… when we saw so many cities and villages built in the water and other great towns on dry land … we were amazed and said that it was like the enchantments they tell of … . And some of our soldiers even asked whether the things that we saw were not a dream? … I do not know how to describe it, seeing things as we did that had never been heard of or seen before, not even dreamed about.
Monday, March 30, 2015
Columbus, greed, slavery, and genocide: what really happened to the American Indians3
The physical taking of new territories was farcical. The Indians were summoned, often manacled, and a proclamation called therequermiento was read to them. They spoke over 2,000 languages, but Spanish was naturally not one of them, so the ceremony was meaningless to them. Nevertheless, it stated that if they did not acknowledge Ferdinand and Isabella as their just sovereigns, all men, women, and children would be enslaved, and their possessions taken by force. In fact, the proclamation was actually meaningless for everyone — Columbus was there to enslave them and loot their property whatever.
The early records of kind and generous natives were soon replaced by descriptions of them as backwards savages and wild animals, who could therefore be treated as such. (This process of dehumanisation is seen throughout history when one people settles on the land of another.) As a direct result, native blood flowed freely, and within 21 years — and four voyages by Columbus — Hispaniola was a ghost-island. The tropical abundance had been destroyed, and all its inhabitants were dead.
By 1900, a people which once represented a hundred percent of America’s population was reduced to a third of one percent
The Indians had originally moved into the Americas across the Bering Straits from Asia perhaps around 40,000 BC (some say as early as 70,000 BC). They had crossed between the eastern tip of Russia (the Chukchi Peninsula) and the westerly part of Alaska (Cape Prince of Wales) using the “Bering land bridge”, a vast slab of land now submerged under the Bering Straits leaving only a few rocky mountain tops poking out of the icy waters. The new land the people moved into — the Americas — was immense, covering a quarter of the earth’s land mass.
There, entirely cut off from the rest of the world’s history — unaware of ancient Egypt, China, Greece, Rome, Europe, or the rise of Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam — the American Indians simultaneously developed their own civilisations.
When the Spanish finally saw the cities of the New World, they found themselves gazing on the stuff of fantasy — like in Aztec Mexico, where they came across the great cities around the Lake of the Moon, with Tenochtitlán rising mystically out of the centre of the water. Theconquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo wrote: