The Conquest of Latin America

Topics: Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Americas, Europe Pages: 10 (2911 words) Published: February 4, 2013


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The Conquest of Latin America: Europe and the External Other It has taken a long time to realise how the respective peoples perceived the encounter between people from Europe and people from Latin America. Enrique DUSSEL describes the process of encounter between the European conquistadores and the indigenous people of the Americas from a European point of view in six forms: Invention, Discovery, Conquest, Colonisation, Spiritual Conquest, and Extermination. For the indigenous people of Central and South America, this process is seen in five forms: Parusia of Gods, Invasion, Resistance, End of Time, and the Age of the Sixth Sun. the imagination of the Renaissance European people. COLÓN opened the way officially and politically to ‘Asia.’ The characteristic European approach to the Other is a result of this. COLÓN, and accordingly the people of Western Europe, did not recognise those people they met as independent and unknown to them. The indigenous American people were seen as objects of European evangelisation and dependent upon Europeans to gain a history and an identity — in this case, that of a Hindu from India — who could not and were not expected to make contributions of any kind.

After the “Invention” of America, the “Discovery” was begun by VESPUCCI. Returning from his voyages to Brazil, he slowly realised that he in fact did not reach a fourth Asian continent, but rather a ‘New World.’ These areas are seen as a new part of the world — the old world being Europe. The known world is defined as the centre, from which the rest is defined. To ‘discover’ implies that the Europeans accept that they are confronted with something previously unknown.

DUSSEL gives an impressive account of the historical process from the first arrival of Cristóbal COLÓN (COLUMBUS) on the American continent to the near-complete destruction of the indigenous culture there. The uncovering of this part of history is made more difficult by the fact that Spain and Portugal, the leading European countries at this time, were themselves later pushed to the periphery of European history. This was mainly because their economy did not manage to progress from the mercantile to the capitalist stage early enough. It is exactly the Eurocentrism of the whole of European philosophy and the humanities that is responsible for the ignorance in regard to other continents and the distorted perception of the Other in history up to the present time. This Eurocentrism is all the more surprising since up to the conquest of the ‘New World,’ Europe had an undeniably peripheral position in the world’s history, and it is from the Enlightenment that Western Europe projects back its role into history and thereby describes everything from a position of European dominance. In the 1490’s, Western Europe expanded towards the Atlantic West after being continuously blocked by the Islamic empires in the East. It was only at the peripheries that Europe could expand: Christian Orthodox Moscow to the East, reaching the Pacific in the XVIIth century; and the Hispanic Christendom of Portugal and Spain to the West, across the Atlantic. The people of the Western European margins managed to adjust to this hegemonic power in their process of expansion, the starting point of which is the conquest of America.

Whereas these two forms of encounter were primarily theoretical and aesthetic, indicating a change in reflection on the experience, it soon became a physical encounter that was both a political and military one. Hernán CORTÉS exemplifies this next form of encounter, which was the Conquest. After the lands were geographically acknowledged, the Europeans went on to control them physically — that is, to control the bodies and persons. After previously encountering only villages and simple agrarian cultures, the...
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