A response to Genocide by Any Other Name...:
>> The first Europeans who came to this country did not know there was anyone here. When I go to a house I pretty much know it is someone's. <<
C'mon, Matt. Columbus met Taino Indians on the first island he set foot on. His response was to declare the island the property of Spain. He did this because his irrational and untenable worldview told him anyone who wasn't European was a non-person.
Early in this debate, someone wondered if the Aztecs or Incas would've conquered the Europeans if their positions had been reversed. Well, we can surmise the answer from the historical evidence. When Native people met Europeans for the first time, they regarded them as guests...curiosities...marvels...even gods. They didn't regard them as non-persons.
Different worldviews, different outcomes. The evidence on this point seems clear to me.
>> I wonder if the Europeans would have even considered displacement of the indigenous people. <<
Considering the number of times the Europeans did displace the Natives—for instance, by declaring them and their belongings the property of Spain—I'd say the answer is yes.
Followup from another correspondent
>> It's hard NOT to know that the land belongs to someone else when you are greeted on the shore by the people who live there. And this was the majority experience of the explorers when they arrived. <<
Exactly, Anuh. Some experts estimate that the population of the Americas was 100 million in 1492. That's a lot of people to overlook.
To extend your point even further, consider this quote from Through Indian Eyes:
When Fray Marcos learned of Esteban's fate [killed by the Zuni Indians in 1539], he prudently changed his plans to visit Hawikuh and instead ascended a hill nearby. Looking down, he saw what he wanted to see: not a muddy village, but a magnificent town....Claiming the region for Spain, he made haste to Mexico City to deliver his breathless report to the viceroy.
Let's examine this a minute. Before arriving at Zuni, Fray Marcos presumably passed through uninhabited land. He didn't claim that land because it was worthless to him. Only when he saw people and buildings—both of which he considered assets—did he claim the region for his masters. Repeat: Upon first seeing what he considered savage or subhuman people, he declared those people and their possessions the property of Spain.
Columbus did the same thing at his first landfall. If he had reached China, he presumably wouldn't have claimed China as a Spanish possession. Why not? Because Europeans had a vague understanding that the Chinese were civilized—or at least powerful enough to defend their kingdom. But when Columbus realized he was dealing with "uncivilized" Natives, he immediately declared them Spain's property.
How much clearer insight into the European mindset does anyone need? The invaders weren't commandeering uninhabited land, they were commandeering inhabited land—to gain the people's riches and souls. The evidence makes it crystal clear they deliberately set out to conquer, not simply to occupy:
"Tell [the Indians] that they should not be afraid, but acknowledge God, our Lord, Who is in Heaven, and the emperor, as he has been placed on earth by His hand to rule and govern it."
Instructions written by Antonio de Mendoza, viceroy of Mexico, to Fray Marcos de Niza, 1537
Although no material evidence had been produced to indicate the extent of the riches that might be gained, there could be no doubt that a vast unclaimed country awaited a conqueror. The prospect of bringing it under the jurisdiction of Spain was inspiring. Nothing could be more pleasant than to think about taking possession of new lands and acquiring treasures for the crown. And it was, after all, his duty to take every opportunity to increase as well as preserve the royal estate.
Summation of Mendoza's position in Pueblos, Gods and Spaniards, pg. 46
The highest officials of the Spanish government were fully informed of the exciting tales about the country of the Pueblos that were circulating throughout New Spain. Communications from provincial authorities supported the optimistic opinions of frontier residents and priests that settlement and development of the north would not only return fortunes to the Spanish treasury but would bring countless thousands of heathens into the Catholic faith.
Situation following Antonio de Espejo's report to the crown, 1583, as described in Pueblos, Gods and Spaniards, pg. 168
The document granted Oñate the authority "to carry out the discovery, pacification, and conquest of the provinces of New Mexico."
Oñate was authorized "to distribute among the soldiers, conquerors, and settlers who may go on the said expedition...pueblos and vassals" as he deemed proper, and these encomiendas, these gifts of Indian towns, farmlands, water rights, and grazing ranges, were to be enjoyed by the recipients and their heirs for four generations.
Oñate was given the authority "to levy the tributes which the Indians will have to give, according to the fruits of their land."
For his own private estate in New Mexico, Oñate could appropriate thirty square leagues of land (more than 150,000 acres), "wherever I shall select, including all the subjects who may live within the said territory. If any pueblo which is a capital should fall within these boundaries, it shall be understood that the other pueblos under the said capital, even if they should fall outside the thirty leagues, shall be added to my repartimiento, including the lands, pastures, waters, and woods of the districts where the said subjects may happen to be."
Written agreement between Luis de Velasco, viceroy of Mexico, and Juan de Oñate, soon-to-be governor of New Mexico, 1595—as excerpted in Pueblos, Gods and Spaniards
After the Spanish, the English and the Americans practiced similar policies: breaking treaties, taking Indian land, leaving the Indians sick and hungry. I believe these policies were particular to the Christian-based European worldview. Ever since the Greeks and Romans decided they were the chosen ones, Europeans have proclaimed it their destiny to dominate other people.
Sure, Native people sometimes fought wars, conquered territory, and took captives (on a much smaller scale than Europeans did). But did Natives believe they had a God-given right to subjugate a land and its people? Hell, no. For the most part, they didn't even have the concept of owning land.
So...Europeans had the advantage because of their guns, germs, and steel. Unlike others in a similar position, they used those advantages to conquer because they believed in their God-given destiny.
. . .
All material © copyright its original owners, except where noted.
Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.
Copyrighted material is posted under the Fair Use provision of the Copyright Act,
which allows copying for nonprofit educational uses including criticism and commentary.
Comments sent to the publisher become the property of Blue Corn Comics
and may be used in other postings without permission.