This source material is short book published around 1552, in Spain by Bartolome de la Casas, a priest who travelled with Columbus on one of his voyages to the Americas .It is fierce critic of Spanish colonial policy towards the indigenous population .It was written to persuade the king of Spain to end the terrible atrocities being committed in his name.Las Casas can be seen as the first of a small number people who voiced anti colonial sentiments. The work has been written to shock.
All the areas he visited contained substantial numbers of Indians. He gives us accurate description of the land, flora and fauna and the fertility of the land and diverse variety of people.
He describes the locals as simple people, submissive, innocent, and non violent, obedient, they live a simple life and are physically not strong and not used to hard labor.He describes how the locals are unaware of any dangerous consequences of the Spanish among them, who they regarded as being sent by God
La casas believes the conquer of the new world has very little to do with civilizing the savages or religious converstions.La casas shows that the Spanish on landing established a pattern of terrorizing and persecuting the local population. On the island of Hispaniola he gives a figure of 3 million reduced to a few hundreds. The islands of Cuba, Bahamas Jamaica and Puerto Rico become depopulated, despite these regions being very fertile. Many people of these islands according to la cases were expatriated to the island of Hispaniola due to losses among the local Indian population there ,this suggest large numbers were dying, we can speculate some killed, run away or died of diseases.To replenish the labourers lost the Spanish were having to invade more land to acquire new slaves
La casas gives a figure of 12 million loss of life among the Indian population, although according to him it nearer 15m.Again we do not know how he has arrived at these figures. He suggests two ways in which the population has been decimated (1) by an unjust war on the population and murdering anyone who resists Spanish rule.
We know this is not true, most died of new world diseases.
The reason for the violence he gives is pure greed on part of the Spanish, low ranking Spanish want to acquire gold and silver through pillage and plunder, so that they can go back home and improve their status among their community.
Once the Spanish had settled into the community, they used local women for sex and as servants. They took food from the locals. Some started concealing food, others would run away into the forests and hide, including the local leaders. This infuriated the Spanish, who brutalized the locals so that they could find where the local leaders were hiding. This suggests that the Spanish needed local leaders in order to control the local population, or carry out duties which the Spanish wanted.
Serious resistance to the Spanish began when wife of the paramount chief was raped, then the locals took to fighting the Spanish, their weapons were no match for the Spanish who killed local’s in great numbers. From this we can deduce, the paramount chief was a very important person in the local community, commanded respect from other chiefs in the region. Here we can see the outline of a vast empire within which there is social order of nobles, chiefs, peasants and warriors. Local leaders were deliberately targeted and tortured and killed by being grilled over fire.
La casas personally witnessed some of these events,. The policy of killing local leaders one can assume is to terrorize the local population into submission or to destroy the physical and social structures of the empire.
La Casas describes 5 kingdoms each with a leader dominated by the chief king of Ciabo plus lower nobles who swear allegiance to the chief king of the Indians, who gives regular gifts of gold to the king of Spain, as gold supply declined the king offers fertile land for cultivation as they do not know how to mine for gold, this suggest most of the gold was collected is above ground. Here we see an imperial structure of kingdoms dominated by an Emperor. La casas gets to meet the chief king (we do not know what was discussed) who has 16000 armed soldiers at his disposal which he did not use against the Spanish.Why not?
When the Spanish landed they were unaware they had come upon an empire, with many kingdoms, with different cultures and religions and languages, a varied people, with trade and social and cultural links with different communities in the area
The locals thought the Spanish had been sent from heaven, as predicted by their faith, as a consequence they did not resist the Spanish at the beginning. Only when the Spanish committed horrendous brutality did they begin to resist, by this time there already was considerable destruction of the people and the lands.
La Cases gives us very little information what the Indians thought of the whole situation, over emphasis on violence gives us limited understanding of Spanish Colonial administrative rule. Since La Cases only visited the Americas once ,we have very little evidence from other sources to verify the claims made above, as the Spanish are portrayed as brutal, we know that considerable trade existed between the Spanish and the locals, such as the regular gift of gold from the King of Ciabo to the King of Spain. This gift of gold must have been formally agreed, either written or verbal, so there must have been some mutual understanding, which is not reflected in La Cases account. Despite this we can see the destruction of an empire at the hands of the Spanish.