and princes, such as we have known you always to be, and as your illustrious deeds already known to almost the whole world declare, you not only eagerly desire but with every effort, zeal, and diligence, without regard to hardships, expenses, dangers, with the shedding even of your blood, are laboring to that end; recognizing also that you have long since dedicated to this purpose your whole soul and all your endeavors — as witnessed in these times with so much glory to the Divine Name in your recovery of the kingdom of Granada from the yoke of the Saracens — we therefore are rightly led, and hold it as our duty, to grant you even of our own accord and in your favor those things whereby with effort each day more hearty you may be enabled for the honor of God himself and the spread of the Christian rule to carry forward your holy and praiseworthy purpose so pleasing to immortal God.

We have indeed learned that you, who for a long time had intended to seek out and discover certain islands and mainlands remote and unknown and not hitherto discovered by others, to the end that you might bring to the worship of our Redeemer and the profession of the Catholic faith their residents and inhabitants, having been up to the present time greatly engaged in the siege and recovery of the kingdom itself of Granada were unable to accomplish this holy and praiseworthy purpose; but the said kingdom having at length been regained, as was pleasing to the Lord, you, with the wish to fulfill your desire, chose our beloved son, Christopher Columbus, a man assuredly worthy and of the highest recommendations and fitted for so great an undertaking, whom you furnished with ships and men equipped for like designs, not without the greatest hardships, dangers, and expenses, to make diligent quest for these remote and unknown mainlands and islands through the sea, where hitherto no one had sailed; and they at length, with divine aid and with the utmost diligence sailing in the ocean sea, discovered certain very remote islands and even mainlands that hitherto had not been discovered by others; wherein dwell very many peoples living in peace, and, as reported, going unclothed, and not eating flesh.

Moreover, as your aforesaid envoys are of opinion, these very peoples living in the said islands and countries believe in one God, the Creator in heaven, and seem sufficiently disposed to embrace the Catholic faith and be trained in good morals.

And it is hoped that, were they instructed, the name of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, would easily be introduced into the said countries and islands.

Also, on one of the chief of these aforesaid islands the said Christopher has already caused to be put together and built a fortress fairly equipped, wherein he has stationed as garrison certain Christians, companions of his, who are to make search for other remote and unknown islands and mainlands.

In the islands and countries already discovered are found gold, spices, and very many other precious things of divers kinds and qualities.

Wherefore, as becomes Catholic kings and princes, after earnest consideration of all matters, especially of the rise and spread of the Catholic faith, as was the fashion of your ancestors, kings of renowned memory, you have purposed with the favor of divine clemency to bring under your sway the said mainlands and islands with their residents and inhabitants and to bring them to the Catholic faith.

Hence, heartily commending in the Lord this your holy and praiseworthy purpose, and desirous that it be duly accomplished, and that the name of our Savior be carried into those regions, we exhort you very earnestly in the Lord and by your reception of holy baptism, whereby you are bound to our apostolic commands, and by the bowels of the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, enjoin strictly, that inasmuch as with eager zeal for the true faith you design to equip and despatch this expedition, you purpose also, as is your duty, to lead the peoples dwelling in those islands and countries to embrace the Christian religion; nor at any time let dangers or hardships deter you therefrom, with the stout hope and trust in your hearts that Almighty God will further your undertakings.

And, in order that you may enter upon so great an undertaking with greater readiness and heartiness endowed with the benefit of our apostolic favor, we, of our own accord, not at your instance nor the request of anyone else in your regard, but of our own sole largess and certain knowledge and out of the fullness of our apostolic power, by the authority of Almighty God conferred upon us in blessed Peter and of the vicarship of Jesus Christ, which we hold on earth, do by tenor of these presents, should any of said islands have been found by your envoys and captains, give, grant, and assign to you and your heirs and successors, kings of Castile and Leon, forever, together with all their dominions, cities, camps, places, and villages, and all rights, jurisdictions, and appurtenances, all islands and mainlands found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered towards the west and south, by drawing and establishing a line from the Arctic pole, namely the north, to the Antarctic pole, namely the south, no matter whether the said mainlands and islands are found and to be found in the direction of India or towards any other quarter, the said line to be distant one hundred leagues towards the west and south from any of the islands commonly known as the Azores and Cape Verde.

With this proviso however that none of the islands and mainlands, found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered, beyond that said line towards the west and south, be in the actual possession of any Christian king or prince up to the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ just past from which the present year one thousand four hundred and ninety-three begins.

And we make, appoint, and depute you and your said heirs and successors lords of them with full and free power, authority, and jurisdiction of every kind; with this proviso however, that by this our gift, grant, and assignment no right acquired by any Christian prince, who may be in actual possession of said islands and mainlands prior to the said birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ, is hereby to be understood to be withdrawn or taken away.

Moreover we command you in virtue of holy obedience that, employing all due diligence in the premises, as you also promise — nor do we doubt your compliance therein in accordance with your loyalty and royal greatness of spirit — you should appoint to the aforesaid mainlands and islands worthy, God-fearing, learned, skilled, and experienced men, in order to instruct the aforesaid inhabitants and residents in the Catholic faith and train them in good morals.

Furthermore, under penalty of excommunication late sententie to be incurred ipso facto, should anyone thus contravene, we strictly forbid all persons of whatsoever rank, even imperial and royal, or of whatsoever estate, degree, order, or condition, to dare, without your special permit or that of your aforesaid heirs and successors, to go for the purpose of trade or any other reason to the islands or mainlands, found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered, towards the west and south, by drawing and establishing a line from the Arctic pole to the Antarctic pole, no matter whether the mainlands and islands, found and to be found, lie in the direction of India or toward any other quarter whatsoever, the said line to be distant one hundred leagues towards the west and south, as is aforesaid, from any of the islands commonly known as the Azores and Cape Verde; apostolic constitutions and ordinances and other decrees whatsoever to the contrary notwithstanding.

We trust in Him from whom empires and governments and all good things proceed, that, should you, with the Lord’s guidance, pursue this holy and praiseworthy undertaking, in a short while your hardships and endeavors will attain the most felicitous result, to the happiness and glory of all Christendom.

But inasmuch as it would be difficult to have these present letters sent to all places where desirable, we wish, and with similar accord and knowledge do decree, that to copies of them, signed by the hand of a public notary commissioned therefor, and sealed with the seal of any ecclesiastical officer or ecclesiastical court, the same respect is to be shown in court and outside as well as anywhere else as would be given to these presents should they thus be exhibited or shown.

Let no one, therefore, infringe, or with rash boldness contravene, this our recommendation, exhortation, requisition, gift, grant, assignment, constitution, deputation, decree, mandate, prohibition, and will.

Should anyone presume to attempt this, be it known to him that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul.

Given at Rome, at St. Peter’s, in the year of the incarnation of our Lord one thousand four hundred and ninety-three, the fourth of May, and the first year of our pontificate.

Gratis by order of our most holy lord, the pope.

June. For the referendary,          For J. Bufolinus,

A. de Mucciarellis.     A. Santoseverino.

L. Podocatharus.

Translation taken from Frances Gardiner Davenport, ed., European Treaties bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648, 1917, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C., pp. 75-78.

Quoted at

History of Colonization 6: Isabella’s Loophole and the Mind-Tricks of the Colonizer

•October 19, 2008 • Leave a Comment

9.  Isabella’s Loophole and the Birth of Colonial Ideology

Colonialism in the Americas was launched in 1492.  And along with colonialism came colonial ideology, the justifications for colonialism and for colonial relationships.  Human beings are moral animals, which is simply a function of our being social animals.  Thus when we do something which is clearly immoral according to all the standard definitions, when we rape, pillage and enslave other humans – especially humans who are not our enemies, who have done us no harm and who are in no position to endanger our homes and families – then we must exercise special care to justify our actions.  Colonial ideology fulfills such a function.

Historian Barbara Tuchman discusses the question of a ‘just war’ in 14th century Europe:

While desirable in any epoch, a “just war’ in the 14th century was virtually a legal necessity as the basis for requisitioning feudal aids in men and money.  It was equally essential for securing God on one’s side, for war was considered fundamentally an appeal to the arbitrament of God.  A “just war” had to be one of public policy declared by the sovereign, and it had to be in a “just” cause – that is, directed against some “injustice” in the form of crime or fault on the part of the enemy.  As formulated by the inescapable Thomas Aquinas, it required a third criterion:  right intention on the part of the participants, but how this could be tested, the great expounder did not say.  Even more convenient than the help of God was the “right of spoil” – in practice, pillage – that accompanied a just war.  It rested on the theory that the enemy, being “unjust,” had no right to property, and that booty was the due reward for risk of life in a just cause. [1]

There you go, colonial justification in its rawest form:  if you can find fault with your enemy – or those whom you would make your enemies – it entitles you to rob and steal, and, if your enemies have nothing to steal, to enslave.  Columbus, the first European to come to the Americas to rob and steal, also began the process of justifying his right to do so.  By 1493, when Columbus returned to America with 17 ships and somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 colonists,[2] Columbus’ demonizing of Aboriginal people was already in action.  It was reflected in the diary account of one of his passengers, Guillermo Coma of Aragon, who wrote upon the sighting of Dominica, November 3, 1493:

These islands are inhabited by Canabilli, a wild, unconquered race which feeds on human flesh.  I would be right to call them anthropophagi.  They wage unceasing wars against gentle and timid Indians to supply flesh; this is their booty and what they hunt.  They ravage, despoil, and terrorize the Indians ruthlessly.[3]

The Canabilli (at that time merely the name of a people, having nothing to do with dining preferences) were also known as Canibales, Canibas, Caribas, and Caribs, and gave their name to the Caribbean Sea, and to cannibals.  Despite the mythologizing that had already begun, they were actually completely unknown to Columbus.  What he said about them and their people-eating and warlike ways he simply invented.  He never set foot on a single Carib island, never met a Carib until two and half years after that first sighting of Dominica (and didn’t interact with them then), and he never found evidence of anyone anywhere eating anyone else, although he surely looked for it.  But Columbus little foray into mythmaking has persisted, from Shakespeare’s ugly beastlike Caliban in The Tempest, through the cannibals who Friday escapes in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and to the present day, with Johnny Depp escaping (by implication) a Carib stewpot in Disney’s second ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie.  (Ah yes, racism suitable for children, in the grand Hollywood manner.)

Very little is actually known about the Caribs, since they were mostly destroyed quite early on, but what is certainly known is that they were not warlike, and they did not eat people.  However, it is obvious why it would be convenient to think of them – and other peoples of the Americas – as cannibals, since eating people can be considered a character flaw, and character flaws in your enemy transformed wars against them into ‘just wars,’ and, as pointed out above, a ‘just war’ entitled the winner to booty and slaves.  In 1503, Queen Isabella decreed that her native subjects of the New World were not to be hurt or captured, with the exception of cannibals, “who were said not only to eat her subjects but to resist their Christian teaching,”[4] in the words of Atlantic slave trade historian Hugh Thomas.

The loophole thus provided by Queen Isabella no doubt proved useful to slave traders in the New World, both to ease a twitching conscience and as a way around the law.  Slave trading was technically illegal in respect of Aboriginal people, although that did not in any way stop it from flourishing in the New World beyond the law and reach of Castile and Aragon[5], (and within the law under Columbus’ encomienda system.)  Yet a simple designation of ‘cannibal’ made it possible to bring back captive slaves for sale even to Spain itself.  It should not be a surprise then, that there were so many Spanish reports of cannibals, especially by Spanish slavers.  If your enemy is no more than a beast, why then it is justified, according to this way of thinking, to make them into a beast of burden for the use of ‘civilized’ Christian folk.

10.  Cognitive Dissonance: Inventing Racism in the New World

When Columbus arrived on the shores of the West Indies and met the people there, it was clear that he was enchanted by them.  The first reports that he brought back to Ferdinand and Isabella spoke positively about them. Kirkpatrick Sale describes Columbus’ Santangel Letter of 1493.

Here the subcontinent [of Europe] for the first time had a firsthand, face-to-face description of people actually living in that Paradise, or Arcadia, or Elysian Fields, envisioned by the ancients:  they “all go naked, men and women, as their mothers bore them”; they do not have weapons “nor are they capable of using them”; they are “well-built people of handsome stature” and “of a very keen intelligence” but “wondrous timid”; they have no religion and “know neither sect nor idolatry”; “they are so artless and free with all they possess, that no one would believe it without having seen it,” and “whether the thing be of value or of small price, at once they are content with whatever little thing of whatever kind may be given to them.”[6]

Yet Columbus soon changed his mind, and as his intentions toward the people changed from that of discoverer to that of exploiter, the people changed too, from handsome to ugly, from keenly intelligent to stupid.  The process of altering your perceptions to suit your actions and intentions is called cognitive dissonance[7].  Conscience would not permit Columbus to mutilate, murder and enslave the timid, artless, generous and intelligent Tainos, so he reinvented them in his mind as the bestial, people-eating Caribs – and afterwards, in a similar process, the distinction between Tainos and Caribs became lost as well.  Columbus became a racist in order to more easily function as a colonialist.

Racism, in fact, is one of the fundamental doctrines of colonialism, since it justifies uneven colonial relationships, the relationship between the colonists and the colonized.  The Greeks, during their era of imperial expansion, when the eastern coasts of the Mediterranean Sea were all Greek colonies, referred to all foreigners as barbarians.  This is not a coincidence.  The Japanese, when expanding into Korea and China, promoted similar ideas about the Koreans and the Chinese.  This is also not a coincidence.  Racism serves a social function; it justifies exploitation.  Sometimes it justifies murder.

And historically, if not in individual cases, the development of racist thought follows the intention of the colonialist, it does not precede it.   That is, intention comes first, and the psychological and social process of racism follows in order to justify and license the intention.  And once racism is established in a given social situation, it permits the continuance of colonial relationships, ensuring that those who are indoctrinated to be racists do not question the status quo of exploiter and exploited.  And the indoctrination process, it should be explained, applies to both the exploiter and the exploited.  Not only must the social group of the exploiter accept racist doctrine as truth, the social group of the exploited must as well.  Thus colonial relationships advantageous to the colonizer are permitted to flourish largely unquestioned.

Historically (and in my opinion, even today) much of the education of Aboriginal children in Canada has followed this pattern, that of justifying Aboriginal people’s low social position in the Canadian state.  And I suggest that much of the education of Euro-Canadian children, whether explicitly admitted as such or not, is dedicated to the complementary goal of allowing Euro-Canadian children to accept, as adults, the superior social and economic position of Euro-Canadians, and people of European descent, in Canada and the world.

And it all began with Columbus.

Let us raise up statues and monuments to him.

Let us celebrate holidays in his honour.

[1] Barbara Tuchman, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, 1978, Ballantine, NY, page 73.

[2] Kirkpatrick Sale, The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy, 1990,  Alfred A. Knoff, NY, p. 128.

[3] Sale, 129.

[4] Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade: The History of the Atlantic Slave Trade 1440-1870, 1997, Picador, London, 90.  Thomas himself seems to believe that the Caribs were cannibals, and that it was actually Caribs and not Tainos which Columbus sent back to Spain after his first voyages, an impossibility since Columbus did not visit any Carib islands up to that time.  Cultural propaganda has a long lease, and even contemporary historians are not immune.

[5] Castile and Aragon, which together make up modern Spain, were ruled respectively by Isabella and Ferdinand, and even these were subdivided.  The three provinces of Aragon, for instance, were wholly autonomous, with their own laws, taxes and parliaments.  According to historian, Henry Kamen in Empire: How Spain Became a World Power 1492-1763, 2003, Perennial, NY, pp. 36-37, “The peninsular territories known collectively as ‘Spain` did not begin to develop as a nation before the eighteenth century.”  I use the term Spain loosely, where, for instance, Castile might be more accurate in a given case.  My excuse is that these kinds of niceties would tend to be confusing for the non-specialist reader, and they have nothing to do with the main thrust of my arguments.

[6] Sale, 197.

[7]cognitive dissonance:  an uncomfortable psychological state in which the individual experiences two incompatible beliefs or cognitions.  Cognitive dissonance theory holds that the individual is motivated by the attendant discomfort to act in such a manner as to reduce dissonance.”  J.P. Chaplin, Dictionary of Psychology, 1975, Dell, NY.



colonial ideology — that set of beliefs and arguments which justify the rights, privileges and actions of the colonizer in respect of the colonized, and those they would colonize or exploit.

racism — prejudice plus power, as stated in its simplist definition.  The doctrine of racism is intended to justify unequal social, and sometimes unequal legal, relationships between one social class and another.

Occasional Quotes 2: Preferring Hell to the Spanish

•October 18, 2008 • Leave a Comment

One of the leading local lords, a cacique who went by the name of Hatuey, had fled to [Cuba] from Hispaniola [Haiti] in order to escape the miseries that arose from the inhuman treatment meted out to the natives of that island by the Spanish…. But, eventually, he was captured and, although his only crime was that he tried to escape the clutches of these cruel and iniquitous monsters because he knew only too well that they were out to kill him and that, if he did not defend himself, they would hound him and all his people to death, the Spaniard’s verdict was that he should be burned alive.

Once he was tied to the stake, a Franciscan friar who was present, a saintly man, told him as much as he could in the short time permitted by his executioners about the Lord and about our Christian faith, all of which was new to him.  The friar told him that, if he would only believe what he was now hearing, he would go to Heaven there to enjoy glory and eternal rest, but that, if he would not, he would be consigned to Hell, where he would endure everlasting pain and torment.

The lord Hatuey thought for a short while and then asked the friar whether Christians went to Heaven.  When the reply came that good ones do, he retorted, without need for further reflection, that, if that was the case, then he chose to go to Hell to ensure that he would never again have to clap eyes on those cruel brutes. [27-29]

Bartolomé de las Casas, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies [1542], Penguin Books, London.  Translated by Nigel Griffin.

Occasional Quotes 1: The Settled & the Nomadic

•October 17, 2008 • Leave a Comment

“…a crucial difference between hunter-gatherers and farmers is that one society is highly mobile, with a strong tendency to both small- and large-scale nomadism, whereas the other is highly settled, tending to stay firmly in one particular area or territory.  This difference is established in stereotypes of “nomadic” hunters and “settled” farmers.  However, the stereotype has it the wrong way round.  It is agricultural societies that tend to be on the move; hunting peoples are far more firmly settled.  This fact is evident when we look at these two ways of being in the world over a long time span – when we screen the movie of human history, as it were, rather than relying on a photograph.”

Hugh Brody, The Other Side of Eden:  Hunters, Farmers and the Shaping of the World, 2000, Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, p. 7.

History of Colonization 5 – Columbus as Hero & the Real Reasons That Europe Won the Race to the Americas

•October 7, 2008 • Leave a Comment

7.  Hero

What qualities make a hero?

What shall we tell the children when they see his statue in the square?

Our brave hero was bull-headed and ignorant, ungrateful, greedy, ambitious, ruthless, reckless, a murderer, a whiner and a liar.  These are not the usual qualities of our pop culture heroes, perhaps, but you could hardly have chosen a better person than Columbus to spearhead the European attack on the Americas.

He’s been called a product of the Renaissance, but that is not true.  He was clearly product of Medieval Europe, of medieval thinking, of medieval brutality.  His ambition was to grow rich and to use his wealth to finance the retaking of Jerusalem for the Christians, a quintessential medieval ambition.  Anyway, Spain and Portugal, Columbus’ stomping grounds, were, at the end of the fifteenth century, pretty much untouched by the cultural movement known as the Renaissance, which was centred in Italy and elsewhere.

Washington Irving, who wrote the legends of the Headless Horseman, Rip Van Winkle and Columbus.|

Washington Irving, who wrote the legends of the Headless Horseman, Rip Van Winkle and Columbus.|

According to a story by Washington Irving, a myth which has come down to us as truth, Columbus was a visionary who insisted against conventional wisdom that the world was round.  This would make him a scientific man, I guess, if it were true.  However, everybody in Columbus’ day pretty much already agreed that the world was round.  They had known it since the time of the Greeks, if not before.  Ships sailing over the horizon visibly dipped down over it, hull first, mast last.  You could see the round shadow of the earth cast on the moon during a lunar eclipse.  Anyway, it was not the roundness of the earth that Columbus was insisting on:  it was the size, and on that matter he was dead wrong.

The size of the earth was something that also had been calculated by the Greeks, with remarkable accuracy.  What Columbus was insisting was that the Earth was much smaller than what most scientific persons of his era believed.  He thought it was something like 16,000 kilometres round (10,000 miles) when it is actually 40,000 kilometres (25,000 miles.)  He insisted on this calculation against all comers, against all men wiser than him, because it was the only way to justify sailing across the Atlantic to China.  If the wise men were correct – and they were – then the journey was too far.  But Columbus read and researched and uncovered any authority that appeared to agree with him, that challenged the notion of a larger earth, and he did so not as a scientist does, but as a dogmatist does.  Logic, reason and evidence had nothing to do with it.  Columbus was not a scientist, and the notion of a scientific approach was foreign to his nature.  In essence, Columbus got to discover America for the Europeans because he was a damn fool.  In terms of heroic qualities, damn foolery is a hard sell:  hence the continued existence of the Washington Irving fairy tale.

Then there is Columbus the sailor.  He conducted four voyages of exploration.  In the first one he lost one of his three ships, and he lost it because he was sailing at night along an unknown coast, something no good sailor would do.  As a result he left one of his crews behind when he sailed back to Spain, and they had disappeared by the time he returned to find them, most likely because they were dead.  On his fourth voyage he lost his entire fleet through recklessness and a stubborn failure to conduct even elementary maintenance, and he had to be rescued by the natives who took him in and kept him and his crew of 100 alive for an entire year.  Kirkpatrick Sale writes, “The four voyages, properly seen, quite apart from bravery and fortitude, are replete with lubberly mistakes, misconceived sailing plans, foolish disregard of elementary maintenance, and stubborn neglect of basic safety.”

As for Columbus the man, the best that the apologist historians can say of him was that he was “a man of his time,” which means, I suppose, that he was a person shaped by his time, although it sometimes seems to mean that “he was a person who lived a long time ago before humans developed morals,” which is sheer historic drivel.  In terms of the basics – lying, murdering, exploiting, and so on – humans have always known what they were doing, because such knowledge is basic to being a social animal, and human beings were social animals even in Columbus’ day.

“Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs,” said Stalin.  But not, apparently, by Columbus.  When Columbus sank the Santa Maria, his cargo was rescued by the ready assistance of the local Tainos.  But the chief of those who helped him, Guacanagarí, eventually had to escape the ravaging Spanish, and he died a wanderer in the mountains.  Of his rescuers from his fourth voyage, Columbus says only, “daily expecting death, surrounded by a million savages full of cruelty and our enemies.”  The Jamaicans that kept him and his crew alive for a year were destroyed along with the all the other people the Spanish encountered in the Caribbean, and without a second thought.

And Columbus was always willing to help this destruction along if it furthered one of his prime obsessions, gold.  While he was governor of Hispaniola, he instituted a practice of giving out tokens to the native Tainos under his power, a new token every three months in exchange for a certain amount of gold.  If a Taino could not obtain enough gold to redeem a token, Columbus ordered his hands chopped off.  It was not the worst atrocity the Tainos were to suffer, unfortunately, but serves well enough to show the quality of hero we are dealing with here – maiming was a favoured tactic of Columbus.

Historians say that Columbus was not the worst of the Conquistadors.  That is true.  According to written materials produced by the colonizers themselves, the Tainos and other indigenous people were hunted for sport and for dog food.  Bartolomé de las Casas says of the conquistadors:  “They made a law among themselves that for one Christian whom the Indians killed, the Christians should kill a hundred Indians.”  And perhaps we are being unfair to Columbus for bringing him to task for the murder of perhaps a 100 thousand Tainos during his rule of Hispaniola.  And to Jack the Ripper also, who was responsible for the murder of only five women.  Yet most Eurocentric historians seem to adhere to Stalin’s dictum, “A single death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.”

Then of course, there’s the slave trade.  Christopher Columbus launched the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and personally brought across the Atlantic more than any single person, about 5000.  He also created the encomienda system, where grants of land in the New World were accompanied by the right to enslave the people already living on this land.  This system was later imported to other Spanish colonies, and resulted in such massive depopulation of the native Americans that Columbus’ son eventually, by 1505, had to start importing slaves from Africa to do the labour the colonists were themselves disinclined to do.  Thus, as James W. Loewen has written, “Christopher Columbus introduced two phenomena that revolutionized race relations and transformed the modern world: the taking of land, wealth, and labor from indigenous peoples, leading to their near extermination, and the transatlantic slave trade, which created a racial underclass.”

But it is as a liar and a propagandist that Columbus did some of his most effective work in bringing about European domination.  He began the demonization of the Caribs, making their name synonymous with cannibal, (which is fact merely a variation of their name) which provided a ready excuse for their persecution by all the Spaniards who followed, and an ongoing excuse for the persecution of indigenous Americans in general.  He also, in his eagerness to have his exploits recognized, greatly exaggerated the riches and opportunities to be found in the Caribbean, encouraging many people to follow.  When those who followed did not find what Columbus said was there, they consoled themselves with a reign of terror, and continued with the search for the riches which Columbus insisted were there.  Finally, in 1499, the Spanish discovered gold, and that caught the attention of Portugal, France, Holland and Britain, who began to take an interest in the lands across the sea.  It is possible to think of the discovery of gold in Haiti as the golden death knell for the independent peoples of the Americas.

As for Columbus, he returned to Spain a wealthy man, and he spent his final years whining to all who would listen about how he had been cheated of further wealth and honours.  His tone was such that some historians actually believed that he died in poverty, which is far from true.  But very little that has been said about Columbus is true.

And straying from the truth is often how heroes are made.  Let’s tell lies to our children and keep Columbus a hero.  Just as Stalin advises, “Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.”

8.  Ocean Crossings

Okay, I hear you saying it.  What about the fact that Columbus discovered America, that it was the Europeans who discovered America first?

A relevant question, which needs to be answered in context.  First, as I pointed out before, Columbus didn’t discover America, since people were already living there.  Second, Columbus was not the first European in the Americas, as everybody already knows.  The Vikings and the Celts arrived first.  And there is considerable evidence that the oceanic barrier had been crossed many times before by other peoples, from Africa, from Asia, by the Polynesians and so on.  And as the centuries went by, with the improvement of nautical and navigational technology, the crossing of the oceanic barrier became more or less inevitable.  Columbus won the horse race, but like other horse races, if he didn’t win, then some other horse would have.  Columbus was not at all essential to this process.  In fact, in 1500 a Portuguese ship was blown off course by a storm and found itself off the coast of Brazil.  Without Columbus the barrier would have been crossed anyway.

And as for the Europeans getting there first, who would you expect to do it?  Do historians never look at maps?  China has the Pacific Ocean between it and the Americas, and Europe has the Atlantic.  The Pacific Ocean is two and half times wider than the Atlantic.  Thus the oceanic barrier is wider for the Chinese than for the Europeans by a considerable extent.  I consider that fact relevant.

January wind systems for the Pacific and the Atlantic

July wind systems in the Pacific and Atlantic

July wind systems in the Pacific and Atlantic

And further, the Atlantic Ocean has trade winds which can bring European ships directly to the islands of the Caribbean, a perfect staging ground for an attack on the American continents, and on the civilizations of Central America and Peru.  They also have another trade wind to bring them back home.

The matching wind systems on the Pacific are in the north, and bring the traveller from China to the Pacific Northwest, my home, a beautiful place and I love it, but hardly a place ready for the kind of exploitation which made European conquest possible.  Don’t kid yourself.  Early European exploration and conquest was all about gold, and dependent on Aboriginal agriculture, and that was really only available roundabout where Columbus landed.  Europe had an oceanic road to the New World, coincidental to the fact that they were located to the east of the Americas, and it was that simple geographic advantage which allowed them to reach the Americas first.

All other explanations are self-congratulatory Eurocentric nonsense, as far as I can tell, none of which make any attempt to address the geographic realities.



My sources are the same as the previous unit, but add:

JM Blaut, The Colonizer’s Model of the World:  geographic diffusionism and Eurocentric history, 1993, Guildford Press, NY.

This is the source of my map argument, but is relevant for many other historical matters as well.

My map is based on the following source:


Our thanks to Joseph Stalin for helping to keep Columbus in perspective.  I found the Stalin quotes at

History of Colonization 4 – Columbus & the Destruction of the Indies – A Chronology

•October 6, 2008 • Leave a Comment

1441, Antao Goncalves, sailing for Prince Henry the Navigator, travels down the West Coast of Africa to Cabo Branco in the north of the present day Mauritania, seizes a dozen Africans to bring home to his Prince.  Prince Henry was pleased.  Zurara, Prince Henry’s historian writes: ‘How great his joy must have been … not for the number of those captives, but for the hope, O sainted Prince, you had for others in the future.'”

1442 Pope Eugenius IV, approved the voyages down the coast of West Africa and granted Portugal exclusive rights over its African discoveries.

August 8, 1444. A cargo of 235 slaves is landed near Lagos, Portugal.  Prince Henry the Navigator receives 46 of the slaves as the Royal share.  The slaves included fair-skinned Muslims, mulattos and black Africans captured from West Africa.  The money which Prince Henry obtained by selling his share of the slaves could be used to finance further expeditions.  Prince Henry justified the slave-trading in the name of Christianity.  For him Christianization and slavery were different names of the same thing.

In 1446 the Bishop of the Algarve fitted out a caravel for the slave trade (it sailed as one ship among nine).  Always these vessels were accompanied by a notary sent by Prince Henry to ensure that he received his fifth of the booty.  “The seizure of these desirable African slaves did not delay scientific discovery, for it made exploration financially worthwhile.”  By 1448 about 1000 slaves had been carried back by sea to Portugal or to the Portuguese islands. “Ca’da Mosto [of Venice] thought that in this decade [the 1450s] 1000 slaves were exported annually to Europe from the African coast.”  (Hugh Thomas, 59, 60.)

The Atlantic island of Madeira was the first instance of the slave sugar plantation.  Sugarcane had been introduced to that island in 1452.

1452, Pope Nicholas V, in the bull Dum Diversas, allowed the king of Portugal to subdue Saracens, pagans, etc., and enslave them.  This directive applied to West Africans.

1454, Pope Nicholas V in the bull Romanus Pontifex, approved the Portuguese actions so far, granted the Portuguese a monopoly on the trade they had established and the rights to the lands that they had conquered.  It approved of Prince Henry’s intention to circumnavigate Africa and find a new way to India, and granted to Portugal title to the lands along the route — referring to these as “the Indies”.  It said that the enslaving of pagans was okay.

1456, Pope Calixtus III issued the bull Inter Caetera, which stated that the new Portuguese conquests should be overseen by the Order of Christ of which Prince Henry was the leader.

1456, the then uninhabited Cape Verde Islands are sighted by the Venetian Alvise Ca’da Mosto.

1458,  Prince Henry dispatches Diogo Gomes to negotiate treaties with the West Africans.  Gomes mission was to assure the rulers that the Portuguese would thereafter not steal slaves nor anything else, but would barter for them.

1460 — Fray Martin Alfonso de Cordoba, an Augustinian friar, probable writes A Garden of Noble Maidens.  He says, “the barbarians are those who live without the law; the Latins, those who have law; for it is the law of nations that men who live and are ruled by law shall be lords of those who have none.  Wherefore they may seize and enslave them, because they are by nature the slaves of the wise.”

By 1462, Cape Verde has become an important part of the slave trade, a place to hold slaves.

1466 — The Czech traveler, Vaclav Sasek, states that the King of Portugal was making more money selling slaves ‘than from all the taxes levied on the entire kingdom’.”

1484 — The first sugar mill is set up in the Canary Islands.  Soon slave labor begins to be used there on a large scale.

1484 – Bartholomé de las Casas, ‘Defender and Apostle to the Indians’ is born in Seville.

The island of Sao Tome, began to be settled by Portuguese in 1486.  The first settlers were apparently deported Portuguese criminals.  The third governor brought with him 2000 Jewish children who had been separated from their parents.  “These were the children of Jews expelled from Spain and enslaved by the King of Portugal since their parents had not paid enough to ensure their residence in his territory.”  (Hugh Thomas, 80.)

January 2, 1492.  Surrender of the Muslim city of Granada.  Spain becomes entirely Christian, ending the Reconquista – begun in the 9th C.

The Christians in Spain “began their reconquest of the peninsula by killing the Muslim populations of the towns which they seized.  But by the end of the eighth century captured women and children were made into slaves, as were some men.  Execution began to seem a waste of a resource.  A prime purpose of Christian adventurers and municipal councils in penetrating Muslim territory indeed soon became to find slaves.”  (Hugh Thomas, 39.)

August 2, 1492.  Expulsion from Spain of all unconverted Jews.

August 3, 1492.  Columbus leaves Spain for the Canary Islands.  Arrives August 9 at Grand Canary.

August 10, 1492.  Rodrigo de Borgia of Spain becomes Pope Alexander VII.  He is the father of Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia.

September 6, 1492.  Columbus sailed to the Americas from the Canaries.

12 October, 1492.  After 33 days of sailing, landfall.  The date is actually October 23rd by the modern calendar.  On the beach in San Salvador Columbus has his first meeting with the Tainos (alternatively called the Arawaks.)  He decides they have no religion and decides to kidnap half a dozen to bring back with him to Spain.

Columbus as presented in the Standard Model of history

13 October 1492, Columbus‘ journal,

At daybreak great multitudes of men came to the shore, all young and of fine shapes, and very handsome.  Their hair was not curly but loose and coarse like horse-hair.  All have foreheads much broader than any people I had hitherto seen.  Their eyes are large and very beautiful.  They are not black, but the color of the inhabitants of the Canaries ….

I was very attentive to them, and strove to learn if they had any gold.  Seeing some of them with little bits of metal hanging at their noses, I gathered from them by signs that by going southward or steering round the island in that direction, there would be found a king who possessed great cups full of gold ….

Later he writes, “I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men and govern them as I pleased.” (Loewen, 60.)

In the 96 days in the West Indies Columbus mentions the world gold 140 times in his journal, slightly more than 10 times a week.

December 16, 1492, Columbus journal, speaking of the Tainos:  “They are fit to be ordered about and made to work, to sow and do everything else that may be needed.”

December 25, 1492, Columbus requires help.  Sailing at night along an unknown coast, Columbus runs the Santa Maria aground off Haiti.  He sends for help to the nearest Taino town, and “all the people of the town” responded, “with very big and many canoes.”  “They cleared the decks in a very short time,” Columbus continued, and the chief “caused all our goods to be placed together near the palace, until some houses that he gave us where all might be put and guarded had been emptied.”

April, 1493 – Columbus writes a document concerning settling and governing the Indies.  Two-thirds of the document is given over to gold.

May, 1493 – Columbus becomes Admiral of the Ocean Sea and governor of the Indies.

May 3, 1493 – Pope Alexander VI confirms Spanish ownership of all the lands discovered, or to be discovered, by Columbus.

November 3, 1493 – Journal of Guillerma Coma, upon the first sighting of Dominica, on Columbus 2nd voyage:

These islands are inhabited by Canbilli, a wild unconquered race which feeds on human flesh.  I would be right to call them anthropophagi.  They wage unceasing wars against gentle and timid Indians to supply flesh; this is their booty and is what they hunt.  They ravage, despoil, and terrorize the Indians ruthlessly.

Columbus, who had not visited these islands, and who had no way of knowing what he claimed to know about the inhabitants, has already begun his propaganda campaign against the people he intended to exploit.

When Columbus and his men returned to Haiti in 1493, they demanded food, gold, spun cotton — whatever the Indians had that they wanted, including sex with their women.  To ensure cooperation, Columbus used punishment by example.  When an Indian committed even a minor offense, the Spanish cut off his ears or nose.  Disfigured, the person was sent back to his village as living evidence of the brutality the Spaniards were capable of. [James W. Loewen, 61]

February, 1494.  Columbus sends several dozen Taino and Carib slaves back to Spain.  Ferdinand and Isabella were not particularly pleased or encouraging.

June 12, 1494:  Columbus makes the entire crew of his three ships swear that Cuba was not an island.  Has notary publics take down the oaths.

In 1495, for instance, Michele de Cuneo wrote about accompanying Columbus on his 1494 expedition into the interior of Haiti: “After we had rested for several days in our settlement, it seemed to the Lord Admiral that it was time to put into execution his desire to search for gold, which was the main reason he had started on so great a voyage full of so many dangers.”  (James W. Loewen, 43.)

February, 1495.  Columbus rounds up 1500 Tainos in Haiti, loads 550 into ships (200 would die enroute), distributes another 550 or so to whoever wants them.  Some 400 remain and are told they can go.

Michele de Cuneo reports,

Among them there were many women who had infants at the breast.  They, in order the better to escape us, since they were afraid we would turn and catch them again, left their infants anywhere on the ground and started to flee like desperate people; and some fled so far that they were removed from our settlement of Isabella 7 or 8 days beyond mountains and across huge rivers; wherefore from now on scarcely any will be had.

Columbus returns to Haiti in 1495, and finds that his fellow Spanish have been searching everywhere for gold, kidnapping boys for slaves, women for sex, beating and maiming at will, raping, pillaging.

Fernando Columbus,

The Admiral found the island in a pitiful state, with most of the Christians committing innumerable outrages for which they were mortally hated by the Indians, who refused to obey them.

To put things in order, Columbus assembles an army against the Indians.

March 24, 1495, Columbus sets out to conquer the Tainos.

Bartolome de Las Casas:

Since the Admiral perceived that daily the people of the land were taking up arms, ridiculous weapons in reality … he hastened to proceed to the country and disperse and subdue, by force of arms, the people of the entire island … For this he chose 200 foot soldiers and 20 cavalry, with many crossbows and small cannon, lances, and swords, and a still more terrible weapon against the Indians, in addition to the horses: this was 20 hunting dogs, who were turned loose and immediately tore the Indians apart.

Fernando Columbus:

The soldiers mowed down dozens with point-blank volleys, loosed the dogs to rip open limbs and bellies, chased fleeing Indians into the bush to skewer them on sword and pike, and ‘with God’s aid soon gained a complete victory, killing many Indians and capturing others who were also killed.’

1495Fernando Columbus,

In the Cibao, where the gold mines were, every person of 14 years of age or upward was to pay a large hawk’s bell of gold dust; all others were each to pay 25 pounds of cotton.  Whenever an Indian delivered his tribute, he was to receive a brass or copper token which he must wear about his neck as proof that he had made his payment.  Any Indian found without such a token was to be punished.

With a token, an Indian was safe for three months.  If he did not pay his tribute by the end of that three months, by order of Columbus, his hands were cut off, effectively a sentence of death.

In the late 1490s, Columbus proposed sending 4000 Taino slaves a year to Spain.  At a cost of 750 maravedis each, he figured he could sell them in Spain for 5000.

Sometime before 1500, Columbus created the encomienda system whereby land grants included the slave labour of the people living on that land.  It became the official policy in Haiti in 1502, and was sanctioned royally in 1503.  The slave trade (by that name) was not officially sanctioned, but continued without punishment for transgressors.

The tribute and encomienda systems caused incredible depopulation.  On Haiti the colonists made the Indians mine gold for them, raise Spanish food, and even carry them everywhere they went.”  The encomienda system was subsequently exported for use by other conquistadors to Mexico, Peru and Florida (James W. Loewen, 63)

1496, Columbus wrote to Ferdinand and Isabella:

In the name of the Holy Trinity, we can send from here all the slaves and brazil-wood which could be sold.  In Castile, Portugal, Aragon, … and the Canary Islands they need many slaves, and I do not think they get enough from Guinea.  Although they die now, they will not always die.  The Negroes and Canary Islanders died at first.

1496 – Columbus returns to Spain

1497 – Giovanni Cabotto sights Newfoundland.

May 20, 1498 – Vasco da Gama arrives in India.

1498 – Columbus’ third voyage.  It carried supplies for needy, probably starving colonists.

August 5, 1498 – Columbus arrives off the coast of Venezuela

August 13, 1498 – Columbus concludes that the coast he is following is, indeed, a continent.

December 25, 1499 – Gold is finally discovered in Haiti.  Between 1504 and 1519, the discovery produced 150,000 castellanos a year officially.  The more accurate unofficial figures triple that amount.  This represents the annual wages of 15,000 Spanish sailors.

After 1500, with the discovery of gold, Portugal, France, Holland and Britain joined Spain in the Americas.

October, 1500 – Columbus returns to Spain in shackles.

A particularly repellent aspect of the slave trade was sexual.  As soon as the 1493 expedition got to the Caribbean, before it even reached Haiti, Columbus was rewarding his lieutenants with native women to rape.  On Haiti, sex slaves were one more perquisite that the Spaniards enjoyed.  (James W. Loewen, 64,65)

1500, Columbus letter to a friend,

A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.

April 15, 1502 – Bartholomé de la Casas arrives in Haiti.  He is told, “You have arrived at a good moment … there is to be a war against the Indians and we will be able to take many slaves.”  Las Casas writes, “This news produced great joy in the ship.”

May 9, 1502 – Columbus leaves Spain on his fourth voyage.

1503 – Isabella decrees that no Indians under her dominion were to be hurt or captured, except ‘a certain people called “cannibals” who might be enslaved, ‘as punishment for crimes committed against my subjects.’  Thus Isabella’s loophole is created, and the black name of cannibal for the Carib people is cemented into Western lore, continuing even to the Pirates of the Caribbean movies produced recently by the Disney studios.

1505 — The trade in African slaves begins in the Americas because of the depopulation of Haiti and the Caribbean.  It is launched by Columbus’ son.

May 20, 1506 – In Valladolid, Spain, Columbus dies.

1513 – Juan López de Palacios Rubios drafts up a document known as the Requirement or the Requerimiento.  It begins with a short history of the world since Adam and Eve, moves on the grant of the Indies to Spain by the pope, and requires, upon the hearing of it, every native of America to surrender immediately to the Spanish crown, or face war, slavery and torture.  Every conquistador was to carry a copy of this document and read it out before making an attack.  The document was in a language no native could understand, spoke of foreign matters they could not be expected to understand, and was often read to sleeping villages or out of earshot of those to whom it was addressed.  By this legalism, the Spanish attempted to justify their slaughter and enslavement of the inhabitants of the Americas.

1515 – Bartolomé de las Casas reports to the president of the Council of the Indies in Spain, Juan Rodreguez de Fonseca, bishop of Burgos, about the slaughter of 7000 children in three months in Cuba, to which the bishop replied, “And how does that concern me?”

The slave trade destroyed whole Indian nations.  Enslaved Indians died.  To replace dying Haitians, the Spanish imported tens of thousands more Indians from the Bahamas, which “are now deserted,” in the words of the Spanish historian Peter Martyr, reporting in 1516.  Packed in below deck, with hatchways closed to prevent their escaped, so many slaves died on the trip that “a ship without a compass, chart, or guide, but only following the trail of dead Indians who had been thrown from the ships could find its way from the Bahamas to Hispaniola.”  Puerto Rico and Cuba were next.  (Kirkpatrick Sale)

1516, Thomas More publishes Utopia, based on an account of the Incan empire in Peru, which challenges European social organization by suggesting a radically different and superior alternative.

Pedro de Cordoba, 1517:

As a result of the sufferings and hard labor they endured, the Indians choose and have chosen suicide.  Occasionally a hundred have committed mass suicide.  The women, exhausted by labor, have shunned conception and childbirth … Many, when pregnant, have taken something to abort and have aborted.  Others after delivery have killed their children with their own hands, so as not to leave them in such oppressive slavery.

Beyond acts of individual cruelty, the Spanish disrupted the Indian ecosystem and culture.  Forcing Indians to work in mines rather than in their gardens lead to widespread malnutrition.  The intrusion of rabbits and livestock caused further ecological disaster.  Diseases new to the Indians played a role, although smallpox, usually the big killer, did not appear on the island until after 1516.  Some of the Indians tried fleeing to Cuba, but the Spanish soon followed them there.  Estimates of Haiti’s pre-Columbian population range as high as 8,000,000 people.  When Christopher Columbus returned to Spain, he left his brother Bartholomew in charge of the island.  Bartholomew took a census of Indian adults in 1496 and came up with 1,100,000.  The Spanish did not count children under fourteen and could not count Arawaks who had escaped into the mountains.  Kirkpatrick Sale estimates that a more accurate total would probably be in the neighborhood of 3,000,000. “By 1516,” according to Benjamin Keen, “thanks to the sinister Indian slave trade and labor policies initiated by Columbus, only some 12,000 remained.”  Las Casas tells us that fewer than 200 Indians were alive in 1542.  By 1555, they were all gone. (James W. Loewen. 63.)

It is said by Las Casas among others, that what perplexed the Tainos of Española most about the strange white people from the large ships was not their violence, not even their greed, nor in fact their peculiar attitudes toward property, but rather their coldness, their hardness, their lack of love.  [Kirkpatrick Sale, 151]



Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade:  The history of the Atlantic slave trade 1440-1870, 1997, Simon & Schuster, NY.

James W. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything your American history textbook got wrong, 1995, Touchstone, NY.

I use him for Columbus here, but this book is indispensable in respect of American history in general, on the shelf next to Howard Zinn, The People’s History of the United States.

Kirkpatrick Sale, The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy, 1990, Alfred A. Knopf, NY.

Bartolomé de las Casas, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies [1542], Penguin Books, ed./trans. Nigel Griffin, intro. Anthony Pagden.