A multitude of buildings
A difficult task: evangelization
The end of the adventure
Las Casas and Indian freedom
Available upon request: -
general information upon Maya countries, - numbered texts
on the conquest and colonization
of Maya countries
- general information upon Maya countries,
- numbered texts on the conquest and colonization of Maya countries
Address all correspondence to:
Mayas Indians prisoners, in Ermilio Abreu Gómez, La Conjura de Xinum, Editorial Macehual, 1977
LAS CASAS' TREATISE ON THE SLAVERY OF THE INDIANS (1552)
Bartolomé de Las Casas resigned his office of bishop of Chiapas in 1547 and returned to Spain. Then he entered upon the most fruitful period of his life. He became an influential figure at court and at the Council of the Indies. In 1550 he came into conflict with Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, who was attempting to gain the right to publish a book approving war against the Indians (“Democrates secundus, Concerning the Just Cause of the War Against the Indians”), in accordance with Aristotelian principles. Las Casas appeared at a debate before the Council of Valladolid, where he spoke for five days straight. He influenced the committee not to approve his opponent's book for publication.
1552, Las Casas published several treatises to leave in written form his
principal arguments in defense of the American Indian:
"Brevisima Relación de la Destrucción de Las Indias" (
From Chiapas to Panama, Indians were branded as chattels with little regard for the royal legislation that limited the practice. Two types of Indians could be legally enslaved: 1) esclavos de Guerra, or those who persisted in resisting Spanish dominion by resort to arms; and 2) esclavos de rescate, or those who had been slaves in their own native societies. But the ways in which these qualifications could be circumvented were legion, and the enterprising slave trader continued to practice his evil with little interference.
BARTOLOMÉ DE LAS CASAS
WRITTEN AT THE INSTANCE OF THE ROYAL COUNCIL
ON THE SLAVERY OF THE INDIANS
"Argumento (preface) to the following treaty.
The bishop of Ciudad Real de Chiapa, Fray Bartolome de Las Casas, was pressing persistently the royal council of the Indies to consider the liberty of the Indians as the only general remedy for the Indies; and one of his petitions was, that the Indians held by the Spaniards as legal slaves, should all be given their freedom, arguing that out of their countless number not one had been enslaved justly, but that, on the contrary, all had been enslaved unjustly and iniquitously. The council having decided to set aside their other numberless occupations, and to take up this subject, charged and commissioned the said bishop to put in writing his opinions on the matter. In virtue of said royal commission and command the following proposition with its three corollaries, which like three branches of one tree, are the necessary consequences of its truth, has been established and proved. Herein is demonstrated with what justice the Indians of that New World could have been and were enslaved, and that their masters are bound to restitution."
Every Spaniard suspects the justice of the slave traffic
"Look at every Indian the Spaniards held as a slave in the New World, at least in New Spain, and in New Galicia, in the Kingdom of Guatemala, in the province of Chiapas, in the Kingdom of the Yucatan, in the provinces of Honduras and in Nicaragua, in every other area where slaves were brought from the areas cited, or acquired from others Indians, taken as taxes or as tribute, or as merchandise –leave out of consideration the Spaniards who knew what they did, we know for sure they sinned mortally- the rest suspected surely, or felt pressure to suspect the justice of their slave traffic." (...)
"The Spaniards who own Indian slaves, who were bought as slaves or given as barter, or given as tribute, or as gifts, or had from other Indian in any other way, these Spaniards got them knowing that they were enslaved mostly in violation of justice, of the divine and natural law, or there was a doubt, or there had to be a doubt. Therefore Spaniards who own Indian slaves gotten from Indians themselves own those slaves in bad conscience.
"The major premise of the argument is clear and no one doubts the first part of it about someone who knows. Since the one from whom the present owner received the goods had no legitimate rights to the goods, he could not transfer ownership, nor make a gift of it, nor sell it to anyone else. The reasoning is that no one can transfer more of a right to a thing than the right he has, and if he has no right to a thing, he can transfer no right at all to it. A man who knows that the goods he gets are not owned by the one who gives or sells them, the man who buys them or accepts them knowingly, becomes as evil as the one from whom he gets them; if the goods are stolen, he becomes a thief; stolen violently, he becomes a thug; run down the list of vices. That man is an owner in bad conscience.
"The reason is he is a thief and is in a state of mortal sin while he keeps hold of someone else’s goods against the owner’s will. And there is always thievery in delay. Even if the goods pass through a thousand people, they are all owners in bad conscience, as much as the first. Whoever has his hands on such goods is obliged to restitution. He is not freed from bad conscience nor from being an owner in bad faith because some laws or statute says whatever he buys on the open market he truly owns.
"The reason is that human law cannot abrogate the divine or natural law, nor work against civilized behaviour which forbids theft or the possession and retention of another’s goods against his will. The lesser authority, the king on earth, cannot set a law against the law of God who is greater than all. In laws made by lesser powers, the laws of superior powers are always understood to remain in force. The obligation to restitution is clear from a law already cited. And restitution of profits made on stolen goods, as required by the same law. The bad faith owner cannot demand back the price he paid for the stolen goods, even if law or statute should permite the opposite. The reason is the same, it is against civilized behaviour." (...)
A conquistador (Saint James the Moor-slayer?) and Bartolome de Las Casas, Museo de los Altos de Chiapas, San Cristobal de Las Casas. Canvas: Las Casas as a Bishop
"When Spaniards bought and held slaves, they knew the slaves were unjustly enslaved, or they suspected, or they simply had to suspect, which amounts to the same. The proofs runs thusly: every Indian slave the Spaniards had from Indian masters was gotten through levies they were forced to pay, what with the litany of cruel and inhuman treatment visited on them, or gotten through the variety of deceits, unheard of, unjust, wicked deceits described earlier in the proofs of the first part of the conclusion. No human being who looked at the evidence would deny that the slaves were given and gotten unjustly and both giver and getter knew it.
"Thus the present holders of slaves are in bad conscience. They either bought them from Indians or got them through exchange – the Spaniards call it that. They used much the same methods either way. They coerced the leaders, the elders, to sell them slaves or swap them some by threatening to accuse the leaders, the elders, of idolatry –before they ever thought of being Christian- to charge them in court with adoring and sacrificing to idols. And since the chiefs did not have a many legitimate slaves as the robber Spaniard demand (...) the chiefs gave them free people from the villages. (...)
"The situation was so lawless, so rotten –and everyone knew it- like a ruckus, it had come to Your Majesty’s attention. And you had to send notice that in no way would you condone anymore the swapping. There were some chiefs, some Indians who sold themselves into slavery of their own will. But it is certain that they were few who did so. But buyers knew the sale was suspicious, and if they didn’t they ought to have, and therefore their traffic is slaves before examining the facts of enslavement closely makes them, then and now, owners in bad faith. They took, they take slaves, they held, they hold slaves in bad conscience.
"The conclusion is certain. The Spaniards knew that a huge number of Indians had been unjustly and wickedly enslaves, and that those who might have been enslaved justly were so few, so difficult to single out they could not be known for sure. Therefore the Spaniards had to cease from this traffic until they could be sure the slaves were justly enslaved. No one can put their soul in danger of hellfire for the sake of some worldly gain. (...)"
The friars release Indian slaves (mural by Miguel Angel Polanco, Museo Nacional de Antropología, San Salvador, 2011)
To be a slave of the Spaniards is life in hell
"It is not at all the same thing to be a slave of the Indians or a slave of the Spaniards. We proved that in the second premise. To be an Indian and a slave among Indians is to have a freedom a little less than the freedom of sons in the household. The life a slave leads under his owners, the treatment he receives, is gentle and kind. The life of a slave under the Spaniards is life in hell, there is no relief to it, no stop to it, no time to catch a breath from it. The standard treatment is durance vile, and at the end of a difference between being an Indian slave to Indians, and an Indian slave to Spaniards, and given that the Indian-to-Indian enslavement is according to law and custom, just ones in this case, and thus valid in matters of slavery and freedom, it is clear, from both givens, that Indian owners cannot hand over to the Spaniards greater rights over slaves than they themselves have.
"If the Spaniards use the Indians slaves given them by Indians with such uncontrolled cruelty –even if they knew for sure the slaves were gotten in a just war originally- that the end result of this bestial servitude is certain death, then it is absolutely clear the whole thing is robbery and the Spaniards must make restitution. It is beyond measure, the cruelty the Spaniards inflict constantly on their slaves, they destroy them this way utterly.
"We know from experience that no law, no argument, no rule would be enough to make the Spaniards moderate the harsh treatment they habitually mete out to their slaves, so they would not use more power over them than did the Indians who handed them over. Therefore, when someone is discovered among the Indians to be a slave legitimately, he should not to be left in the hands of a Spaniard, not with any justice. It is rather the judgment of good men that the Indian should grant him only that right which the seller or giver had and could sell or give, separating him carefully from all that excess which the owner has no right or power to demand from him unless unlawfully.
"When the master of a household denies the necessary food to a legitimate slave, denies it so there is no escape in a time of sickness, so that the slave is doomed, from that moment on, according to human laws, the slave regains his freedom completely. How much more reason there is for the Spaniards to lose his right to the little service the Indian who spoke of owes him? And for the slave to be freed from a great evil? He would perish inexorably in that terrible state. A lesser evil is the one we describe, i.e., the legitimate slave should pay the owner in other ways, and the slave should begin to know what freedom is. (...)"
(Bartolomé de Las Casas, Tratado sobre la materia de los indios que se han hecho esclavos, 1552, translated by Francis Patrick Sullivan)
Look at the page:
Indian slaves carrying a gigantic cross; last sequence of the mexican movie "Cabeza de Vaca", 1990
Bartolomé de Las Casas en la junta eclesiástica de México de 1546
"236. Sólo el Sr. Obispo de Chiapa D. Fr. Bartolomé de las Casas y el religiosísimo P. Fr. Luis Cáncer sentían el que no se hubiese disputado y resuelto uno de los más principales puntos, que era el modo que había habido de hacer esclavos a los indios. Propuso esta materia el Sr. Obispo varias veces; no tenía efecto su propuesta porque le parecía al virrey razón de Estado no resolverla, pero movido después con la instancia del V. pastor, el dicho Sr. virrey, como temeroso de Dios, atropellando la razón del Estado del mundo, atendió a la mayor, que era hacer el gusto divino, y así dio permiso para que en este imperial convento de N. P. Santo Domingo se hiciesen todas las juntas que pareciesen convenientes a su Ilma., no sólo para el punto que le proponía, sino para los demás que fuesen de justicia y razón para darla él al católico emperador y que se pusiese en ejecusión la resulta. Congredados los de la junta otra vez (exceptos los señores obispos) duraron las disputas públicas muchos días, y con las doctas razones y el testimonio jurídico de modo de requerimiento que a los principios se hizo a los indios, que el P. Fr. Luis llevaba bien prevenidos y manifiestos, resultó el que los indios no eran esclavos, sino libres, y que luego estaban todos obligados a darles la libertad que les había Dios concedido. Diose fin a las juntas de México a principio del mes de noviembre y habiéndose escrito al emperador, su majestad remedió los daños que había y se dio a los indios la libertad que se les debía." (Fray Juan Bautista Méndez, Crónica de la provincia de Santiago de México de la orden de predicadores (1521-1564), book 2, chapter 16).
Mexican heros, Benito Juarez, Bartolomé de Las Casas and Porfirio Díaz, painted on chairs (Casa de los Venados, Valladolid, Yucatán)
Bartolomé de Las Casas: Confesionario (1552)
"Fourth, if the penitent holds any Indians as slaves, by whatever way, title, or manner he might possess them, then immediately and at once he is to grant them irrevocable freedom, without any limitation or condition. Also, he is to ask pardon for the injury he did to them in making them slaves, usurping their liberty, or in helping, or in being part of whatever might have been done; or if he did not make them [slaves], [he is to ask pardon] for having purchased, possessed and served himself with them in bad faith. For this much is certain, and the confessor must know it, there is no Spaniard in the Indies who acted in good faith, concerning four things: the first concerns the wars of conquest; the second concerns the fleets that were assembled for the Islands in Tierra Firme in order to bring assaults and robberies to the Indians; the third concerns the enslaving and buying of Indians that had been sold as slaves; the fourth concerns the carrying and selling of arms and merchandise for the tyrant conquistadors, when they were actually engaged in the conquest, violence and tyranny mentioned above. Thus it shall be ordained that repayment be made to these Indians for what the penitent gained through their enslavement, for each month or each year, all that the discrete confessor might judge to be fitting recompense in light of their work and service and the injury done to them." (Confesionario: Avisos y Reglas Para Confesores, by Bartolomé de Las Casas, A Translation by David Thomas Orique, O.P.)
Performance of the play "El Santo de Fuego", by Mario Monteforte Toledo, inspired by Las Casas' life, Ciudad Guatemala, teatro Dick Smith, 2016, august 16
Matías de Paz, Bartolomé de Las Casas' precursor.
"Whether Our Most Christian King may govern these Indians despotically or tyrannically.
"Answer: It is not just for Christian Princes to make war on infidels because of a desire to dominate or for their wealth, but only to spread the faith. Therefore, if the inhabitants of those lands never before Christianized wish to listen to and receive the faith, Christian Princes may not invade their territory. Likewise, it is very convenient that these infidels be requested to embrace the faith.
"2. Whether the King may exercise over them political dominion.
"Answer: If an invitation to accept Christianity has not been made, the infidels may justly defend themselves even though the King, moved by Christian zeal and supported by papal authority, has waged just war. Such infidels may not be held as slaves unless they pertinaciously deny obedience to the prince or refuse to accept Christianity.
"3. Whether those who have required heavy personal services of these Indians, treating them like slaves, are obliged to make restitution.
"Answer: Only by authorization of the Pope will it be lawful for the King to govern these Indians politically and annex them forever to his crown. Therefore those who have oppressed them despotically after they were converted must make appropriate restitution. Once they are converted, it
will be lawful, as is the case in all political rule, to require some services from them -even greater services than are exacted from Christians in Spain-, so long as they are reasonable to cover the travel costs and other expenses connected with the maintenance of peace and good administration of those distant provinces." (Matías de Paz, De dominio Regum Hispaniae super Indos, 1512)
Bartolomé de las Casas, "Retratos de los españoles ilustres". Engraving by Tomás López Enguídanos and José López Enguídanos (1801)
Bartolome de Las Casas, General Archive of the Indies, Seville, Spain
San Cristobal de Las Casas, Bartolomé de Las Casas' monument
José Alonso in a Mexican movie by Sergio Olhovich Greene, "Bartolomé de Las Casas", 1993
Indian Freedom: The Cause of Bartolomé de las Casas, 1484-1566. A Reader. Translations and Notes by Francis Patrick Sullivan (Sheed & Ward, Kansas City, Missouri, 1995).