Bartolomé de Las Casas, "Of the Island of Hispaniola" (1542)
God has created all these numberless people to be
quite the simplest, without malice or duplicity, most obedient,
most faithful to their natural Lords, and to the Christians, whom
they serve; the most humble, most patient, most peaceful and calm,
without strife nor tumults; not wrangling, nor querulous, as free
from uproar, hate and desire of revenge as any in the world. . . .
Among these gentle sheep, gifted by their Maker with
the above qualities, the Spaniards entered as soon as soon as
they knew them, like wolves, tiger and lions which had been starving
for many days, and since forty years they have done nothing else;
nor do they afflict, torment, and destroy them with strange and
new, and divers kinds of cruelty, never before seen, nor heard
of, nor read of. . . . .
The Christians, with their horses and swords and
lances, began to slaughter and practice strange cruelty among
them. They penetrated into the country and spared neither children
nor the aged, nor pregnant women, nor those in child labour, all
of whom they ran through the body and lacerated, as though they
were assaulting so many lambs herded in their sheepfold.
They made bets as to who would slit a man in two,
or cut off his head at one blow: or they opened up his bowels.
They tore the babes from their mothers' breast by the feet, and
dashed their heads against the rocks. Others they seized by the
shoulders and threw into the rivers, laughing and joking, and
when they fell into the water they exclaimed: "boil body
of so and so!" They spitted the bodies of other babes, together
with their mothers and all who were before them, on their swords.
They made a gallows just high enough for the feet
to nearly touch the ground, and by thirteens, in honour and reverence
of our Redeemer and the twelve Apostles, they put wood underneath
and, with fire, they burned the Indians alive.
They wrapped the bodies of others entirely in dry
straw, binding them in it and setting fire to it; and so they
burned them. They cut off the hands of all they wished to take
alive, made them carry them fastened on to them, and said: "Go
and carry letters": that is; take the news to those who have
fled to the mountains.
They generally killed the lords and nobles in the
following way. They made wooden gridirons of stakes, bound them
upon them, and made a slow fire beneath; thus the victims gave
up the spirit by degrees, emitting cries of despair in their torture. . . .
From Bartolomé de Las Casas, Very Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies, in Bartolomé de Las Casas, trans. F. A. McNutt (Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark, 1909), 313-319.
- Examine Las Casas’s description of native Americans. Is it more reliable than those of the other early explorers? Could he be exploiting the sufferings of native Americans for his own ends?
- What were his expectations of the New World? How did it differ from the goals of the earlier explorers?
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