A Short Description of the Destruction of the Indies (2023)

Introduction

How to treat the indigenous people became an issue as soon as the Spanish arrived in the Western Hemisphere. In a letter written soon after his first voyage, Christopher Columbus explained how he dealt with the natives and revealed his and Spain’s religious motive for exploring what he conceived to be, in explicitly religious terms (see Christopher Columbus to Doña Juana de Torres, 1500) a New World. In addition to the converts to Catholicism that Columbus mentions, the Spanish sought gold. What means were allowable in pursuit of these ends? By what authority did the Spanish make claims on the native people and their land? The Requerimiento provided the official answer to these questions.

(Video) A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indes by Bartolomé de las Casas | Video Summary

Whatever Spanish justifications, the Spanish conquistadores or conquerors proved brutal and rapacious as the conquest continued. The authorities in Madrid did not approve. For example, laws regulating conduct in the conquest were promulgated in 1513 and 1542 (the latter partially repealed in 1545 because of opposition). They relieved Christopher Columbus of command over land he had discovered in part because of his brutality toward both Spanish settlers and the indigenous people. Columbus complained of the injustice of his removal (seeChristopher Columbus to Doña Juana de Torres, 1500), by emphasizing that the New World was not like Spain but was an uncivilized lawless territory. Francisco de Vitoria, on the contrary, (see De Indis) sought to mitigate the harshness of the conquest by arguing that law – civil, natural and divine – should prevail everywhere. He argued for limits on what could legitimately be done to the indigenous people. In doing so, he helped develop just war theory. Despite de Vitoria’s arguments, distance from Madrid, limited means of communication, and the need for colonial wealth reduced the ability and willingness of Spain’s monarchs to control what was done in their name thousands of miles away from their palaces. Bartolomé de las Casas (A Short Description of the Destruction of the Indies, 1542) describes the consequences of the Spanish conquest.Las Casas participated in the conquest he recounts; he was also in Cuba during the conquest of that island. He eventually became a Dominican friar and worked for the rest of his life to protect the indigenous people of the Americas

Source: We have used a modernized version of an early English translation of the work by an individual known only as M.M.S., retitled The Spanish Colonie (London: 1583); available online: https://goo.gl/H2YDtk.

. . . The Fifth Kingdom1 was Hiquey, over which Queen Hiquanama, an elderly Princess, whom the Spaniards Crucified, presided and governed. I saw an infinite number of these people burned, and dismembered, and racked with various torments, and of those who survived these matchless evils who were then enslaved. But because so much might be said concerning the killing and destruction of these people, as cannot without great difficulty be written (nor do I conceive that one part of 1,000 that is here contained can be fully displayed) I will only add one remark more about the previously mentioned wars, and declare upon my conscience, that notwithstanding all the above-named injustice, profligate enormities and other crimes which I omit, (though sufficiently known to me) the Indians did not, nor was it in their power to, give [the Spaniards] any cause for these crimes, any more than the pious religious living in a well-regulated Monastery could give a sacrilegious villain any reason to deprive them of their goods and life. No was there any cause for the Spaniards to enslave in perpetuity those who survived the initial massacre. I really believe and am satisfied by certain undeniable conjectures, that at the very time when all these outrages were committed in this Isle, the Indians were not so much guilty of one single mortal sin of commission against the Spaniards, that might deserve from anyone such revenge. And as for those sins, the punishment of which God reserves to himself, such as the immoderate desire of revenge, hatred, envy or inward rancor of spirit, to which [the Indians] might be led against such capital enemies as the Spaniards, I judge that very few of [the Indians] can justly be accused of them; for their impetuosity and vigor, I know, to be inferior to that of children of ten or twelve years of age. And I can assure you, that the Indians had every just cause to wage war against the Spaniards, and the Spaniards on the contrary never waged a just war against them, but only what was more injurious and groundless than any undertaken by the worst of Tyrants. This was true of all their actions in America.

(Video) History of the Indies by Bartolome De Las Casas Explained

The wars being over, and the inhabitants all swept away, the Spaniards divided among themselves the young men, women, and children, one taking thirty, another forty, to this man one hundred were given, to the other two hundred. The more one was in favor with the domineering tyrant (whom they styled Governor), the more slaves he got, under the pretense, and on the condition, that he should instruct the slave in the Catholic religion. Yet, those Spaniards to whom the Indians were given were themselves for the most part idiotic, cruel, avaricious, and infected with all sorts of vices. And this was the great care they had of [the Indians]: they sent the men to the mines to dig for gold, which is an intolerable labor; the women they turned to tilling and manuring the ground, which is drudgery even to men of the strongest and most robust constitutions. They gave them nothing else to eat but wild grasses and other such insubstantial nutriment, so that the milk of nursing women dried up, which meant that recently born infants all died. Since the females were separated from and did not live with the men, there were no new births among them. The men died in the mines, starved and oppressed with labor, and the women perished in the fields, broken from the same evils and calamities. Thus, the infinite number of inhabitants that formerly peopled this island were exterminated and dwindled away to nothing. They were compelled to carry burdens of eighty or one hundred pound weight a hundred or two hundred miles. They had to carry the Spaniards on their shoulders in a carriage or a kind of bed woven by the Indians. In truth they made use of them as beasts to carry baggage on their journeys, so much so that it frequently happened that the shoulders and backs of the Indians were deeply marked with sores, just as happens with animals that carry heavy burdens. It would take a long time, and many reams of paper to describe the slashes with whips, blows with staves, beatings and curses, and all the other torments they suffered during these backbreaking journeys, and even then it would only create horror and dismay in the reader.

But it is true that the desolation of these islands began only with the death of the most Serene Queen Isabella, about the year 1504. Before that time very few of the provinces situated in that island [Hispaniola] were oppressed or spoiled with unjust wars, or violated with general devastation as they were afterwards. Most if not all these things were concealed and masked from the Queen’s knowledge (whom I hope God hath crowned with Eternal Glory) for she was transported with fervent and wonderful zeal, in fact, almost Divine desire for the salvation and preservation of these people, as we have seen with our own eyes and cannot easily forget.

Take this also for a general rule, that no matter which coast in the Americas the Spaniards were landed on, they carried out the same cruelties, slaughters, tyrannies and detestable oppressions on the most innocent Indian nations. The more time they spent in the Americas the more they diverted themselves with new ways of tormenting the Indians, improving in barbarism and cruelty. As a consequence, God, incensed at them, allowed them to fall into complete wickedness.

(Video) 5 - Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolomé de las Casas

FAQs

What was a very brief account of the destruction of the Indies about? ›

In 1552, Las Casas published a shocking account of Spanish cruelties, A Very Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies. He blamed the depopulation of the Native American populations on Spanish brutality rather than on the spread of disease.

What is the main idea of the destruction of the Indies? ›

The book takes a strong stance against atrocities committed by the Spanish. It argues for the necessity of new legislation to protect the indigenous people of the New World from atrocity and enslavement, as well as the cessation of granting royal licenses to new groups of colonists to commit similar atrocities.

Why did Bartolome de las Casas write his brief description of the destruction of the Indies? ›

A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies

One of the stated purposes for writing the account was Las Casas's fear of Spain coming under divine punishment and his concern for the souls of the native peoples.

When did the destruction of indies happen? ›

Use this primary source text to explore key historical events.

What is Las Casas describing in this passage? ›

Las Casas portrayed the natives as naïve. They believed that the Spanish were sent from heaven, and as such treated them well until the cruelty started. Las Casas also portrays the weapons that the natives use similar to naïve boys.

What is the main idea of the primary source document Bartolomé de las Casas? ›

Bartolomé de Las Casas, a Spanish Dominican priest, wrote directly to the King of Spain hoping for new laws to prevent the brutal exploitation of Native Americans.

Which is the best summary of Bartolomé de las Casas? ›

Which is the best summary of Bartolome de las Casas' writings regarding Indians? He harshly criticized the practices of conquistadors in dealing with native Americans. They believed stories promoting the availability of precious metals along the eastern coast.

What was the purpose of History of the Indies? ›

History of the Indies, by Bartolomé de las Casas, is one of the main primary sources regarding the life, trans-Atlantic expedition and gubernatorial administration of the West Indies of Christopher Columbus, as well as a comprehensive history of the first twenty-eight years of the Spanish settlements in that region.

How does Bartolome describe the natives? ›

The natives are capable of Morality or Goodness and very apt to receive the principles of Catholic Religion ; nor are they averse to Civility and good Manners …, I myself have heard the Spaniards themselves (who dare not assume the Confidence to deny the good Nature in them) declare, that there was nothing wanting in ...

When was A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies written? ›

He wrote A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies in 1542, a shocking catalogue of mass slaughter, torture and slavery, which showed that the evangelizing vision of Columbus had descended under later conquistadors into genocide.

Who wrote A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies? ›

A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolome de Las Casas: 9780140445626 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books.

Why was the destruction of the Indies written? ›

It was written to persuade the Spanish king to act in response to the Spanish conquistadors' abuse of the indigenous population. As a primarily persuasive text, critics have attempted to argue that facts and figures about the mistreatment and death toll were exaggerated.

Who discovered the Indies? ›

Columbus sailed from Palos de la Frontera on Friday, August 3, 1492, reached the Canary Islands six days later and stayed there for a month to finish outfitting his ships. He left on September 6, and five weeks later, in about the place he expected, he found the Indies.

When and where was a brief account of the destruction of the Indies? ›

A brief personal account written in 1542; published in Spanish (as Brevissima relación de la destrucción de las Indias) in 1552, in English in 1583. Bartolomé de las Casas reports to the King of Spain on the atrocities and injustices that Spanish soldiers have committed against the native people of the Americas.

Did Las Casas try to protect? ›

Bartolomé de Las Casas (1484-1566) was a Spanish Dominican friar and former conquistador who revealed the atrocities of the conquests of New Spain and Peru and who strove to protect the basic rights of indigenous peoples in the Spanish Empire. For this reason, Las Casas is often called the 'Defender of the Indians'.

Who is Las Casas intended audience what does the opening passage tell you about his view of royal authority? ›

Writing in Spanish at a time when a majority of Spaniards were illiterate, Las Casas's piece was meant for an educated, royal audience. In fact, the work is directly addressed to the Spanish King Charles V.

What did Bartolomé de las Casas write? ›

He wrote many petitions, treatises, and books on the subject of the Spanish conquest of the Americas. His most famous works included the Historia apologética (Apologetic History) and the Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias (A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies).

Which is the character of the primary sources? ›

They are in their original form (diaries, letters, photos, etc.) usually without explanation or interpretation. Primary sources do not speak for themselves, they need to be interpreted. Primary sources document events, people, and viewpoints of the time.

Why is Bartolome de las Casas important in history? ›

Bartolomé de Las Casas, (born 1474 or 1484, Sevilla?, Spain—died July 1566, Madrid), early Spanish historian and Dominican missionary who was the first to expose the oppression of indigenous peoples by Europeans in the Americas and to call for the abolition of slavery there.

What does Las Casas account Tell us about the Spanish invasion of the New World? ›

Bartolome de Las Casas' The Devastation of the Indies: A brief Account and the context of Spanish colonisation reveal that the colonisers were repressive and exploitative towards the Native Americans during the early years of Spanish settlement.

What was the law of the Indies and what was its purpose? ›

The Laws of the Indies (Spanish: Leyes de las Indias) are the entire body of laws issued by the Spanish Crown for the American and the Asian possessions of its empire. They regulated social, political, religious, and economic life in these areas.

Where did the term Indies come from? ›

"India and adjacent regions and islands," 1550s, plural of Indie, Indy, from Middle English Ynde (early 13c.), the usual word in Middle English for "India," from the Old French form of Latin India (see India).

What were the 3 laws of Indies? ›

The Laws of the Indies specified that towns should be established in vacant places or in areas where the natives allowed them. A new town should be able to defend itself, have sufficient water source, arable land, and be accessible. If it is a seacoast town, the plaza and church should be near the port.

Why was Asia called the Indies? ›

The Indies refers to various lands in the East or the Eastern hemisphere, particularly the islands and mainlands found in and around the Indian Ocean by Portuguese explorers, soon after the Cape route was discovered.

What countries were considered the Indies? ›

Three major physiographic divisions constitute the West Indies: the Greater Antilles, comprising the islands of Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and Puerto Rico; the Lesser Antilles, including the Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, ...

How old is the West Indies? ›

56 million years ago in the late Paleocene.

When was a short account of the destruction of the Indies written? ›

He wrote A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies in 1542, a shocking catalogue of mass slaughter, torture and slavery, which showed that the evangelizing vision of Columbus had descended under later conquistadors into genocide.

Which is the best summary of Bartolome de las Casas? ›

Which is the best summary of Bartolome de las Casas' writings regarding Indians? He harshly criticized the practices of conquistadors in dealing with native Americans. They believed stories promoting the availability of precious metals along the eastern coast.

Who discovered Indies? ›

Columbus sailed from Palos de la Frontera on Friday, August 3, 1492, reached the Canary Islands six days later and stayed there for a month to finish outfitting his ships. He left on September 6, and five weeks later, in about the place he expected, he found the Indies.

Who wrote the Destruction of the Indies in 1542? ›

Bartolomé de Las Casas, A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies… (Project Gutenberg EBook: 2007), 9-16.

Who wrote a short account of the destruction of the Indies? ›

A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolome de Las Casas: 9780140445626 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books.

For what audience did Las Casas write these accounts what does that audience suggest about his purpose for writing? ›

Writing in Spanish at a time when a majority of Spaniards were illiterate, Las Casas's piece was meant for an educated, royal audience. In fact, the work is directly addressed to the Spanish King Charles V.

What did Bartolome de las Casas speak out against? ›

What is Bartolomé de Las Casas known for? Bartolomé de Las Casas was an outspoken critic of the Spanish colonial government in the Americas. Las Casas was especially critical of the system of slavery in the West Indies.

What were the 3 laws of indies? ›

The Laws of the Indies specified that towns should be established in vacant places or in areas where the natives allowed them. A new town should be able to defend itself, have sufficient water source, arable land, and be accessible. If it is a seacoast town, the plaza and church should be near the port.

Why were the Indies so important to Europe? ›

In the 17 and 18th centuries, the islands of the East Indies in the Indian Ocean were the source of many of the luxury goods which were highly valued in Europe. European powers were colonising this area and the luxury goods which were found there were traded across the world.

How effective were the Laws of the Indies? ›

The Laws of the Indies were partly effective in governing the Spanish colonies, although they were often ignored. For instance, the Laws of Burgos were meant to protect the indigenous people from maltreatment in West Indies. The laws upheld the idea of encomenderos but forbade them from punishing the natives.

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