Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thoughts on Columbus Day

Last year, in a post titled Christians and Indians, I posted the following account from one Michel de Cuneo, one of Christopher Columbus' lieutenants, quoted in The Four Voyages: Being His Own Log-Book, Letters and Dispatches with Connecting Narratives..., which "throws additional light on the Christians' behavior to the Indians," according to editor/translator J.M. Cohen:
    While I was on the boat, I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral gave to me. When I had taken her to my cabin she was naked - as was their custom. I was filled with a desire to take my pleasure with her and attempted to satisfy my desire. She was unwilling, and so treated me with her nails that I wished I had never begun. But - to cut a long story short - I then took a piece of rope and whipped her soundly, and she let forth such incredible screams that you would not have believed your ears. Eventually we came to such terms, I assure you, that you would have thought she had been brought up in a school for whores.
We also read of the Indians that "Columbus advocated almost at the start their export to Spain as laborers;" however, "these ideas offended the religious fervor of the sovereigns," the Catholic Monarchs (los Reyes Católicos). One need not fall for Howard Zinn's cartoonish juxtaposition of the Noble savage of the Americas with the "Europe of the Renaissance, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money" on the first page of A People's History of the United States to find the "Lord Admiral" problematic.

Celebrate the discovery, perhaps, but rather than celebrate the "Lord Admiral" himself, let us celebrate Fray Bartolomé de las Casas and Fray Francisco de Vitoria, who, noting the abuses they saw, came to the conclusion that "[t]he treatment to which all human beings were entitled... derives from their status as men rather than as members of the faithful in the state of grace," as Thomas E. Woods explains in a chapter titled "The Origins of International Law" in How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, quoting also 2010 Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa:
    Father Las Casas was the most active, although not the only one, of those nonconformists who rebelled against abuses inflicted upon the Indians. They fought against their fellow men and against the policies of their own country in the name of the moral principle that to them was higher than any principle of nation or state. This self-determination could not have been possible among the Incas or any of the other pre-Hispanic cultures. In these cultures, as in the other great civilizations of history foreign to the West, the individual could not morally question the social organism of which he was part, because he existed only as an integral atom of that organism and because for him the dictates of the state could not be separated from morality. The first culture to interrogate and question itself, the first to break up the masses into individual beings who with time gradually gained the right to think and act for themselves, was to become, thanks to that unknown exercise, freedom, the most powerful civilization of our world.
And to celebrate the conversion of the peoples of the Americas, let us remember they were converted in spite of not because of the Spanish conquerors, and due to divine intervention, as Jim Coop explains — In 1531, Mary Intervened to Prevent a Clash of Civilizations.

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Blogger Tertium Quid said...

Good post.

9:32 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Thanks. I've finally gotten around to linking to your fine blog on my sidebar and will be visiting daily.

7:27 PM  

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Omnes Sancti et Sanctæ Coreæ, orate pro nobis.