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37 Triumph And Tragedy: America At The Turn Of The Century

Tears of the Indies, or Inquisition for Bloud: being the Relation of the Spanish Massacre there

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In the year 1492. the West Indies were discovered, in the following year they were inhabited by the Spaniards: a great company of the Spaniards going about 49. years agoe. The first place they came to was Hispaniola, being a most fertile Island, and for the bignesse of it very famous, it being no less then six hundred miles in compass. Round about it lie an innumerable company of Islands, so throngd with Inhabitants, that there is not to be found a greater multitude of people in any part of the world. The Continent is distant from this about Two hundred miles, stretching it self out in length upon the sea side for above Ten thousand miles in length. This is already found out, and more is daily discovered. These Countreys are inhabited by such a number of people, as if God had assembled and called together to this place, the greatest part of Mankinde.

This infinite multitude of people was so created by God, as that they were without fraud, without subtilty or malice, to their natural Governours most faithful and obedient. Toward the Spaniards whom they serve, patient, meek and peaceful, and who laying all contentious and tumultuous thoughts aside, live without any hatred or desire of revenge; the people are most delicate and tender, enjoying such a feeble constitution of body as does not permit them to endure labour, so that the Children of Princes and great persons here, are not more nice and delicate than the Children of the meanest Countrey-man in that place. The Nation is very poor and indigent, possessing little, and by reason that they gape not after temporal goods, neither proud nor ambitious. Their diet is such that the most holy Hermite cannot feed more sparingly in the wildernesse. They go naked, only hiding the undecencies of nature, and a poor shag mantle about an ell or two long is their greatest and their warmest covering. They lie upon mats, only those who have larger fortunes, lye upon a kinde of net which is tied at the four corners, and so fastend to the roof, which the Indians in their natural language call Hamecks. They are of a very apprehensive and docible wit, and capable of all good learning, and very apt to receive our Religion, which when they have but once tasted, they are carried on with a very ardent and zealous desire to make a further progress in it; so that I have heard divers Spaniards confesse that they had nothing else to hinder them from enjoying heaven, but their ignorance of the true God.

To these quiet Lambs, endued with such blessed qualities, came the Spaniards like most cruel Tygres, Wolves, and Lions, enragd with a sharp and tedious hunger; for these forty years past, minding nothing else but the slaughter of these unfortunate wretches, whom with divers kinds of torments neither seen nor heard of before, they have so cruelly and inhumanely butchered, that of three millions of people which Hispaniola it self did contain, there are left remaining alive scarce three hundred persons. And for the Island of Cuba, which contains as much ground in length, as from Valladolid to Rome; it lies wholly desert, untilld and ruind. The Islands of St. John and Jamaica lie waste and desolate. The Lucayan Islands neighbouring toward the North upon Cuba and Hispaniola, being above Sixty or thereabouts with those Islands that are vulgarly called the Islands of the Gyants, of which that which is least fertile is more fruitful then the King of Spains Garden at Sevil, being situated in a pure and temperate air, are now totally unpeopled and destroyed; the inhabitants thereof amounting to above 500000. souls, partly killed, and partly forced away to work in other places: so that there going a ship to visit those parts and to glean the remainder of those distressed wretches, there could be found no more then eleven men. Other Islands there were near the Island of St. John more then thirty in number, which were totally made desert. All which Islands, though they amount to such a number containing in length of ground the space of above Two thousand miles, lie now altogether solitary without any people or Inhabitant.

Now to come to the Continent, we are confident, and dare affirm upon our own knowledge, that there were ten Kingdomes of as large an extent as the Kingdome of Spain, joining to it both Arragon, and Portugal, containing above a thousand miles every one of them in compass, which the unhumane and abominable villanies of the Spaniards have made a wilderness of, being now as it were stript of all their people, and made bare of all their inhabitants, though it were a place formerly possessed by vast and infinite numbers of men; And we dare confidently aver, that for those Forty years, wherein the Spaniards exercised their abominable cruelties, and detestable tyrannies in those parts, that there have innocently perishd above Twelve millions of souls, women and children being numbred in this sad and fatall list; moreover I do verily believe that I should speak within compass, should I say that above Fifty millions were consumed in this Massacre.

As for those that came out of Spain, boasting themselves to be Christians, they took two several waies to extirpate this Nation from the face of the Earth, the first whereof was a bloudy, unjust, and cruel ware which they made upon them: a second by cutting off all that so much as sought to recover their liberty, as some of the stouter sort did intend. And as for the Women and Children that were left alive, they laid so heavy and grievous a yoke of servitude upon them that the condition of beasts was much more tolerable.

Unto these two heads all the other several torments and inhumanities which they used to the ruine of these poor Nations may be reduced.

That which led the Spaniards to these unsanctified impieties was the desire of Gold, to make themselves suddenly rich, for the obtaining of dignities & honours which were no way fit for them. In a word, their covetousness, their ambition, which could not be more in any people under heaven, the riches of the Countrey, and the patience of the people gave occasion to this their devilish barbarism. For the Spaniards so contemned them (I now speak what I have seen without the least untruth) that they used them not like beasts, for that would have been tolerable, but looked upon them as if they had been but the dung and filth of the earth, and so little they regarded the health of their souls, that they suffered this great multitude to die without the least light of Religion; neither is this lesse true then what I have said before, and that which those tyrants and hangmen themselves dare not deny, without speaking a notorious falshood, that the Indians never gave them the lest cause to offer them violence, but received them as Angels sent from heaven, till their excessive cruelties, the torments and slaughters of their Countrymen movd them to take Armes against the Spaniards.

Author : Bartolom de las Casas

Reference : America: A Narrative History, 6th Edition, Chapter 1; Inventing America, Chapter 1; Give Me Liberty, Chapter 1

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