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Bartolome de Las Casas Essay

Bartolome de Las Casas was a pioneer in the way he saw and spread his opinion about the colonization of the Americas. He was referred to as an advocate for the Indians under the Spanish rule. His work The Devastation of the Indies: A Brief Account analyzes and deplores the way the Spaniards treated the indigenous people in the seized territories of the New World.

The main incentives that pushed the conquerors forward at all times were new, unexplored territories, gold and other riches, which these lands could offer. Moreover, conquerors pursued sought to enslave the native people with the purpose to adjust them to the social, religious and moral standards prevailing in the society of those times. It was expressed in the way the converted Indians were supposed to act, pray or even look like. Bartolome De Las Casas was a priest who came to the Americas in order to convert the indigenous people into the Christian faith. For forty years, he had been an eyewitness to gradual devastation of the Indians. Brutal and shocking acts of genocide conducted by the bloodthirsty newcomers made him sympathize the innocent, trustful and naive Indians. Trying to draw the society’s attention to the problem, Bartolome De Las Casas was the first among those who raised the problem of human rights in the New World.

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All the interactions between the Spanish and the native groups came to the tyranny on the part of the first ones. Las Casas intentionally points out how innocent, blameless and trustful were the native inhabitants of the New World. He describes them as “guileless, the most devoid of wickedness and duplicity, the most obedient and faithful”. The Indians believed that the Europeans were angels and had descended from the heavens. Therefore, any form of violence or murder was unpredictable and unexpected.

A cruel and bloody war was waged against the Indians. The native inhabitants had weak and poor weapons at their disposal only, which were of no use in order to protect and oppose themselves to the conquerors. They were vulnerable and defenseless. The indigenous people suffered from the awful and bloodthirsty massacres conducted by the Spanish. Those, showing even slightest sign of resistance, were subject to be murdered at once. In case, someone managed to escape the torment, to which the Spaniards have subjected their victim, the person was persecuted cruelly. Such policy of conquest has led to the annihilation of the Indians. According to Bartolome, “there have been unjustly slain more than twelve million men, women, and children” but he assumes that the number was approximately 15 million.

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The spared people became slaves and experienced the harshest treatment ever. Even the animals were shown more consideration than these sufferers. After another massacre was over, only some women, boys and children survived. These survivors became the subject to divide among the vicious conquerors. The higher were the status and the rank of the Spaniard, the bigger number of slaves he received.

The Indians never did any harm to the Europeans to deserve such oppression. Nevertheless, the vast number of cruel, bloody and inhuman actions against the native inhabitants happened a thousand times in pursuit of their “ultimate aim, which is to acquire gold, and to swell themselves with riches in a very brief time and thus rise to a high estate disproportionate to their merits”.

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The greed of the conquerors became apparent not only in their desire to obtain all the riches of the New World but in the way they even consumed food. The amount of provisions, which could have been sufficient to feed several families of the Indians for a whole month, was a subject to consume in a single day by the one representative of the Spaniards.

Many other acts of force, violence, and oppression were committed by the Christian invaders. Eventually, it made the native inhabitants realize that those men had not come from Heaven as they thought before. Therefore, some of the Indians tried to hide their provisions while others tried to protect the members of their families by concealing them. The vast majority of the natives had to flee to the mountains, in order to avoid the violent and slaughterous actions of the foreign conquerors and survive.

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Although, some of the secular Spaniards considered that the native people possessed the undeniable goodness; yet, others came to the islands to commit a robbery with violence not taking into account the feelings of other human beings.

Once the islands were densely populated, the lands were fertile and rich. Unfortunately, not long after the death and destruction brought by the invaders there was not a soul there to survive. Bartolome estimates that “there are 2,100 leagues of land that have been ruined and depopulated”.

The main reason for this massacre was greed. The desire to obtain as much as possible incited the Spaniards to grave and heinous crimes. Possessing small amount of the property back at home if any at all, the conquerors were blinded with conceited ambitions, thus eager to define their new status in the seized territories. Avid and greedy, they were willing to go any lengths in order to acquire the valuable goods.

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The gold became the most powerful incentive to explore and invade the territories of the New World. On the contrary, the indigenous people were not greedy or wicked. They had no interest in obtaining and possessing the material goods. The Spaniards did not take into account the disinterest in riches and goods of the native people deciding to annihilate them. The invaders had to override them in order to use their hard toil, but those who tried to oppose to such destiny were made to vanish from the way of conquerors.

The rich and fertile lands were drawn to devastation. The native people who inhabited those territories were fully outcast. Once being masters of their lands, later they had little choice but to run away, serve or perish. The insatiable human greed became the cause of the bloodthirsty and slaughterous villainies. The goal of the Europeans was to wallow in riches the New World could offer them. Not willing to share with others, they pursued the policy of the devastation of the Indians.

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Las Casas is considered to be an advocate for the native people of the New World. He spoke of the Indians as of pure, humble and peaceful people, free of greed and hatred. They were open, docile and curious like children, willing to discover something new. By pointing out the best qualities of the natives, Las Casas tried to prove that they would make decent Christians in case they would be turned over to the Catholic faith.

The purpose of the report The Devastation of the Indies: A Brief Account was to inform the King of Spain about the events occurring in the New World. The main task of Las Casas as a priest was to convert the native people to Christianity. Throughout the report, he expresses a deep compassion for the Indians. Comparing the indigenous people to sheep, he may have emphasized the inferior position of the natives. Being a Christian, Las Casas felt the superiority, though his perception of the unconverted Indians was not based on arrogance or contempt. It is obvious that the priest felt profound sympathy towards the native inhabitants of the New World, for they have suffered appalling and dreadful crimes conducted against them for no reason. The report is full of strong and vehement denunciation of the Las Casas’ compatriots “who call themselves Christian”. The Spaniards who were torturing and killing the Indians were referred to as ravening wild beasts. The cruelty of their atrocities was utterly unfounded.

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Over the last five hundred years, contemporary perception of these groups has not changed significantly, although the debate about the impact of the Europeans on the native people of the Americas has become more strained than ever. The Catholic priest, Bartolome de Las Casas, was the first to raise this sharp topic. What has changed is the modern perception of human rights.

The report written by Bartolome de Las Casas describes the way the native people and the newcomers behaved. The comparison between the Spaniards and the Indians raises a question whom to consider barbarians and civilized people. The title of the report, The Devastation of the Indies: A Brief Account, implies the answer to this question.

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The history of the Native American civilization contains stories of tragic events and provides lessons to be learned, and warnings to be analyzed. Such cruel and violent crimes were conducted to saturate human being’s greed for gold; therefore, they must always be condemned, no matter how many years have passed.

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