Bartolomé de Las Casas and his Defence of the Indians (2023)

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(Video) Bartolomé de Las Casas: The Protector of the Indians

Tairona Heritage Studies Centre

Tairona Heritage Studies Centre, [20 October 2000]

Bartolomé de Las Casas (1484-1576) was born in Seville, and, at ageeighteen, left Spain for the New World where he took part in thecolonization of Cuba. The barbarity of the Spanish conquistadoresshocked him, bringing about a conversion and entry into the Dominicanorder. Thereafter, he devoted himself to the defence of the Indians,and the cataloguing of Spanish atrocities against them. He was notalone in this—many Jesuit priests defended the Indians in thesame way, some even dying on their behalf. It is the books of LasCasas, however, which shocked and informed Europe at the time andcontinue to influence to this day.

The Spanish Crown had long been concerned with the morality ofconquest, and employed theologians and jurists to advise onbehaviour. One result of this was the Requirement (Requerimiento), adocument which had to be read out to the Indians prior to anattack. (This was often read in Spanish to Indians who did notunderstand the language, or was even proclaimed out of earshot tothem. See previous document for an example.) It also resulted in aninstitution known as the encomienda. By this official Spanish policy,set by Ferdinand and Isabella, land belonged to the Spanish Crown andthe Indians were compelled to work it on behalf of their Spanishmaster or encomendero. In return, however, they were to be affordedthe protection of the Crown, instruction in the Christian faith and asmall wage. (Las Casas himself benefited from this system both inHispaniola and Cuba.) In practise, however, the Indians were treatedin an horrific way—enslaved, starved, tortured, hunted down andmassacred in huge numbers. This experience produced a despairresulting in suicide, infanticide and induced abortion amongst theIndians. The books of Las Casas were primarily written to inform theSpanish court of what was being done in the name of Spain andChristianity, and were immediately translated into the other Europeanlanguages.

Las Casas was radical but not heretical—he believed thatColumbus was an instrument of God to bring the Gospel to the New Worldand did not advocate revolt against the Spanish Crown, whoselegitimacy to rule in South America he accepted. The behaviour of itsrepresentatives, however, was not in accord with either Christianityor official Spanish policy in his view, and needed to be recorded forEurope's education. As well as recording the brutality ofcolonization, his books argued against the concept of the Indian as aninferior race. Las Casas argued that they were indeed 'fullyrational beings with a culture which, though certainlyprimitive in its technology and in a large number of itspractices, was equal to anything which the Old World hadproduced.' (Griffin 1992: xxviii).

His ideas had little immediate effect on changing Spanish attitudes inSouth America—the lust for gold was stronger than therecognition of religious or moral justice amongst theconquistadores. In the longer term, however, his books and actionsearned him the title 'Defender and Apostle to theIndians'. Simon Bolivar called him 'that friend of humanitywho with such fervour and determination denounced to his governmentand his contemporaries the most horrific acts of that sanguineousfrenzy'. Today, there are dozens of statues to him throughoutLatin America, and his work has been linked with Liberation Theology.

His books include:

(Video) Bartolomé de las Casas - Changing Your Mind - Extra History

Apologetic History of the Indies—the longest of his works

The lengthy History of the Indies

Spanish Cruelties, published after his death in 1609.

A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies

Comprobatory Treatise on the Imperial Sovereignty and UniversalJurisdiction which the Kings of Castile Have over theseIndies—a short tract written to deflect criticism of theShort Account....

The following comes from A Short Account of the Destruction ofthe Indies and is the section devoted to Santa Marta.

(Video) 1.3 Bartolomé de las Casas on Spanish Treatment of the Indians

The Province of Santa Marta

The natives of the province of Santa Marta had a great deal ofgold, the province and its immediate neighbours being rich in themetal and the people who lived there having the will and the know-howto extract it. And this is the reason why, from 1498 right down totoday, in 1542, the region has attracted an uninterrupted series ofSpanish plunderers who have done nothing but sail there, attack,murder and rob the people, steal their gold and sail back again. Eachexpedition in turn—and there have been many over theyears—has overrun the area, causing untold harm and a monstrousdeath-toll, and perpetrating countless atrocities. Until 1523, it wasfor the most part only the coastal strip that was blighted, and thecountryside for a few leagues inland; but, in that year, a number ofthese Spanish brigands established a permanent settlement in the areaand, since the region was, as we have said, extremely rich, thatsettlement witnessed the arrival of one commander after another, eachset on outdoing his predecessor in villainy and cruelty, as though toprove the validity of the principle we outlined earlier. The year 1529saw the arrival of a considerable force under the command of one suchSpaniard, a grimly determined individual, with no fear of God and notan ounce of compassion for his fellow-men; he proceeded to outshineall who had gone before him in the arts of terror, murder, and themost appalling cruelty. In the six or seven years he and his men werein the province, they amassed a huge fortune. After hisdeath—and he died without the benefit of confession and in fullflight from his official residence—there came other robbers andmurderers who wiped out those of the local population who had survivedthe attentions of their predecessors. They extended their reign ofterror far inland, plundering and devastating whole provinces, killingor capturing the people who lived there in much the same way as wehave seen happening elsewhere, torturing chiefs and vassals alike inorder to discover the whereabouts of the gold and, as we have said,far outdoing, in both quantity and quality, even the awfulness ofthose who had gone before them. This they did to such effect that theycontrived to depopulate, between 1529 and today, an area of over fourhundred leagues which was once as densely inhabited as any other.

I must confess that if I were to set down on paper each and everyunforgivable violent crime committed against God, the King and theinnocent people of the province by the Spanish in SantaMarta—every murder, every injustice, every atrocity, everyattempt at genocide—they would make a very lengthy chronicleindeed. But that will l be for the future, if the Lord spares me. AllI can do here is to quote a few words from a letter sent by the bishopof the province to His Majesty the King. The letter bears the date 20May 1541:

I submit, sacred Caesar, that the remedy for the ills that beset thisterritory is that Your Majesty remove from positions of authority thecruel usurpers presently in control and entrust it to someone who willlove and care for it as he would his own offspring and will treat isproperly as it deserves, and that Your Majesty attend to this as amatter of highest priority. If nothing is done, I am certain that thewhole territory will very soon simply disappear from the face of theearth, given the ways in which the cruel usurpers now maltreat andbelabour it.

Further on in this same letter, the bishop writes:

It will be clear to Your Majesty from this how vital it is that thosewho presently govern these regions be stripped of their stewardship,so that the cruel yoke may be removed from the whole republic. If thisis not done, I can see no remedy for the ills that now beset it. YourMajesty will also now perceive that here there are no Christians butonly devils; no servants of God and the Crown but only traitors to Hislaws and Yours. It is my considered opinion that the greatest obstaclethat stands in the way of the pacification of the New World, and withit the conversion of the people to Christ, is the harshness andcruelty of the treatment meted out by Christians to those whosurrender. This has been so harsh and so brutal that nothing is moreodious nor more terrifying to the people than the nameChristian, a word for which they use in their language the termyares, which means demons. And such a usage is amply justified,for what has been done to them by the Spanish commanders and by theirmen has been neither Christian nor indeed the work of devils; and so,when the locals find themselves on the receiving end of such mercilessbutchery, they assume that such actions are standard among Christiansand that they derive ultimately from a Christian God and a ChristianKing. Any attempt to persuade them otherwise is doomed to failure andquite understandably occasions snorts of derision, jibes about Christand jeers at him and His laws. The treatment of those who surrenderonly serves to confirm the belief of those who continue the strugglethat it is better to die once and for all in battle than to suffer athousand slow deaths at the hands of the Spanish. This, I know, MostInvincible Caesar, from first-hand experience, etc.

And he goes on to say:

(Video) Bartolomé de Las Casas "A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies" (1542) Excerpt

There are more servants of the Crown in these realms than Your Majestymay realise. For there is not a single soldier in the entire territorywho does not declare openly, as he robs and plunders, as he murders orburns Your Majesty's subjects in order to get them to hand overgold, that he is doing so on Your Majesty's behalf and with YourMajesty's express authority. It would, therefore, be appropriate,Most christian Caesar, for Your Majesty to make it known, by theexemplary punishment of some of these culprits, that the Crown is notserved by actions that are a disservice to God.

All this comes from an official report by the Bishop of Santa Marta,and one can see clearly from it what is happening to these unfortunateterritories and to their innocent inhabitants. When he speaks of thosenatives who continue the struggle he means those who havemanaged to flee into the hills to escape butchery by Spanishscoundrels; and by those who surrender he means those who,having survived the wholesale slaughter of their fellow-countrymen,now suffer the barbaric slavery to which the Spanish subject hem andwhich we have already described—a slavery which will, as thebishop makes clear in his report, eventually prove fatal to each andevery one of them. Indeed, he understates the horrific nature of thesuffering to which they are subjected.

When they have been brought to the very edge of collapse by thelabours to which they are put and begin to drop from hunger and toilas they stumble through the mountains with enormous loads on theirbacks, the Spanish kick them and beat them with sticks to make themget up and resume their wearisome trudge. They do not allow them tostop and gasp for breath, and even knock their teeth out with thepommel of their swords. Their only response to such treatment is: Igive up, You are evil and wicked. I cannot go on any longer. Kill menow. I do not want to live another moment. This they say as theylie groaning and clutching their chests in what is clearly greatagony. Oh, would that I could describe even one hundredth part of theafflictions and calamities wrought among these innocent people by thebenighted Spanish! May god grant enlightenment to those who are in aposition to do something about what has been happening.'


Griffin, Nigel (tr. & ed.). Bartolomé de las Casas—A ShortAccount of the Destruction of the Indies. Penguin. 1992. (c)


What did Bartolome de las Casas speak out against? ›

After participating in the conquest of Cuba, Las Casas freed his own slaves and spoke out against Spanish cruelties and injustices in the empire. He argued for the equal humanity and natural rights of the Native Americans.

Who was Bartolome de Las Casas What solution did he propose to the encomienda system? ›

Las Casas was finally convinced that all the actions of the Spanish in the New World had been illegal and that they constituted a great injustice. He made up his mind to give up his slaves and encomienda, and started to preach that other colonists should do the same.

How did the Spanish royal government respond to the critiques of Las Casas and others of Spanish conquistadors? ›

How did the Spanish royal government respond to the critiques of Las Casas and others of Spanish conquistadores? Answer: B. It issued the Royal Directives for New Discoveries, giving more power to the priests and less to the conquistadores.

Why did Las Casas try to protect? ›

Bartolomé de las Casas, sickened by the exploitation and physical degradation of the indigenous peoples in the Spanish colonies of the Caribbean, gave up his extensive land holdings and slaves and traveled to his homeland in Spain in 1515 to petition the Spanish Crown to stop the abuses that European colonists were ...

Who did Saint Bartolome de las Casas try to protect? ›

Bartolomé de Las Casas Describes the Exploitation of Indigenous Peoples, 1542. Bartolomé de Las Casas, a Spanish Dominican priest, wrote directly to the King of Spain hoping for n ew laws to prevent the brutal exploitation of Native Americans .

Who did Bartolome de las Casas defend? ›

Las Casas, who was made bishop of Chiapas in 1544, repeatedly crossed the Atlantic to influence the policies of the Spanish crown. In 1550 to 1551 Las Casas submitted at Valladolid an extended defence of the Indians' rights against the arguments advanced by a leading opponent, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda.

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.

What is the purpose of colonization according to de las Casas? ›

Las Casas was against the use of brutal force in conversion but agreed with colonisation as a way of expanding the Catholic faith. The Spanish ultimately contributed to the destruction of the Native Americans through violent and unwarranted massacres, and the introduction of religion and disease.

Why is Las Casas important? ›

Bartolomé de Las Casas (c. 1484–July 18, 1566) was a Spanish Dominican friar who became famous for his defense of the rights of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas.

When was Bartolome de las Casas important? ›

Bartolomé de Las Casas, (born August 1474, Sevilla? —died July 17, 1566, Madrid), Spanish historian and missionary, called the Apostle of the Indies. He sailed on Christopher Columbus's third voyage (1498) and later became a planter on Hispaniola (1502). In 1510 he became the first priest ordained in the Americas.

Who was Las Casas trying to influence? ›

Las Casas quickly evangelized the serfs on his land, and, in either 1512 or 1513, he became a priest. On August 15, 1514, Las Casas delivered a now-famous sermon declaring his intent to return the serfs to the governor of the West Indies. Las Casas thenceforth advocated for better treatment of the American Indians.

What is the main point of colonization? ›

The opportunity to make money was one of the primary motivators for the colonization of the New World. The Virginia Company of London established the Jamestown colony to make a profit for its investors. Europe's period of exploration and colonization was fueled largely by necessity.

What is the purpose and or result of colonization? ›

The purpose of colonization was to serve as a source of inexpensive labor and natural resources. The outcome of these colonies was never intended, culture development. This led to large trade enterprises and economical benefits for colonial powers.

What did Bartolome de las Casas fight for? ›

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 was Las Casas most concerned about? ›

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'.


1. Protector of the Native Americans: Bartolomé de las Casas - Portraits of Liberty Podcast
(Libertarianism(dot)org Podcasts)
2. ENG 200: Video Lecture 7, Bartolomé de las Casas, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies
3. John Sayles reads Bartolome de Las Casas
(Voices of a People's History of the United States)
4. In Our Time: S22/22 The Valladolid Debate (Feb 20 2020)
(In Our Time)
5. US History Primary Source #4
6. Bartolomé de las Casas | Wikipedia audio article
(wikipedia tts)
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