Bartolomé de las Casas was a Spanish historian and a social reformer who was writing in the 16th century, during the time of the Spanish occupation of the Indies. In A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, Casas provides a scathing commentary on the cruelty exercised by the Spanish colonizers on the natives of Hispaniola—as well as explain the aims that motivated this behavior. The account acts as not only an observation on the practices of the colonizers, but is also a reflection of the imperial policies of the Spanish Empire. Through writing A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, Casas aims at bringing the Spanish Crown’s attention to the atrocities committed by the citizens of the empire on the natives. In keeping with that aim, he utilizes a rhetoric that seeks to arouse the sympathy of his readers towards the natives and a sense of horror over how they are being treated. Right from the beginning of the account, in the preface, he paints an image of the natives as being simple, and harmless. He describes them as, “the simplest people in the world…they are without malice or guilt…never quarrelsome or belligerent or boisterous, they harbour no grudges…indeed the notions of revenge, rancour and hatred are quite foreign to them”. In contrast to that, he describes the Spaniards as “ravening wolves” who fell upon the natives like “tigers or savage lions who had not eaten meat for days .“ Casas sets up a comparison between the helplessness of the natives and the savagery of the Spaniards, and this comparison holds throughout the document. Examples of this comparison are in the frequent accounts he gives of the before and after native population levels once the Spanish occupy an area—“when the Spanish first journeyed here, the indigenous population of the island of Hispaniola stood at some three million; today only two hundred survive” or “not a living soul remains today on any of the islands of the Bahamas.” Casas uses concrete numbers in...
Cited: Bartolomé de las Casas, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, trans. Nigel Griffin (London: Penguin Classics, 2004), 9-37.
Bartolomé de las Casas, “Bartolomé de las Casas,” in Norton Anthology of American Literature, ed. Nina Bayme and Robert S. Levine. (New York: WW Norton & Co, 2012), 38.
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