To Laugh or Weep

De Las Casas

July 6, 2011

Twenty-one years after the writing of the Inter Caetera papal bull, the expansionist mindset of Spain is in full swing.  Spanish jurist Palacios Rubios writes the infamous Requirimiento (the Requirement) which provides Spanish “legal authority to wage a ‘Just War’ against indigenous nations and peoples.”

When Spanish conquistadores found a “new” land, the priests who sailed with them stood at the edge of a village and read the Requirimiento which “describes what would happen if they decided to accept:

If you do so, you will do well, and that which you are obliged to do to their highnesses [acknowledge yourselves as their subjects and vassals], and we in their name shall receive you in all love and charity, and shall leave you your wives, and your children, and your lands, free without servitude…

The consequences of resistance should the village decide not to accept these conditions, continued the priest,

But, if you do not do this, and maliciously make delay in it, I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their Highnesses; we shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make salves of them… and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their Highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us.

Obviously, since the reading of the Requirimiento was in either Latin or Spanish, Indians were unable to understand the priest, and unable to accept the conditions of the Requirimiento (should they have wanted), which required the conquistadors to enter the village and dispose of the villagers as the Requirimiento stated.  “On reading the Requirimiento, the great Indian advocate Bartolomé de Las Casas said that he ‘could not decide whether to laugh or weep.’”

© David B. Bell 2011

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