Animal Studies Bibliography
Toderov, Tzvetan. 1984. The Conquest of America: The question of the other. Harper & Row, Publishers. New York.
“Discovery of America”
The Other can be conceived of in various ways. It can be an abstraction, other in relation to oneself, or a specific social group that one is not a part of. The group can either be within the society, such as women for men, or the group may be exterior to the society, such as another society. The focus of this book is on the “problematic of the exterior and remote other” (3). The author employs a narration of history in order to act as a moralist, and not merely a historian, while developing his argument (4). The discovery and conquest of America is the focus for two reasons. The first is that it provides a unique and extreme example of an encounter, different from any other that took place. The second is that this discovery and conquest marked the beginning of the modern era (5).
Columbus' diaries, letters and reports guide us through the narrative of discovery. While much of Columbus' writings alluded to the desire of finding gold, greed did not appear to be the prime motivation for his exploration. While gold was the earthly desire of the king and queen and many of the men that traveled with Columbus, his main motive was the spread of Christianity throughout the world. “Infinitely more than gold, the spread of Christianity is to be realized” (10). Columbus saw the promise of gold to his beneficiaries as a means to the end of Christianizing the world. Although Columbus' notion of a crusade was reminiscent of the Middle Ages, “it will be a feature of Columbus' medieval mentality that leads him to discover America and inaugurate the modern era” (12). However, although Columbus was very removed from what might be considered a man from the “modern era,” he does possess a type of divisional thinking that is common of the modern era. He “submits everything to an exterior and absolute ideal (the Christian religion), and every terrestrial event is merely a means toward the realization of that ideal” (13). The one exception to this seems to be the fact that Columbus found pleasure in the discovery of nature itself, meaning that it was its own end, rather than a means.
“Columbus as Interpreter”
In his interpretation of the lands that he was “discovering,” Columbus relied on what he already accepted as the truth to evaluate his surroundings. Upon landing on the continent Columbus sites “the abundance of fresh water; the authority of the sacred books; and the opinion of other men he has met with” as the support for his belief that he had reached his destination (14). The author divides these three reasons into three categories that reflect Columbus' world. The categories are natural, divine, and human, respectively. The author then ties this to three motives for the conquest. These motives being, “the first human (wealth), the second divine, and the third linked to a delight in nature” (14). The communication with the three spheres of human, God, and nature determine Columbus' behavior. He does not interact the same with all three. Although Columbus places all three on the same plane of communication, the author argues that we should not do the same, since communication with nature and humans are “real exchanges” whereas the relation to God does not involve communication. He does however; argue that Columbus' notion of communication with God affected the way in which he communicated with nature and humans.
The important point is not that Columbus' faith is Christian in particular, but the force of the belief itself that guides his actions. One example of the influence of his beliefs on his interpretations was his belief in an early paradise. He based his vision of this early paradise on his reading of Pierre d'Ailly's Imago Mundi . From this reading he developed a notion of where this paradise should be located geographically, what it should look like, and who the inhabitants would be. During Columbus' third voyage, at which point he arrives in the Americas, he believes that he has found earthly paradise. However, the descriptions in the book do not match what he saw before him. Due to the force of his belief that he would discover the earthly paradise, he proceeded to declare descriptions in the book as slightly inaccurate, rather than completely rejecting the notion of earthly paradise. For example, while the book stated that there would be beautiful mermaids in the paradise, Columbus did not find the women particularly beautiful. However, rather than stating that mermaids just do not exist as stated in the book, he holds on to the belief in mermaids and merely states that they were not as beautiful as presented in the book. The “finalist” strategy of interpretation used by Columbus allowed the ultimate meaning of Columbus' encounters to be given from the start. In other words, Columbus knew in advance what he would find, the actual experience of it was merely there to illustrate a truth that he already possessed, not to be looked into in order to discover a possibly new truth.
Interpretations of signs of nature were also part of Columbus' travels. He was a keen observer of nature and often commented on the types of plants and animals that he encountered in his journals. He also kept track of natural signs that guided his navigation of the seas. This somewhat contradicted the finalist strategy of interpretation, in that to some extent Columbus would base his decisions on elements of the weather. However, for the most part, the finalist strategy would take over, and he would base his interpretation, not in seeking truth, but in confirming a truth known in advance (19). An example of this is that all the signs that Columbus saw in the weather and the sea once he believed he should be nearing land, were signs that said he was nearing land. However, he did not reach land for some time after these signs. Once on land, all the signs he saw indicated that there was lots of gold, since this is what he wanted to see.
Although this finalist strategy of interpretation dominated Columbus' thinking, he also possessed an admiration of nature, “experienced with such intensity that it is freed from any interpretation and from any function” (23). In his journals, he often praised the beauty of nature and animals. He often used poetic language and superlatives to describe the intense admiration that he had for nature. He expressed his desire to stay on the land that he “discovered” in all its beauty, and not return to the sea. Therefore, within Columbus' interpretation of nature one can see three patterns, the pragmatic interpretation of nature for navigational purposes, the finalist interpretation of nature in which signs confirm already held beliefs, and the rejection of interpretation in which nature is appreciated for its intrinsic beauty.
Columbus' behavior with humans is not as complex as his various means of interpreting nature. Human signs consist of the words of language and unlike signs from nature that are fairly stable indices, words “pass through the intermediary of meaning, which is an intersubjective reality” (25). Proper names were of particular importance to Columbus. He believed that a man's name should indicate his qualities and purposes. He therefore took on the name Cristobal, which means the bearer of Christ, and his surname was Colon, meaning repopulator. These two names are rather accurate in naming Columbus as a “the evangelizer and the colonizer” (26).
Columbus extended his preoccupation with naming beyond his own name, and onto what he thought to be the virgin land that he discovered. Columbus' writings indicate that he was aware that these islands already had names, but he saw himself as giving them the right names. The process of nomination was also a process of taking possession. Columbus used different naming methods. He began by naming islands after religious figures in the order of importance. Later he named things according to their properties, in an attempt to give them names that corresponded with their qualities. People did not escape this process of renaming. “Indians” that were taken back to Spain were rebabtized and given Spanish names. The first gesture that Columbus made upon contact with the discovered lands was to name them part of the Kingdom of Spain.
Columbus' interpretation of the natives' language provides another insight into his view of language. In one case, upon hearing native people use a particular word more than once, he tried to figure out what the word meant. However, he did not do this by trying to see how the people were using the word, rather he tried to fit the word into the Spanish language by seeing what word it sounded like. He did not acknowledge diversity in language, but saw language, his language, as natural. His failure to recognize a diversity of languages left him with two options when confronted with a foreign language, either he could acknowledge it as a language and refuse to believe that it was different, or he could acknowledge its difference but refuse to acknowledge it as a language. His first impression was that it was that it was not a language at all, which allowed him to send natives back to Spain in order to learn to speak (30). Later he did acknowledge it as a language, but only because he thought he could hear familiar Spanish words within it. Finally he did acknowledge it as a foreign language, however, he then lumped all foreign languages together on one side, and Latin languages together on the other.
Columbus' lack of understanding of other humans did not only apply to his interactions with native people. He also had many communication problems with other Europeans that he traveled with. He did not succeed in his human communications because it was not important to him. He had a preference for land over men; therefore human interaction was not of particular importance to him.
“Columbus and the Indians”
Columbus speaks of the natives as though they are part of the landscape that he is observing, “somewhere between birds and trees” (p.34). He takes particular notice to their absence of clothing. However, he decides that even though they lack close they still seem “closer to men than to animals” (p.35). He characterizes them as lacking customs, culture, and religion. He associates this with their lack of clothes, which he takes as a sign of cultural deprivation. Here it is apparent once again that Columbus sees in the natives what he wants, in this case he sees lack of religion and culture. This is convenient for Columbus since he wants them to accept Christianity and Western culture. In this sense, he sees them as “a blank page awaiting the Spanish and Christian inscription” (p.36).
Since Columbus views native peoples as lacking any specific culture or religion, he cannot differentiate between different native groups that he encounters in different locations. He thinks of them all as similar in their lacking. He admires the native peoples in the same way that he does the natural landscape, he focuses on their physical beauty. He also sees them as good people initially. His admiration of their appearance extended to their moral character. Columbus' characterizations of the natives say more about Columbus and what he wanted to find than the people he was describing.
Columbus does not understand different value systems. He perceived the natives as generous because in his eyes they made foolish trades. However, Columbus does not realize that “values are conventional, that gold is not more precious than glass in itself, but only in the European system of exchange” (p.38). To Columbus, a different system of exchange is the same as an absence of a system. His feeling of superiority and his perception that the Indians did not know any better than to make foolish trades, brought out a protectionist sentiment in Columbus.
Columbus' perception of the Indians was not set in stone; one incident quickly altered his view of them as generous to a new view of them as thieves. While Columbus and his men took whatever they wanted from the Indians since they thought they were so generous, one night the Indians did the same and started taking things from the Spanish. They were quickly stopped, and from then on considered thieves. The same thing happened with Columbus' notion of the Indians as cowards because they did not have any weapons. However, after finding that some Indians had killed some of his men one night, he goes to the other extreme and calls the Indians wicked. “We do not have the impression that Columbus has thereby understood the Indians better afterwards than before: he never in fact escapes from himself” (p.41).
What these observations of Columbus show is that his attitude with regard to the Indians is based on perceptions that he already had. There are two possible ways for Columbus to deal with the Indians, either he conceives of them as human beings, equal to himself and therefore identical, which leads to assimilationism or else he sees them as totally different, which becomes a superior and inferior relationship. In either case, “what is denied is the existence of a human substance truly other, something capable of being not merely an imperfect state of oneself” (p.42). Both views encapsulated in Columbus are grounded in egocentrism.
In some sense then, Columbus is an assimilationist, wanting the Indians to be like the Spanish. The rightness of this desire is self-evident to Columbus. Spiritual expansion and material conquest go hand in hand for Columbus. Columbus views this as somewhat of an equal trade off. He does not see any contradiction between these two actions, because he does not want to. However, as some resistance is put up by the Indians, and Columbus' “truths” are challenged, he gradually “shifts from assimilationism, which implied an equality of principle, to an ideology of enslavement, and hence to the assertion of the Indians' inferiority” (p.46). In Columbus' mind the “propagation of the faith and the submission to slavery are indissolubly linked” (p.47). He did not see a middle path for the Indians, either they accepted Christianity and became “part” of the Spanish people, or they became slaves. Women Indians were in a particularly low position in Columbus' eyes, since they were women and Indian. They became the objects of a “double rape” and were not addresses as humans.
It is difficult to understand how Columbus could be associated with the two contradictory myths of the “noble savage” and the “dirty dog.” However, when looked at closely they both rely on the same basis, which is “the failure to recognize the Indians, and the refusal to admit them as a subject having the same rights as oneself, but different” (p.49). The year of 1492 stands at in the history of Spain as a year when the interior Other, the Moors and the Jews, were forced to leave, and the exterior Other, the Americas would become “Spanish.”
“The Reasons for the Victory”
The focus changes at this point from the account of one man, Columbus, to an event, the conquest of Mexico. Various texts are used as sources of information, but as an event, the conquest cannot speak for itself, and therefore can only be understood through the writings of people who were there. It is important to note that it is irrelevant whether the various accounts are true or false, the important thing is that the text is “receivable” to contemporaries and speaks to the time as the people who were there described it.
An explanation commonly given for Cortes' successful conquest of Mexico was the “ambiguous, hesitant behavior of Montezuma himself” (p.55). Montezuma, the leader of Cuauhtemoc, chooses to give up his leader and privileges in the hopes of avoiding war. Another explanation for Cortes' success was “Cortes' exploitation of the internal dissensions among the various populations occupying the Mexican territory” (p.57). He takes advantage of the struggle between rival factions to his own advantage.
Within Mexico at the time there were then levels of conquerors. There were the Aztec who were already conquering other populations when Cortes arrived. Therefore, Cortes was often seen as the lesser of two evils, “as a liberator, so to speak, who permits them to throw off the yoke of a tyranny especially detestable because so close at hand” (p.58). The Aztecs were particularly brutal in their conquests, which allowed the Spaniards to be seen as the less of two evils. Cortes sought to gain legitimacy as the new conqueror in the eyes of the local people.
In terms of the religious aspect of the conquest, Cortes sought to preserve the holy places, but replace their images with Christian images. The temple remains the same, but the people are now supposed to worship a different God, or God instead of “demons.”
Finally, in addition to Montezuma's hesitation at the beginning of the conquest, and the internal divisions of the Mexican's, the Spaniards also had superior weaponry. Swords of metal and cannons were solely the weaponry of the Spanish in the conflict. Furthermore, even though it may have been unknowingly, the Spanish also used biological warfare, in the form of smallpox. However, the Mayan and Aztec explanations of the conquest, suggest that they lost due to their loss of control over communications. “The Gods no longer speak to them” (p.62).
“Montezuma and Signs”
The question then arises as to whether the differences in ability to use signs and communication to one's advantage led to the successful conquest by the Spaniards. The communication practiced by Indians and Spaniards was quite different. As has already been discussed, difference, in the context of conquest leads to superiority and inferiority. The assumption can be made that the “inferiority” of the Indian's linguistic skills were not natural. Meaning, nothing set the Indians apart from the beginning that made their language and communication skills inferior to that of the Spaniards.
The issue of language is much more complex, of course, and the communication practiced by the Indians was quite different from that practiced by the Spaniards. The Indians relied on cyclical divination, which can be compared to astrology. They had a calendar in which each of the days possessed certain characteristics, either lucky or unlucky. This influenced their actions on that day, and it also influenced their whole lives depending on what day they were born. Falling within this system of cyclical divination, they also relied on omens to explain anything that was out of the ordinary. They did not believe that anything in the world happened randomly, but that it was all part of a grander plan that could be interpreted through omens. They believed in many omens and many signs. “An overdetermined world will necessarily be an overinterpreted world as well” (p.64). Signs were often sought out, if things seemed to be slow. Leaders often met with soothsayers before deciding to act in a particular way, because “only what has already been Word can become Act” (p.66). The omens and divinations are greatly respected and people would risk their lives to attain them, because the possessor of prophecy was seen as favored by God and the master of interpretation was “the master.”
This context created a world that was highly overdetermined. Everything that happened was already predicted to happen. Everything was foreseeable and foreseen, and the society was therefore highly ordered. The society was greatly ritualized, with every action no matter how seemingly mundane part of the preordained order. “In Indian society of the period, the individual himself does not represent a social totality but is merely the constitutive element of that other totality, the collectivity” (p.67). Personal opinion and individual initiative were not prized attributes. Obligation to the group, the society as a whole, was much more important that a personal obligation to oneself, or even to the slightly more collective obligation to one's family.
In the overstructured society, hierarchical distinctions became very important in order for everything to function properly. If we are to accept that there exist two major forms of communication, one between man and man and one between man and the world, then it would be fair to say that the Indians cultivated the later to a greater extent, while the Spanish cultivated the former. The interpreter of the divine, the natural, and the social through omens is highly valued in Indian society. “When the rulers of the country whish to understand the present, they address themselves not to those who know men, but to those who practice an exchange with the gods-the master interpreters” (p.73).
When the Spaniards invaded the Indians land, their system of communication was shaken, because these people were unfamiliar to them. Their identity and behavior was so unforeseeable that reacting to them was very difficult. Because the Spaniards shocked the whole system of communication, the Aztec were unable to succeed where they had previously excelled: “in gathering information” (p.73).
Although there were omens about the conquest by the Spaniards, evidence suggests that they were created after the fact. The Aztec cope with the Spaniards' invasion by perceiving that it was already inscribed in their history. In this sense then they had some control over it. In the case of creating prophesy after the fact, Columbus and Montezuma were not so dissimilar. Just as Montezuma, read omens after the fact and was sure that he had heard them before the invasion, Columbus too, was sure that something as significant as the discovery of America was mentioned in the Holy Scriptures.
However, this way of practicing communication by privileging communication with world over communication with humans is what led to the distorted image that the Indians had of the Spaniards at the beginning of the conquest. The Indians perceived the Spaniards to be gods. Others are usually perceived as inferior and often as less than human, like the way that the Spaniards viewed the Indians. However, due to the framework from which the Indians viewed the Spanish, they thought that they were gods, and as such superior to them. This view crippled their response to the invasion. Although, the Aztec had previously encountered Others, in terms of other Indian tribes, the Spanish were so different, that the Aztec could not conceive of them as being human. Whereas, Columbus is also struck by the extreme difference between the Spaniards and the Indians, but he perceives them as inferior, even as animals, and as such treats them accordingly.
Moving away from the initial contact, it is important to realize the importance of and differences between language for the Aztecs and for the Spanish at the time of the conquest. The importance of words and language in the Aztec society was paramount. “Power demands wisdom, which is attested by the capacity to interpret” (78). Interpreters enjoyed the highest esteem. For the Spanish language was also very important. However, it cannot be assumed that both the Aztec and the Spanish privileged the same aspects of language. “The language privileged by the Aztecs is ritual speech-i.e., speech regulated in its forms and its functions, memorized and hence always quoted” (p.79). The function of ritual speech was crucial in a society without writing in that it materialized social memory. Ritual speech allowed for the transmission of cultural norms and values from one generation to the next. The absence of writing was a significant aspect in that it led to a plethora of symbolic behavior and drawings. What is significant about the ritual speech in the case of the conquest is that the discourses come from the past. This means that not only the interpretation of events, but also their production in terms of ritual speech come from the past rather than from the present. This leads to a situation where the past and the future are basically the same thing, because nothing can happen that was not predicted to happen. Furthermore, there cyclical view of time means that the future literally is the past in the sense that time repeats itself. “Repetition prevails over difference” (p.86).
The Christian conception of time is drastically different in that they view time as an infinite progression toward the “final victory of the Christian spirit” (p.87). In this sense, the conquest fit into the Christian conception of time perfectly, in that it was a move forward, progress. However, it did not fit into the Aztec conception of time, which paralyzed the people. The invasion by the Spanish called for an improvised response, rather than a ritualized one, and that is exactly what the Aztec were not prepared with. Indian communication with the Spanish was very limited and full of misunderstanding. Inner Indian communication was also failing. “Everything happens as if, for the Aztecs, signs automatically and necessarily proceed from the world they designate, rather than being a weapon intended to manipulate the Other” (p.90). For example, the Indians did not lie to the Christians in order to deceive them, whereas the Christians did lie in order to find out what they wanted to know. There were two aspects of war going on between the Spaniards and the Indians, the physical war of conquest, and the war to assimilate the Indians. The Indians did not understand the total war of assimilation that the Spaniards were waging on them.
Although the Europeans won the war, it was a mixed success. They were superior to the Indians in terms of interhuman communication. But, there victory is not complete since it has been acknowledged that there is more than one form of communication. The victory was “a terrible blow to our capacity to feel in harmony with the world, to belong to a preestablished order; its effect is to repress man's communication with the world, to produce the illusion that all communication is interhuman communication” (p.97). By imposing their superiority on the entire country, the Europeans “destroyed their own capacity to integrate themselves into the world” (p.97).
“Cortes and Signs”
It would not be fair to suggest that the communication practiced by the Spaniards was in some way the opposite of that practiced by the Indians. There is diversity among people and people both resemble and differ from one another. To Cortes “we owe the invention, on the one hand, of conquest tactics, and on the other, of a policy of peacetime colonization” (p.99). Cortes is primarily interested in signs, rather than in gold. He wants to comprehend the people and the situation as a whole. He first sought out an interpreter. The interpreter that he used, an Indian woman known as La Malinche, ended up adopting Spanish values and taking on Spanish goals as her own. “La Malinche glorifies mixture to the detriment of purity-Aztec or Spanish-and the role of the intermediary” (p.101). Cortes relied on La Malinche to give him information about the Indian people.
Curiosity and courage existed both on the part of Cortes and on the part of Indian leaders, however the perception of the facts was different. Cortes always remained on a purely human level, while the Indians often looked to natural and supernatural correspondences. Of course religion existed for the Spaniards, but Christianity was different from the religions of the Indians. Christianity is fundamentally “universalist and egalitarian.” The universal nature of the Christian religion made it intolerant. The Aztecs on the other hand, did not see a conflict between having more than one religion. In fact they offered to let the Christians put the images of their God up in their temple alongside their own images. This, of course, was unacceptable to the Christians. These different views of religion had a great deal to do with the victory of the Spanish. “Intransigence has always defeated tolerance” (p.106). Furthermore the Christian egalitarianism fit into their framework of universalism. Christianity did not desire to combat inequalities on earth, but everyone could be united in Christ.
The Spanish were able to reserve a space for the Other in their minds, which allowed them to acknowledge the Other and try to learn about them, whereas Montezuma was often left silent and speechless when encountered by the Other. The Spanish therefore were the ones to act in interactions with the Indians, while the Indians then were forced to react , placing the Spanish in a position of superiority. While the behavior of Cortes was often contradictory and confusing, it was intended to be so in order to mislead the Indians, whereas, Montezuma's contradictory behavior was not so calculated.
Cortes was also very aware of the symbolic value of his actions. For example he considered it very important to win the first battle in a very harsh matter in order to place the Spanish in a superior position from the start, and thereby mentally weaken the enemy. He also used weapons symbolically rather than practically on many occasions, in order to invoke terror in the Indians. Cortes was very Machiavellian (although he preceded Machiavelli's writings) in the way in which he conducted the battles. He was more concerned with people believing that he had the qualities that he was portraying to them, than with actually possessing the qualities. Another way in which Cortes used his knowledge of the Indian myths and his awareness of symbolic value, was that he used the myth of Quetzalcoatl's return to explain that the Spanish were in fact gods and that they were these particular gods.
Cortes, therefore, is able to manipulate language as well as symbolic values to manipulate the Other. For the Aztecs and the Mayans, “language itself remained situated in the space delimited by man's exchange with the gods and the world, rather than being conceived as a concrete instrument of action upon the Other” (p.123). According to Nebrija, writer of a Spanish grammar book, “language has always been the companion of empire” (p.123).
“Understanding, Taking Possession, and Destroying”
Cortes had a better understanding of the Aztec world, than Montezuma had of the Spanish world, however the superior understanding, rather than stopping the conquistadors from destroying the Aztec society, led to their destruction of the society. “The paradox of the understanding-that-kills might be readily resolved if we observed at the same time, among those who understand, an entirely negative view of the Other” (p.127). However, the Spanish did not have an entirely negative view of the Aztec, on the contrary, they often admired them. They even compare the Aztec people to themselves, saying that in some ways they live similarly to the Spanish. One thing that is significant about Cortes' admiration however is that it was the admiration of objects, of fabrics, jewelry and houses. Therefore, while he admired what they produced, he did not acknowledge the Aztec people as human individuals on the same level as himself. In this sense, Cortes did not view the Aztec people as full subjects. “Cortes is interested in the Aztec civilization, and at the same time remains altogether alien to it” (p.130). Understanding, therefore, when done not on a level plain, but by one group who does not view the other group as equal, is used as a tool to take knowledge from the people. But why does it lead to destruction?
The destruction of the Aztec civilization by the hands of the Spanish was horrendous. It was genocide. There were basically three ways in which the Spanish killed the Indians. They were by direct murder, by consequence of bad treatment, and by diseases. The Spanish were directly responsible for the direct murder, mostly directly responsible for the consequences of bad treatment, and indirectly responsible for the deaths by diseases. They Spanish raped women and brutally murdered children. The enslaved many Indians under horrible labor conditions. Diseases were spread, which to some extent may have been inadvertent, but the Spanish were fine with it. The killings of Indians were particularly brutal.
The question then remains as to what motivated the Spanish to brutally slaughter the Indians after have some understanding of their civilization. One motivation may have been greed, “the desire for instant wealth, which implies the neglect of others' well-being or even life, torture is inflicted in order to discover the hiding places of treasure; human beings are exploited in order to obtain profits” (p.142). While money as a goal or value was nothing new at the time, what was new was the subordination of all other values to that one. The conquistador saw that “everything can be obtained by money, that money is not only the universal equivalent of all material values, but also the possibility of acquiring all spiritual values” (p.143).
The economic explanation however, is inadequate in describing the extent of destruction that was done by the Spanish. Just as the Aztec society was a ritual-valuing society while the Spanish society was an improvisation-valuing society, the Aztec society was a sacrifice-society while the Spanish society was a massacre-society. “Sacrifice from this point of view is a religious murder: it is performed in the name of the official ideology and will be perpetrated in public places, in sign of all and to everyone's knowledge” (p.144). The individual who is sacrificed is viewed a person with particular characteristics. The sacrifice testifies to the power of the social fabric, over that of the individual. Massacre is very different from this. It is often performed in remote places where the law is only vaguely acknowledged. The victims are kept remote and alien. They are basically identified as animals, as less that human. This type of killing cannot be written off as barbarous and bestial, because it is in fact “quite human and heralds the advent of modern times” (p.145). “What the Spaniards discover is the contrast between the metropolitan country and the colony, for radically different moral laws regulate conduct in each: massacre requires an appropriate context” (p.145).
“Equality or Inequality”
The aspirations to power motivated the Spaniards' conduct to a large extent, but their view of the Indians as inferior beings, “halfway between man and beasts” is also significant because without the extent of destruction could not have taken place. There exists a debate between equality and inequality as well as identity and difference that needs to be addressed. For Columbus, difference was corrupted into inequality, and equality into identity. However, other Spaniards, such as Las Casas, were proponents of equality and accused people like Columbus of viewing the Indians as animals. The Requerimiento, or injunction addressed to the Indians, is an example of how the defenders of inequality viewed the Indians. The text is contradictory in that while it established a religious justification for the Spaniards conquest of the Indians, in the name of the Christian religion Indians would be turned into slaves if they did not comply. “The Indians can choose between two positions of inferiority: either they submit to their own accord and become serfs; or else they will be subjugated by force and reduced to slavery” (p.148). Palacios Rubios was opposed to the wars waged in America, but he still saw that “just wars” were possible and in order for wars to be just the same standards had to be applied to both sides. It was very common for the letters, chronicles, and reports at the time to rely on the doctrine of inequality, and present the Indians as imperfectly human.
The ability of many of the Spaniards to so brutally slaughter the Indians, relied on a system of domination, which placed them on the top and the Indians on the bottom. The system of oppositions that constituted Sepulveda's mental universe included “Indians/Spaniards, children/adults, women/men, animals/human beings, savagery/forbearance, violence/moderation, body/soul, evil/good” (p.153). All the differences are reduced in this model into superiority/inferiority and good and evil. Sepulveda also put forth criteria for a just war based on this premise. In his view, the conquest of the Indians was just because they were less than human and needed to be stopped from continuing their barbarous practices, such as sacrificing people. For the Spaniards, an absolute value existed in the form of baptism. The “supreme good” was to convert people to Christianity and within that framework an individual loss of life if a person was unwilling to cooperate was only a personal loss, and not a social one.
Las Casas, however, rejected this approach and did not view the loss of thousands of lives as justified by the salvation of a few. Whereas Las Casas viewed the natives and people similar to himself, Sepulveda viewed the Indians as very different from the Spaniards and he specifically focused on their differences in order to emphasize it. In terms of language, Sepulveda referred to the Indians in the distant third person singular, rather than in the second person (p.157). This used of language allowed Sepulveda to keep a figurative distance from the Indians; it was the language by which to address the Other. Las Casas, on the other hand, did not reduce the Indians to less than human, rather he used the Christian doctrine to assert that all people are equal and created in God's image and therefore to offend a person, is to offend God. However, he basically admitted that he was projecting his ideal onto the Indians, and therefore his view of them was no more nuanced than Columbus' when he saw them as “noble savages.”
“Enslavement, Colonialism, and Communication”
“Can we really love someone if we know little or nothing of his identity; if we see, in place of that identity, a projection of ourselves or of our ideals?” (p.168). Las Casas was a Christian and he proclaimed to love the Indians because he was a Christian, however it was because he was a Christian that he was not able to see the Indians for who they were but instead imposed his ideal upon them. Although Las Casas proposed that he only believed in peaceful conversion of the Indians, his conviction that Christianity was the one truth was already violent in the sense of imposition. Las Casas supported colonization on a spiritual as well as a material level, but he wanted it to be gentle. One interesting point was that while Las Casas was not comfortable with the enslavement of Indians which was unfolding before his eyes, he did accept the enslavement of blacks which was an established practice at the time.
With regard to gender, Las Casas, just like Sepulveda, equated the colony with women. “Submission and colonization must be maintained, but conducted differently; it is not only the Indians who stand to gain (by not being tortured and exterminated) but also the king and Spain” (p.171). Las Casas was, comparatively at the time, the defender of the Indians in that he did not want an outright war against them in the form of enslavement or extermination. Although, he did want to improve the lot of the Other, he was in no way a saint, and still possessed the colonialist ideology of the time.
Cortes did not disappear while Las Casas was preaching for the gentle colonization of the Other. Cortes became a master of the “discourse of seeming.” He was not concerned that the Spaniards really be good Christians, only that they seemed like good Christians. Conquests were not to be banished, but the word conquest was not to be used. Finally, Cortes never forgot what he learned early on, which was in order to dominate one must be informed. Las Casas and other “defenders” of the Indians, did not reject the Spanish expansion, they only made the specification that they prefer peaceful methods of persuasion over violence. “They function within the colonialist ideology, against the enslavement ideology” (p.175). Enslavement, in the sense that they objected to it, rendered the Indians less than human, it rendered them to the status of animals. Enslavement regarded the other as an object. The perception of Las Casas and the other defenders of the Indians was that to reduce the Indians to objects was a waste, because they had more potential than that. It therefore would be better to use the Indians to produce objects that could be used and owned by the Spaniards. In this sense, the Indians would be productive subjects, rather than passive objects and they would be cared for even though they would be colonized.
The main difference between Las Casas and Cortes was that Las Casas loved the Indians but did not understand them, whereas Cortes knows the Indians but does not love them. Yet while their views on the Indians differed greatly in some ways, they both agreed on the subjugation of the Americas to Spain, the annexation of the Indians to the Christian religion, and the preference for colonialism over enslavement. Although today colonialism of the Americas by Spain is looked down upon as being overly harsh and brutal, certain “indisputable positive points subsist: technological developments as well as cultural and symbolic advancements” (p.177). The conquest of America demonstrated a triad of enslavement/colonialism/communication in which violence played an integral role. “We need not be confined within a sterile alternative: either to justify colonial wars (in the name of the superiority of Western civilization), or to reject all interaction with a foreign power in the name of one's own identity” (p.182). Nonviolent communication exists, and can be defended as a value.
“Typology of Relations to the Other”
The relationship to the other is not constituted in just one dimension. There is a value judgment, “an axiological level” in which one decides if the other is good or bad, equal or inferior, loved or not. Then there is the action of rapproachement or “distancing in relation to the other, a praxeological level” in which one decides if she embraces the other's values, identifies with the other, identifies the other with herself, or is indifferent to the other. Finally there is the level of knowledge of the other, “the epistemic level” in which one knows the other or is ignorant of the other to some extent. Columbus' experience with the Indians appeared to be negative on all three levels in the sense that he did not love, identify with or know the Indians. Las Casas and Cortes were somewhat different. Las Casas loved the Indians to some extent, identified the others with the image he had of them, and knew very little of them. Cortes on the other hand did not love the Indians, did not identify with them, and knew them better that Las Casas or Columbus did.
Las Casas presented a particular case by which Spaniards could better relate to Indians. He began by trying to demystify the practice of human sacrifice by drawing on comparisons within Christianity. He drew on the story of God and Abraham as well as stories of Spaniards eating people out of necessity to allow Spaniards to relate better to the Indians as people. He ended up introducing “perspectivism” into religion. He argued that allow the God of the Indians is a false God and not the true God, because it is the true God in the eyes of the Indians their sacrificial worship should be respected. He ended up holding the Indians up as a very spiritual people, even more spiritual than the Spaniards themselves. He viewed the Indians as superior in terms of religious feeling as evidenced by their practice of human sacrifice. Las Casas illustrated a “new variant of the love for one's neighbor, for the Other-a love that is no longer assimilationist but, so to speak, distributive: each has his own values; the comparison can be made only among certain relations” (p.190). This means that the concept of a universal truth that everyone can be held up to no longer applies, rather the relationship between each human and her God can be looked at. Las Casas views of the Christian religion always shaped his thoughts regarding the Indians, but his thoughts changed drastically from his early days of viewing the Indians as equal yet in need of accepting the universal truth of Christianity to his later days of a high form of egalitarianism, which is being called perspectivism.
The shift in Las Casas views of the Indians affected his concept of what their future should be as well. While he was an assimilationist, like Cortes, in his earlier years, once he adopted perspectivism he no longer desired assimilation for the Indians, rather he wanted them to decide their future for themselves.
In order to look at the axis of identification or assimilation, it is helpful to look at Vasco de Quiroga. He was a Spaniard who tried to protect the Indians in Mexico against the excesses of the conquest. However, he is an assimilationist, but in a unique way in that he did not want or expect the Indians to assimilate to the likes of himself, but rather to a third party. He saw the Spaniards as being much more advanced than the Indians, therefore the Indians could not assimilate into Spanish culture. However, he thought that the good qualities of the Indians resembled what he had read of the first apostles and therefore he wanted the Indians to assimilate to his idyllic vision of them. Similar to Columbus or Las Casas, he lacked knowledge of the Indians. He, like Supulveda and unlike Las Casas, supported a “just war” against the Indians, meaning that he accepted any means as being worth cultivating the Indians into “good” Christians. While assimilationists were not a rarity, it is harder to identify conquistadors who identified with the Indians.
“Duran, or the Hybridization of Cultures”
The case of Diego Duran is of particular interest because although he was born in Spain, he lived in Mexico from the age of about six onward. Because of this he developed a particular understanding of Indian culture. He decided that the conversion of the Indians to Christianity would take extensive knowledge of their pagan religion in order to root it out completely. He criticized the evangelical priests at the time for not knowing enough about the idolatry of the Indians. Many of them did not even know the language and therefore could not learn anything about the Indian religion. Duran was disgusted that the Indians tried to integrate elements of their religion into the practices of Christianity. Duran refused to burn the books of the Indians and criticized those that did because he wanted to know all of their practices in order to be sure that they were not integrating them in Christianity. His attitude toward religious conversion was common for the Dominicans, of which he was one, who saw conversion as rigid, total, and pure. They did not allow for any mixing of religious practices.
Ironically, while Duran was busy making sure that the “pagan” Indians did not try to integrate their practices into Christianity, he noticed that many of their holidays and feasts were very similar. Therefore Duran decided that the Indians could actually go on obeying their ancient religion, as it was so similar to Christianity. He could think of only two explanations for the similarity. The first and preferred reason was that the Indians had already accepted Christianity from some other people before the Spanish arrived. The other possible explanation was that the devil forced the Indians to imitate the practices of Christians for the service of the devil. He decided that it was the former explanation that was correct and found himself relating to the Indians more because of it. “The confrontation he represents between the Indian civilization and the European civilization makes him the most accomplished cultural hybrid of the sixteenth century” (p.210).
The position of Duran as somewhat within Indian society allows him to experience the period after the conquest in a unique way. He was more aware than many of the Spaniards of the inner divisions among the Indians. While some Indians wanted to make peace with the Spaniards, others wanted war. He position allowed him to understand both the Indian culture and the Spaniard culture more in depth. He participated in various Indian practices, rather than merely observing them as a total outsider. He looked deeper into the Indians actions, religion, and thoughts than most other Spaniards and he sought out their motivation and reasoning for their actions. Duran's cultural hybridization was particularly obvious in his writings of the Aztec, because although at the beginning of his writings he drew a line between Spanish and Indian culture and society with himself acting as a intermediary for the Spanish, as his writing continued the line was no longer drawn and he wrote as a narrator from within Indian society. Duran was not in the position of Spaniard or Indian. “He is that being who permits the transition from one to the other, and is himself the most remarkable of his own works” (p.214). The history that Duran developed of the conquest differed from both the Aztec and the Spanish accounts.
Duran's unique position created a very strange relationship with the Indians. He regarded the Indians neither as noble savages nor brutes, but he was not clear as to how to reconcile what he thought of them. In knowing them better than most of the Spaniards did, he was unable to pin one identity too them. In the end, he did not make up his mind in terms of what he though of them and remained ambivalent toward them.
“Sahagun and His Work”
Sahagan was a Spanish teacher and writer who went to Mexico and learned Nahuatl, the language of the natives. That was very unusual being that it is usually the conquered that learn the language of the conqueror, and not the other way around. He was a Franciscan and it was the Franciscans that first started learning the languages of those that were being subjugated by the Spanish. Although the primary purpose of learning the language was to propagate the Christian religion, it was more meaningful than just that. It was a process in which the Spanish were able to begin to identity with the natives.
The learning of Nahuatl allowed the Franciscans to eventually open a school for the Mexican elite to teach them Latin grammar. The teaching and learning of languages became a reciprocal act in which both native and Spaniard learned from one another. This worried many of the Spaniards, who feared losing dominance and control through the sharing of language, knowledge, and culture. “Language has always been the companion of empire; the Spaniards fear that in losing supremacy over the former realm, they may lose it over the latter as well” (p.221).
Sahagun was also very involved in writing. This endeavor also allowed him to increase the knowledge and understanding of language and cultures both ways. He acted as an intermediary between the two cultures, writing books that either described Christianity for the natives or described native culture for the Spaniards. He used his writings for the purpose of evangelizing to a great extent. However, that goal was not solitary. He also was motivated by the desire to know and preserve the Nahuatl culture. He conducted a very large project in which he worked to create a book, which ended up more the size of an encyclopedia, about the spiritual and material life of the Aztecs before the conquest.
The comparison of Duran and Sahagun is useful in determining their relationships with the Other. While Sahagun was more faithful to the Indians' discourse, Duran was closer to the Indians themselves and he understood them better. However, it would be naïve to think that similarities between the two did not exist, or that these descriptions of them are somehow pure. While Sahagun did want to record the history of the natives, he did not do so without his imprint being left on it. His writings were strongly determined by his identity, as opposed to solely the identity of his informants. The knowledge that Sahagun obtained from the native peoples was filtered through his Western thought process. For example, Sahagun used a questionnaire to gain information from the natives. “Not only did the questionnaire impose a European organization American knowledge, and sometimes keep the relevant information from passing through, they also determined the themes to be treated, by excluding certain others” (p.233).
Through his investigation of the native culture Sahagun concluded that on the whole the project of Christianization brought more harm than good, “and that it would have been better if it had not taken place at all” (p.238). His work was condemned by Spanish authorities for his attack on the project of colonization and Christianization. His writings demonstrated his interactions with the two cultures because while he remained devotedly Christian, he could not ignore the horrendous effects that Christianization was having on the native people and he did not want it to continue. He occupied a specific position in terms of behavior because although he never renounced his culture or beliefs, he learned the other's language and culture in depth and ended up sharing certain values with those who were the Other at the start of his project.
“Las Casas' Prophesy”
Las Casas, in his disgust from the atrocities of the conquest of America, established the collective responsibility of all Spaniards for the rest of time. He announced that “the crime will be punished, and the sin will be expiated” (p.245).
It is important to note that while Las Casas prophesizes specifically for Spain, he condemnation should also then fall upon Western Europe including Portugal, France, England, Holland, Belgium, Italy, and Germany.
The question then is whether the prophecy has come true for Western Europe. While slavery as been abolished for hundreds of years, and old-style colonialism has been gone for about twenty years, it seems that people in the countries of the past colonial powers are sometimes attacked in acts of revenge for their part in the collective responsibility for the atrocities. These small acts however, will never amount to righting the crimes perpetrated against colonies. Because of this, even if the colonized could become the colonizers in some sort of “sweet revenge” this should not be the ideal.
People are social animals, and as such we need to discover the other. The purpose of the stories of the conquest of America was to present the truth of atrocities that occurred and the different spectrums of perceptions people had in knowing and discovering the other. For some the other was completely detached and separated from the self, and for some the other was a subject similar to “I” but not the same. Of course there were made shades of difference between those two identifications with the other.
It seems that the period of European history in which Western civilization believes so naively in its' superiority is coming to and end. “We want equality without it's compelling us to accept identity; but also difference without it's degenerating into superiority/inferiority” (p.249).