1. Respond to the primary document from Bartolome de Casas’ ‘The Devastation of the Indies’ which sharply criticized Spanish colonization. Comment on the situation in light of the document entitled “Requirements of 1513.”
The Bartolome de Casas writing, ‘The Devastation of the Indies,’ proved that there can never be a single interpretation of historical events. Some of the brutality describes an unthinkable brutality filled with human indignities, and disrespect for other people. The introduction of de Casas’ book suggests that labor exploitation does not account for the unnecessary cruelty perpetrated upon the native Indian peoples. One introduction passage explains “Yet exploitation of native labor does not account for the systematic commission of atrocities against American Indians and that Las Casas describes” (13). A deep critical analysis gained by a careful reading of the “Spanish Requirement of 1513” text says it all. Much of the language and tone in the primary document illustrates the haughty arrogance, and murderous intentions of the Spanish colonial invaders. Part of the arrogance and shamefully enforced hegemony involves religious tones.
The inference that God was on the ‘side’ of the Spaniards fosters a deception which became familiar to all colonized peoples. Whether by the use of the Bible, or Roman Catholicism tools – a certain psychology in the very language revealed their intentions. The stunning recognition is that they really did not try to hide their contempt, nor their sense of superiority. Once again, they inferred that God had ‘ordained’ them worthy of servitude. For example, the text of the ‘Requirements’ state “we, and all the men of the world, were and are all descendants, and all those who come after us” (“Spanish Requirement 1513”). Initially the language is vague. The document is sufficiently vague in terms of “all” being descendants of whom? Secondly, they essentially declare Saint Peter the ruler of the world, and say “we ask and require” (“Spanish Requirement 1513”). A strange edict indeed, demanded rather impolitely, that they essentially would kill and destroy them if the Indians would not bow down, and ‘obey’ them. Furthermore – and this would be laughable if it were not so pathetic – they promise that any “deaths” from their disobedience would be the native peoples’ fault. This kind of attitude and subjugation set the stage for false notions of inferiority the world has ever known.
2. Imagining to be an enslaved African in 1725 is difficult to do, but the task herein is to attempt to think about what it may have been like, to be sold in North America or the West Indies.
The experiences on the ship would most certainly have been harsh. This enslaved African captive probably endured unspeakable atrocities. One imagines he (or she) may have witnessed the brutalization of a pregnant woman about to deliver her child, and the ship’s captain throwing the laboring woman overboard – just to avoid the ‘trouble’ of assisting her birthing process. Heavy rusted iron chains of tremendous weight must have hung around the ankles, rubbing the skin to raw open and bleeding sores. One may have witnessed a friend, perhaps from your village, who became so ill with vomiting and diarrhea that he died on the ship. Upon arrival to port, the psychological trauma, to mind and spirit, were beyond human comprehension.
Standing naked on the auction block would have been just another way to dehumanize and humiliate you. Perhaps your beloved sister or brother had also survived the terrible voyage, but was ‘sold’ to a separate slaveholder. Although you are a literate enslaved African, having mastered the language of your village, you quickly learn English and vow to tell the tale of this sordid chapter in history. The African slave would have quickly learned the word ‘nigger’ meant something dirty and despised – although he would not have discerned the precise meaning of the language. Upon arrival in the dusty log-cabin shack, he may have been beat with a bullwhip, just to remind him of his lowly place and to break his spirit. Actual primary sources of slave narratives survive, as American literature. These fascinating historical true-life accounts tell what life was life in bondage. Unmentionable sexual torture was part of it too. Expectations demanded complete obedience. Two sets of clothing (a winter and summer pair) marked the plight that by the end of each season, your attire would be shredded like rags. Labor operated from sun up to sundown, and dogs were treated better.
De Las Casas, Bartolome. [Translated by Herma Briffault]. The Devastation of the Indies –
A Brief Account. Baltimore: The Crossroads Publishing Company, 1974. Print.
Fernando, King and Queen of Spain. “Spanish Requirement of 1513.” [Handout]. School Name.