Tainos: The Suffering

02/18/2014 18:42

Tainos: The Suffering

The following paragraphs are from Las Casas book "A Short Account Of The Destruction Of the Indies," Penguin Books, Edited and Translated by Nigel Griffin. The accounts are of the abuses committed by the Spanish against the Taino Indians of the Caribbean:

The Man

Bartoloméde Las Casas is commonly known as the "Apostle of the Indians," or "The Defender of the Indians." A lone voice against the genocide that was occurring in the Indies, he produced several works intended to convince the king of Spain to free the Taino Indians who had been enslaved and were being raped and slaughtered by the Spaniards.

Bartoloméde Las Casas was born in Seville in 1484. His father was a merchant from Tarifa and his mother, from Sosa, died when he was very young. Little is known about his childhood. What is known is that at the age of 18 he arrived in what is now Santo Domingo with the largest fleet ever to leave Spain for the new world. At his arrival he was told, "You have arrived at a good moment...there is to be a war against the Indians and we will be able to take many slaves." Later, Las Casas would recall that this news "produced a great joy on the ship."

A year later Las Casas was himself the master of number of Indians. At the time Las Casas was in minor orders and by 1510 was a full fledged priest. It isn't known why Las Casas chose the clergy when he could have been a monk, a more prestigious and comfortable position. It is known that as a cleric he was free to come and go as he pleased.

Later, Las Casas, under the weight of great personal guilt, and realizing that slavery went against all the principles of Christianity, gave up his Indians even though he knew they would be worse off in the hands of the Spanish encomenderos. At the Time Las Casas was living in Cuba.

The encomienda was the Spanish system whereby the Spanish would provide "the protection of the Castillian Crown" and the instruction of the Christian faith to the Indians in exchange for their labor. In reality it was no more than slavery. The Spaniard was the encomendero and Indian the encomedido.

But it was much more than slavery. So great were the abuses against the Taino that by the mid- 1500's they would be almost completely obliterated from the face of the earth. At one point the decimation of the Indian population became so great that Las Casas, in desperation, asked that African slaves be sent in to replace them -- a decision which caused him great guilt and which he later regretted publicly.

In 1515 Las Casas would have his first audience with an aging and ill King Ferdinand. Las Casas informed the King of the abuses and horrors occurring in the Indies; the king referred the problem to the president of the Council of the Indies, Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca, the Bishop of Burgos. When told of the slaughter in Cuba of 7,000 children in three months, Fonseca responded, "And how does that affect me?"




"It all began with the Europeans taking native women and children both as servants and to satisfy their own base appetites; then, not content with what the local people offered them of their own free will (and all offered as much as they could spare), they started taking for themselves the food the natives contrived to produce by the sweat of their brows, which was in all honesty little enough...the people began to realize that these men could not, in truth, be descended from heaven.

The Christians punched them, boxed their ears and flogged them in order to track down the local leaders, and the whole shameful process came to a head when one of the European commanders raped the wife of the paramount chief of the entire island.

Their (Taino) weapons, however, were flimsy and ineffective both in attack and in defense (and, indeed, war in the Americas is no more deadly than our jousting or than many European children's games) and, with their horses and swords and lances, the Spaniards easily fend them off, killing them and committing all kind of atrocities against them.

They forced their way into native settlements, slaughtering everyone they found there, including small children, old men, pregnant women, and even women who had just given birth. They hacked them to pieces, slicing open their bellies with their swords as though they were so many sheep herded into a pen. They even laid wagers on whether they could manage to slice a man in two at a stroke, or cut an individual's head from his body, or disembowel him with a single blow of their axes. They grabbed suckling infants by the feet and, ripping them from their mothers' breasts, dashed them headlong against the rocks. Others, laughing and joking all the while, threw them over their shoulders into a river, shouting: 'Wriggle, you little perisher.' They spared no one, erecting especially wide gibbets on which they could string their victims up with their feet just off the ground and then burn them alive thirteen at a time, in honor of our Savior and the twelve Apostles, or tie dry straw to their bodies and set fire to it. Some they chose to keep alive and simply cut their wrists, leaving their hands dangling, saying to them: 'Take this letter' -- meaning that their sorry condition would as a warning to those hiding in the hills. The way they normally dealt with the native leaders and nobles was to tie them to a kind of griddle consisting of sticks resting on pitchforks driven into the ground and then grill them over a slow fire, with the result that they howled in agony and despair as they died a lingering death.

It once happened that I myself witnessed their grilling of four or five local leaders in this fashion (and I believe they had set up two or three other pairs of grills alongside so that they might process other victims at the same time) when the poor creatures 'howls came between the Spanish commander and his sleep. He gave orders that the prisoners were to be throttled, but the man in charge of execution detail, who was more bloodthirsty than the average common hangman (I know his identity and even met some relatives of his in Seville), was loath to cut short his private entertainment by throttling them and so he personally went round ramming wooden buns into their mouths to stomp them making such a racket and deliberately stoked the fire that they would take just as long to die as he himself chose. I saw these things for myself and many others besides.

...these mortal enemies of human kind trained hunting dogs to track them down -- wild dogs who would savage a native to death as soon as look at him, tearing him into shreds and devouring his flesh as though he were a pig.

And when, as happened on the odd occasion, the locals did kill a European, as, given the enormity of the crimes committed against them, they were in all justice fully entitled to, the Spanish came to an unofficial agreement among themselves that for every European killed one hundred natives would be executed.

The fourth kingdom was known as Xaragu, and was really the heart and core of the whole island. In no other part of the island was the language as refined as here nor the court discourse as cultivated; nowhere else were the people of such quality and breeding, the leading families as numerous and as liberal -- and this kingdom boasted many nobles and great lords -- nor the inhabitants as easy on the eye. Chief among them was the king, Behechio, and his sister, Anacaona, both of whom rendered great service to the Spanish Crown and gave every assistance to the European settlers, on occasion even saving their lives; after Behechio's death, Anacaona ruled in his stead. Over three hundred local dignitaries were summoned to welcome the then governor of the island when he paid a visit to the kingdom with sixty horse and a further three hundred men on foot (the horsemen alone were sufficient in number to ravage not only the whole island but the mainland as well). The governor duped the unsuspecting leaders of this welcoming party into gathering in a building made of straw and then ordered his men to set fire to it and burn them alive. All the others were massacred, either run through by lances or put to the sword. As a mark of respect and out of deference to her rank, Queen Anacaona was hanged. When one or two Spaniards tried to save some of the children, either because they pitied them or perhaps because they wanted them for themselves, and swung them up behind them on to their horses, one of their compatriots rod up behind and ran them through with his lance. Yet another member of the governor's party galloped about cutting the legs off all the children as they lay sprawling on the ground. The governor even decreed that those who made their way to a small island some eight leagues distant in order to escape this bestial cruelty should be condemned to slavery because they had fled...

After the fighting was over and all the men had been killed, the surviving natives -- usually, that is, the young boys, the women, and the children -- were shared out between the victors. One got thirty, another forty, a third as many as hundred or even twice that number; everything depended on how far one was in the good books of the despot who went by the title of governor. The pretext under which the victims were parceled out in this way was that their new masters would then be in a position to teach them the truths of the Christian faith; and thus it came about that a host of cruel, grasping and wicked men, almost all of them pig-ignorant, were put in charge of these poor souls. And they discharged this duty by sending the men down the mines, where working conditions were appalling, to dig for gold, and putting the women to labor in the fields and on their master's estates, to till the soil and raise the crops, properly a task only for toughest and strongest of men. Both women and men were given only wild grasses to eat and other unnutritious foodstuffs The mothers of young children promptly saw their milk dry up and their babies die; and, with the women and men separated and never seeing each other, no new children were born. The men died down the mines from overwork and starvation, and the same was true of the women who perished out in the estates.


Puerto Rico and Jamaica

In 1509, the Spanish, with the same purpose in mind as they had when they landed on Hispaniola, found their way to the two verdant islands of Puerto Rico and Jamaica. Here they perpetrated the same outrages and committed the same crimes as before, devising yet further refinements of cruelty, murdering the native people, burning and roasting them alive, throwing them to wild dogs and oppressing, tormenting and plaguing them with toil down the mines and elsewhere, and so once again the killing off these poor innocents to such effect that where the native population of the two islands was certainly over 600,000 (and I personally reckon it a more than million). Fewer than two hundred survive on each of he two islands, all others have perished without ever learning the truths about the Christian religion and without the benefit of the Sacraments.


A number of extraordinary incidents took place here. One of the leading local lords, a cacique who went by the name of Hatuey, had fled to the island form Hispaniola with many of his people in order to escape the miseries that arose from the inhuman treatment meted out to the natives of that island by the Spanish. When he heard that the Christians had now switched their attention to Cuba, he gathered most if not all of his people about him and addressed them, saying: ' You know that rumor has it that the Christians are coming to this island, and you already know why it is that they behave in this way?' And they answered him: 'No, unless it be that they are innately cruel and evil', he replied: 'It is not simply that. They have a God whom whey worship and adore, and it is in order to get that God from us so that they can worship Him that they conquer and kill us.' He had beside him, as he spoke, a basket filled with gold jewelry and he said: 'Here is the God of the Christians. If you agree, we will do areitos (which is their word for certain kinds of traditional dance) in honor of this God and it may be that we shall pleas Him and he will order the Christians to leave us unharmed. 'They all shouted: 'So be it, so be it.' And after they had danced before god until they were dropping with exhaustion, the lord Hatuey addressed them once again saying: 'Mark you: if we keep this God about us, they will kill us in order to get their hands on Him. Let us throw him into this river.' And they were all agreed, and so they threw the god into a great river nearby.


The Pearl Coast, Paria and Trinidad

One of the cruelest and most damnable things in the whole of Creation is the way in which the Spanish use natives to fish for pearls. The life of a pearl-fisher in these conditions is worse than any other on the face of the earth; it is even more dreadful and more terrible than that of the native gold-miner, ghastly though that undoubtedly is. They are in the water from dawn to dusk, often operating at depths of four or five fathoms. Seldom are they permitted to surface for air but must spend their time swimming under water and tearing at the oysters in which pearls grow. Once they have filled their nets they surface, gasping, and hand the oysters to the Spanish taskmaster who sits in a smak or canoe. If they spend more than a few seconds at the surface to get their breath back, he will punch or grab them by the hair and push them back under, making them dive once more. Their only food is fish -- and then only oysters -- plus, perhaps, some cassava bread (they bake with cassava flour of the region), the oysters providing little in the way of sustenance and the cassava being extremely hard to make. They are kept perpetually hungry. At night they are shackled to prevent them from escaping and they have to sleep on the hard ground. Often, when out fishing or searching for pearls, a man will dive never to resurface, for the poor wretches are easy prey to all manner of sharks, the most ferocious of sea creatures, capable of swallowing a man whole...

By condemning them to this quite unbearable Hell -- the oppressors have exterminated the entire population of the Bahamas, not a single soul living there when the Spanish first discovered this trade having survived.

Las Casas descriptions of the horrible abuses conducted by the Spanish against the Taino are so shocking that in my case, at my first reading, they elicited slack-jawed disbelief. Las Casas describes, if you can believe it, incidents in South America and Florida that may be even more horrible than those described above. Below are several accounts that left such and indelible imprint on my mind that I feel compelled to share them. I found Las Casas' incredibly sarcastic words in the last several lines of the Florida paragraph interesting.


The Kingdom of Yucatan (Mexico)

I shall Accordingly give details of but two or three incidents. The wretched Spaniards actively pursued the locals, both men and women alike, using wild dogs to track them and hunt them down. One woman, who was indisposed at the time and so not able to make good her escape, determined that the dogs should not tear her to pieces as they had done her neighbors and, taking a rope, and tying her one-year-old child to her leg, hanged herself from a beam. Yet she was not in time to prevent the dogs from ripping the infant to pieces, even though a friar did arrive and baptize the infant before it died...

It was in this kingdom, or in one of the provinces of this kingdom of New Spain, that a Spaniard who was out hunting deer or rabbits realized that his dogs were hungry and, not finding anything they could hunt, took a little boy from his mother, cut his arms and legs into chunks with his knife and distributed it them among his dogs. Once they had eaten up the steaks, he threw the rest of the carcass on the ground for them to fight over.

The Mainland Region Known As Florida

It is reported that the butcher-in-chief arranged for a large number of natives in the area and, in particular, one group of over two hundred who had either come form a neighboring town in response to a summons or had gathered of their own free will, to have their noses, lips and chins sliced from their faces; they were sent away, in unspeakable agony and all running with blood, to act as a walking testimony to the great deeds and holy miracles by these dauntless missionaries of the Catholic Holy Faith. The reader can judge for himself the reaction of the local people to such messengers, their great love of Christians, their certainty of the goodness and justice of the Lord, and how pure they must think the law and religions professed with pride by disciples such as these.


What Was the Punishment for the Taino People That Did Not Get the Assignd Quota?


The punishment for the Taino people that did not get the assigned quota was execution. If they did not reach the minimum required by the government, many were killed. Others were harmed greatly.