Michigan State University The Devastation of The Indies Summary Please use Times 12 Font, single space ; Reading summary should be approximately ¾ to a page long.
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Reading Quotes: Extract the main points of the reading using direct quotes, with page numbers. Feel free to include minor points that you found intriguing. Provide page numbers for each citation; failing to provide page numbers is plagiarism (if you have done the assignment properly). The intent behind this is to be sure that you understand what the author has actually said (instead of what you think she has said). If there is reading from more than one source, separate the citations by author and title. This part is worth one point.
Response: Provide a one-paragraph (200-300 words) response to the class reading. Engage the author’s main points and arguments, but don’t write a summary of the material. The purpose of this is to get the author’s words into your vocabulary and into your thoughts so that you can fully digest the material. This is the opportunity to engage your intellectual curiosity. Use the first person, raise your own questions, and tell me what you think of the days’ readings. This is worth three points.
Questions: Construct two or three questions that link the reading to other readings, lectures, or class discussions. The questions may be on each reading or may be on the readings as a whole where that is appropriate. The goal of this portion of the assignment is to synthesize the material you extract from the main points of the reading. If these questions are perfunctory, I’ll comment on that and will expect improvement in future questions. This part is worth one point. You may leave this blank and add to it during class THE DEVASTATION OF THE INDIES:
A BRIEF ACCOUNT
by Bartolome de Las Casas
THE INDIES were discovered in the year one thousand four hundred and ninety-two. In the following year a great
many Spaniards went there with the intention of settling the land. Thus, forty-nine years have passed since the first
settlers penetrated the land, the first so-claimed being the large and most happy isle called Hispaniola 2 which is six
hundred leagues in circumference. Around it in all directions are many other islands, some very big, others very
small, and all of them were, as we saw with our own eyes, densely populated with native peoples called Indians.
This large island was perhaps the most densely populated place in the world. There must be close to two hundred
leagues of land on this island, and the seacoast has been explored for more than ten thousand leagues, and each day
more of it is being explored. And all the land so far discovered is a beehive of people; it is as though God had
crowded into these lands the great majority of mankind.
And of all the infinite universe of humanity, these people most devoid of wickedness and duplicity, the most
obedient and faithful to their native masters and to the Spanish Christians whom they serve. They are by nature the
most humble, patient, and peaceable, holding no grudges, free from embroilments, neither excitable nor
quarrelsome. These people are the most devoid of rancors, hatreds, or desire for vengeance of any people in the
world. And because they are so weak and complaisant, they are less able to endure heavy labor and soon die of no
matter what malady. The sons of nobles among us, brought up in the enjoyments of life’s refinements, are no more
delicate than are these Indians, even those among them who are of the lowest rank of laborers. They are also poor
people, for they not only possess little but have no desire to possess worldly goods. For this reason they are not
arrogant, embittered, or greedy. Their repasts are such that the food of the holy fathers in the desert can scarcely be
more parsimonious, scanty, and poor. As to their dress, they are generally naked, with only their pudenda covered
somewhat. And when they cover their shoulders it is with a square cloth no more than two varas in size.’ They have
no beds, but sleep on a kind of matting or else in a kind of suspended net called hamacas. They are very clean in
their persons, with alert, intelligent minds, docile and open to doctrine, very apt to receive our holy Catholic faith, to
be endowed with virtuous customs, and to behave in a godly fashion. And once they begin to hear the tidings of the
Faith, they are so insistent on knowing more and on taking the sacraments of the Church and on observing the divine
cult that, truly, the missionaries who are here need to be endowed by God with great patience in order to cope with
such eagerness. Some of the secular Spaniards who have been here for many years say that the goodness of the
Indians is undeniable and that if this gifted people could be brought to know the one true God they would be the
most fortunate people in the world.
Yet into this sheepfold, into this land of meek outcasts there came some Spaniards who immediately behaved like
ravening wild beasts, wolves, tigers, or lions that had been starved for many days. And Spaniards have behaved in
no other way during the past forty years, down to the present time, for they are still acting like ravening beasts,
killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing, and destroying the native peoples, doing all this with the strangest and most
varied new methods of cruelty, never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree that this Island of Hispaniola,
once so populous (having a population that I estimated to be more than three millions), has now a population of
barely two hundred persons.
The island of Cuba is nearly as long as the distance between Valladolid and Rome; it is now almost completely
depopulated. San Juan’ and Jamaica are two of the largest, most productive and attractive islands; both are now
deserted and devastated. On the northern side of Cuba and Hispaniola lie the neighboring Lucayos5 comprising
more than sixty islands including those called Gigantes, beside numerous other islands, some small some large. The
least felicitous of them were more fertile and beautiful than the gardens of the King Of Seville. They have the
healthiest lands in the world~ where lived more than five hundred thousand souls; they are now deserted, inhabited
by not a single living creature. All the People were slain or died after being taken into captivity and brought to the
Island of Hispaniola to be sold as slaves. When the Spaniards saw that some of these had escaped, I voyaged for
three years among the islands searching for those who had escaped being slaughtered, for a good Christian had
helped them escape, taking pity on them and had won them over to Christ; of these there were eleven and these I
More than thirty other islands in the vicinity of San Juan are for the most part and for the same reason depopulated
and the land laid waste. On these islands I estimate there are 2,100 leagues of land that have been ruined and
depopulated, empty of people.
As for the vast mainland, which is ten times all Spain, even including Aragon and Portugal, containing more land
than the distance between Seville and Jerusalem, or more than two thousand leagues, we are sure that our Spaniards,
with their cruel and abominable acts, have devastated the land and exterminated the rational people who fully
inhabited it. We can estimate very surely and truthfully that in the forty years that have passed, with the infernal
actions of the Christians, there have been unjustly slain more than twelve million men, women, and children. In
truth, I believe without trying to deceive myself that the number of the slain is more like fifteen million.
The common ways mainly employed by the Spaniards who call themselves Christian and who have gone there to
extirpate those Pitiful nations and wipe them off the earth is by unjustly waging cruel and bloody wars. Then, when
they have slain all those who fought for their lives or to escape the tortures they would have had to endure, that is to
say, when they have slain all the native rulers and young men (since the Spaniards usually spare only the women and
children, who are subjected to the hardest and bitterest servitude ever suffered by man or beast), they enslave any
survivors. With these infernal methods of tyranny they debase and weaken countless numbers of Indian nations.
Their reason for killing and destroying such an infinite number of souls is that the Christians have an 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. It should be kept in mind that their insatiable greed and ambition, the greatest ever
seen in the world, is the cause of their villainies. And also, those lands are so rich and felicitous, the native peoples
so meek and patient, so easy to subject, that our Spaniards have no more consideration for them than beasts. And I
say this from my own knowledge of the acts I witnessed. But 1 should not say “than beasts” for, thanks be to God,
they have treated beasts with some respect; I should say instead like excrement on the public squares. And thus they
have deprived the Indians of their lives and souls, for the millions I mentioned have died without the Faith and
without the benefit of the sacraments. This is a wellknown and proven fact which even the tyrant Governors,
themselves killers, know and admit. And never have the Indians in all the Indies committed any act against the
Spanish Christians, until those Christians have first and many times committed countless cruel aggressions against
them or against neighboring nations. For in the beginning the Indians regarded the Spaniards as angels from
Heaven.’ Only after the Spaniards had used violence against them, killing, robbing, torturing, did the Indians ever
rise up against them.
On the Island Hispaniola was where the Spaniards first landed, as I have said. Here those Christians perpetrated their
first ravages and oppressions against the native peoples. This was the first land in the New World to be destroyed
and depopulated by the Christians, and here they began their subjection of the women and children, taking them
away from the Indians to use them and ill use them, eating the food they provided with their sweat and toil. The
Spaniards did not content themselves with what the Indians gave them of their own free will, according to their
ability, which was always too little to satisfy enormous appetities, for a Christian eats and consumes in one day an
amount of food that would suffice to feed three houses inhabited by ten Indians for one month. And they committed
other acts of force and violence and oppression which made the Indians realize that these men had not come from
Heaven. And some of the Indians concealed their foods while others concealed their wives and children and still
others fled to the mountains to avoid the terrible transactions of the Christians.
And the Christians attacked them with buffets and beatings, until finally they laid hands on the nobles of the
villages. Then they behaved with such temerity and shamelessness that the most powerful ruler of the islands had to
see his own wife raped by a Christian officer.
From that time onward the Indians began to seek ways to throw the Christians out of their lands. They took up arms,
but their weapons were very weak and of little service in offense and still less in defense. (Because,of this, the wars
of the Indians against each other are little more than games played by children.) And 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 pregnant women nor women in childbed, not only stabbing them and
dismembering them but cutting them to pieces as if dealing with sheep in the slaughter house. They laid bets as to
who, with one stroke of the sword, could split a man in two or could cut off his head or spill out his entrails with a
single stroke of the pike. They took infants from their mothers’ breasts, snatching them by the legs and pitching them
headfirst against the crags or snatched them by the arms and threw them into the rivers, roaring with laughter and
saying as the babies fell into the water, “Boil there, you offspring of the devil!” Other infants they put to the sword
along with their mothers and anyone else who happened to be nearby. They made some low wide gallows on which
the hanged victim’s feet almost touched the ground, stringing up their victims in lots of thirteen, in memory of Our
Redeemer and His twelve Apostles, then set burning wood at their feet and thus burned them alive. To others they
attached straw or wrapped their whole bodies in straw and set them afire. With still others, all those they wanted to
capture alive, they cut off their hands and hung them round the victim’s neck, saying, “Go now, carry the message,”
meaning, Take the news to the Indians who have fled to the mountains. They usually dealt with the chieftains and
nobles in the following way: they made a grid of rods which they placed on forked sticks, then lashed the victims to
the grid and lighted a smoldering fire underneath, so that little by little, as those captives screamed in despair and
torment, their souls would leave them.
I once saw this, when there were four or five nobles lashed on grids and burning; I seem even to recall that there
were two or three pairs of grids where others were burning, and because they uttered such loud screams that they
disturbed the captain’s sleep, he ordered them to be strangled. And the constable, who was worse than an
executioner, did not want to obey that order (and I know the name of that constable and know his relatives in
Seville), but instead put a stick over the victims’ tongues, so they could not make a sound, and he stirred up the fire,
34 but not too much, so that they roasted slowly, as he liked. I saw all these things I have described, and countless
And because all the people who could do so fled to the mountains to escape these inhuman, ruthless, and ferocious
acts, the Spanish captains, enemies of the human race, pursued them with the fierce dogs’ they kept which attacked
the Indians, tearing them to pieces and devouring them. And because on few and far between occasions, the Indians
justifiably killed some Christians, the Spaniards made a rule among themselves that for every Christian slain by the
Indians, they would slay a hundred Indians.
THE KINGDOMS THAT ONCE EXISTED ON THE
On the island Hispaniola there were five very large principalities ruled by five very powerful Kings to whom almost
all the other rulers paid tribute, since there were other princes in distant provinces who recognized no one as their
superior. There was a kingdom called Magui, the last syllable accented, which name means “The Realm of the
Fertile Lowlands.” This land is among the most notable and admirable places in the world, for it stretches across the
island from the southern sea to the northern sea, a distance of eighty leagues. It averages five leagues in width but at
times is eight to ten and is of very high altitude from one part to another and is drained by more than thirty thousand
rivers and creeks, twelve of the rivers being as large as the Ebro and Duero and Guadalquivir combined. All the
rivers flow from the western highland,
which means that twenty or twenty-five thousand of them are rich in gold. For in those highlands lies the province
of Cibao, where are the famous Cibao mines harboring a fine and remarkable pure gold.
The King who ruled this realm was called Guarionex. Great lords were his vassals, one of them having assembled an
army of sixteen thousand men to serve Guarionex, and I know or knew some of them. That virtuous King Guarionex
was by nature very pacific and was devotedly obedient to the Kings of Castile and in certain years gave them,
through the nobles under his command, a generous amount of gold dust. Each man who had a house was given for
this purpose a spherical bell, or rather, a spherical grain measure resembling a bell. This was stuffed full with gold
dust (brought down by the rivers) for the people of this realm did not have the skill to work the mines. When there
was not enough, some years, to fill the measure, then it was cut in half and one half was filled. This King Guarionex
proclaimed himself ready to serve the King of Castile with a labor force that would be brought to Santo Domingo
from the city of Isabella, the first Christian settlement, fifty leagues distant, and said, with reason, that they should
not have to pay in gold because his vassals did not know how to procure it. That labor force, he said, would work the
mines with great heartiness and their labor would be worth to the King of Spain, each year, more than three million
castellanos.10 And had that labor force been so employed, there would be, today, more than fifty cities the size of
Seville, on this island.
The recompense they gave this great and good Indian ruler was to dishonor him through his wife, who was raped by
a Christian officer. And King Guarionex, who, in time, could have assembled his people to avenge him, chose
instead to go alone into hiding and die exiled from his kingdom, deprived of his rank and possessions, placing
himself under the protection of the chieftain of the province called Ciguayos, one of his vassals.
When his hiding place was discovered, the Christians waged war on Ciguayos, massacring a great number of people
until they finally took the exiled King and, in chains, put him on a vessel that was to take him to Castile. But the
vessel was lost at sea and with it were drowned many Christians along with the captive King, and in this shipwreck
was lost a quantity of gold dust and gold nuggets weighing the equivalent of 3,600 castellanos. Such was God’s
vengeance for so many terrible injustices.
Another kingdom on the island was called Mari6n and is now called Puerto Real. It is situated at the end of the
fertile lowlands toward the north and is larger than Portugal, although much more suitable for development and
settlement. Many mountain chains exist here, which are rich in copper and gold. The King of this province was
called Guacanagari, many of whose vassals were known to me. It was this King who welcomed the Admiral” when
he first landed in the New World and set foot on the island of Hispaniola.
The welcome extended by this King to the Admiral and all those accompanying him could not have been more
cordial and generous, even had it been the voyagers’ native land and their own King greeting them with food and
provisions of every kind, everything that was needed, which was a great deal, for the vessel on which Columbus had
voyaged was lost here.
I know all this from conversations with the Admiral.
Well, that same King, while fleeing to the mountains to escape the cruel persecutions meted out to him and his
people by the Christians, died, having been stripped of his rank and possessions by those same Christians, and all his
vassals perished in the tyrannical persecutions and enslavements which I shall later on describe.
The third kingdom on the island of Hispaniola was Maguana, where the best sugar in that island is now made. The
King of that realm was called Caonab6 and in condition and importance he surpassed all the others. The Spaniards
captured this unhappy King by using great and wicked subtlety, laying hands on him while he was in his house.
Afterward, they put him on a ship outward bound for Castile. But while still in port with six other outwardbound
vessels, God desired to manifest Himself against this great iniquity and sent a violent storm that sank all the vessels
and drowned all the Christians on board, along with the shackled King of Maguana.
This native ruler had three or four brothers, who, like him, were strong and fearless. When their brother and lord was
taken captive and his subjects killed or enslaved, these brothers, upon seeing the slaughter being carried out by the
Christians, took up arms in revenge. The Christians met their attack with cavalry (horses being the most pernicious
weapon against the Indians) and in the battles that followed half the land was laid waste and depopulated. The fourth
kingdom was that of Xaragud and it was like the marrow and medulla of the island, its sovereign court. Its King
surpassed all the other princes in eloquence, refinement, and education and good breeding. Likewise, his
government was the best ordered and the most circumspect. At his court there was a multitude of nobles whose
beauty and elegance excelled all others.
Behechio, the King of Xaragui, had a sister, by name Anacaona. Together, the brother and sister rendered great
services to the Kings of Castile and afforded great benefactions to the Christians, helping them to avoid countless
mortal dangers. After the death of her brother the King, Anacaona continued to rule the land.
Then, one day the Christian Governor of the island arrived with a cavalry force of sixty horses and three hundred
foot soldiers. The cavalry alone could lay waste the land. Having been promised safe conduct there soon arrived
three hundred Indian nobles. These, or most of them, were tricked into entering a very big Indian house of straw
where they were shut in and burned alive when the house was set on fire. Those who did not perish in the
conflagration were put to the sword or the pike, along with a countless number of the common people. As a special
honor, the lady Anacaona was hanged.
And it happened that those Christians, either o…
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