Student Number: 29004298
HIST 102 L1E
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What do the two primary sources below reveal about the relationship between imperialist ideology and action in the sixteenth-century Spanish Empire?
When Christopher Columbus disembarked the Santa-Maria onto America, he encountered the Natives. The presence of the indigenous people was reported to Queen Isabella , who then claimed them as her subjects. This meant that they were to be equal to the Spaniards and that they should not be victims to enslavement. The documents that did so was critical to the justification of Spanish violence. The document was the Requerimiento of 1510, a document that ought to convey an ultimatum to the indigenous peoples of the Americas, coercing the natives to surrender their land and liberty to the Spanish crown. Spanish colonists disregarded the decree, as they illegally shipped five hundred Native Americans back to Spain as slaves. Such tragedies were accounted by Bishop don Fray Bartolomé de Casas’s Account of the Destruction of the Indies of 1542. Through these two works, the ideological differences between the Spanish Crown and the Spanish colonists in the Americas become clear as the actions of Spanish Settlers in the Americas impacts the ideology and outlook of the Spanish Crown on the indigenous population.
The Requerimiento of 1510 clearly conveyed the Spaniard’s intentions and presence in the Americas, as it asserted the religious authority of the Roman Catholic pope over the world, as well as the political authority of the Spanish over the Native Americans. The purpose of the Requerimiento of 1510 served as a form of self-justification for Spanish Colonists. The Requerimiento was often read in Latin to the Native Americans, without the presence of an interpreter. The Spaniard’s conveyed themselves as the guardians and the protectors of the indigenous people’s rights. The Spanish portrayed little religious tolerance to those who weren’t Catholics. The missionaries to the Spanish colony taught the Christian Religion, as well as enforcing the authority of the king.
When reading out the decree the Spanish stated that:
“Spain shall receive you in all love and charity, and shall leave you, your wives, and your children, and your lands, free without servitude, that you may do with them and with yourselves freely that which you like and think best…”
Nevertheless, later in the 16th century, in Peru and New Spain’s (Mexico) viceroys, thousands of Native Americans were coerced into working underground as miners. One of the most well-known mines was in Potosi (Bolivia), where 3000 Indians worked on breaking flint ore; and when they filled up their bags with ore they would climb up ladders and riggings, an empty-handed man would struggle to climb. Nonetheless, Antonio Vásquez de Espinosa, a missionary and Spanish friar highlights the harsh and unforgiving labor conditions, as well as the mistreatment of the natives, who would
“rise to extortion and abuses on the part of the inspectors…depriving the chief Indians of their property and carrying them off in chains because they do not fill out the Mita assignment” (Vásquez de Espinosa 6)
The Mita assignment was a colonial system created by the Spanish Government, formalized by Francisco de Toledo in 1570, which periodically forced labor on the Native Americans in the mines.
Bishop don Fray Bartolomé de Casas’s Account of the Destruction of the Indies of 1542 exposed the misconduct of the Spaniards towards the native population, stated in Requerimiento of 1510, based on religious grounds. Bartolomé requested the court to appoint him as the native protector, which led to a milder regime, from 1514 to 1517. This, however, did not work out for long as the Spanish settlers were an obstruction to the system, resulting in the death of natives, and requiring for the Spanish to import labor from Africa. Bartolomé believed that the Requerimiento was a disaster as it breached the policies and expectations towards the natives and opposed the actions on American land. Once claimed as protectors of the indigenous population, Bartolomé viewed the Spaniard’s as slowly becoming “ravening wild beasts,” starved for days on end. He goes on to explain that the Spaniard’s behavior has remained consistent over course of forty years, and still terrorizing and torturing the lives of the natives.
In contradiction, according to The Journal of Christopher Columbus, during Columbus’s first voyage he encountered the native people and had already thought of enslaving them as “they should make good servants…” (Columbus 21) During his second visit, Columbus shipped five hundred slaves back to Spain. Columbus’s intentions for enslaving was deemed as a form of servitude; a violation of a statement in the Requerimiento of 1510, that prevents forms of servitude. Bartolomé’s argument characterizes the native inhabitants’ treatment, on behalf of the Spanish, as well as his motivations for accounting the tragedies, which was derived from him sympathizing with the indigenous population, and the disregard from the Spanish for the Requerimiento.
The Action on the ground led to the establishment of the Mita System, which was later on followed by the encomienda system. Decades prior to the Requerimiento and Bishop don Fray Bartolomé de Casas’s Account of the Destruction of the Indies of 1542, the role of the natives turned into laborers rather than subjects to the crown, equal to the Spaniards. The reason for the shift is due to the Globalizing effect if the Columbian exchange as the imported labor used to run plantations and mines became ever so common. Amongst the many trading goods and products, silver emerged as a valuable player in the ‘global trade carousel’. The silver mines in Europe were on the verge of running out; the only commodity that the Spanish had to trade with. Furthermore, the supply of gold was cut-off by Africa. The Spanish conquest led to the exploitation of sources of silver. One of these sources was Mt. Potosi, located in current day Bolivia, and a source responsible for allowing the Spanish to extract one-hundred and ten million metric tons of silver . The Spaniards had accumulated large sums of silver, therefore giving them leverage when trading with Asia.
The result of the exploitation led to the encomienda system where natives were institutionalized in the Spanish colonial system. The system served as a way of allocating land and labor to Spanish settlers, especially soldiers and officers. The system was entirely based around the extraction of precious metals and minerals. The acts of exploitation and forced labor caused period rebellion from the natives, whom Bartolomé described as people who saw the “Spaniards as angels from Heaven” . The change of behavior from the natives is a causal effect of the mistreatment and forced labor system, received from the Spanish.
The shift of Spanish ideologies, reflected in both sources, is the effect of economic interests and labor-intensive factors. The
Columbus, Christopher. Book. “The Journal of Christopher Columbus”. Accessed, October 16, 2018
Council of Castile. Document. “Requerimiento of 1510”. Accessed, October 12, 2018.
De Las Casas, Bartolomé. Document. “Account of the Destruction of the Indies of 1542”. Accessed, October 12, 2018.
Discussion Reading, Wk. 5. An Era of change and Increased Global Interaction. Americas and Africa, Ch. 3. Accessed, October 16, 2018.
Pearson. Book. Revel the World: A History, Volume 2, 3e. Accessed, October 16, 2018
Vásquez de Espinosa, Antonio. Book. “Compendium and Description of the West Indies”. Accessed, October 17, 2018.