Bartolomeo de las Casas
Bartolome de las Casas, (1474-1566), was not only a Dominican friar but also a writer and human rights activist; he was also among the most significant spiritual figures of the Spanish region in the 16th century. As indicated by MacNutt (p. 41), Bartolome de las Casas is one of the most famous people to go down in history due to the significant role that he played in revealing and expressing disapproval of the manner in which native Americans were perceived and treated by the Spanish from the new world who had subjugated them. According to Wynter (1984, p. 26), after Spain had subjugated the inhabitants of the New World, it asserted its energies into coming up with a suitable policy, the enomienda, to govern them. Master (p. 92) reveals that at this time La Casa was a Bishop in Chiapas State of Mexico. La casa dedicated a lot of time trying to reveal the injustices that were meted out on the American natives under the named framework of governance. In addition to this, Friede (1974) purports that La Casa was determined to make the Spanish colonialists understand that their duty to Christianize the Americas did not necessitate the denial of Native American’s sovereignty, liberties and freedom to own property. The literary works by Bartolome de las Casas were often typified by exaggerated accounts and very expressive as Bartolome de las Casas used captivating language that aroused the emotions of his audience. Despite the popularity he enjoys in the contemporary day, in his time Bartolome de las Casas was not only disapproved of but also perceived to be a danger to the rule of the Spanish people in America. Despite the fact that it is more than half a millennium since the demise of Bartolome de las Casas, his works are still studied and analyzed in different fields of study, particularly history (Boruchoff, p. 497).
Brading (p. 117) points out that it was in the year 1474 that Bartolome de las Casas was born in Seville to his father, Pedro de Las Casas. This was a time in which Spain was very active in its activities of exploration. In his initial educational processes, La Casas studied using the trilingual curriculum that characterized the educational system in Seville at the time; the three languages with which he studied humanities, grammar, arithmetic, astronomy, geometry and music were Latin, Hebrew and Greek. On the 31st of March the year 1493, Christopher Columbus came back to Seville from his first expedition of the New World. A short while later, on the 25th of September the same year, Colombus embarked on his second expedition. This time round, La Casas father and uncle named Fransisco de Penalosa accompanied Colombus. La Casas father came back in the year 1494 with a Taimo Indian slave who was given to Bartolome de las Casas until the year 1500 when he was returned to his native home (McNutt, p. 41). In the years before 1498 La Casas went for higher education at Salamanca University where he studied theology. Despite the fact that he studied theology, during his younger years there was little, if any, sign of La Casas becoming the zealous human right activist that he was to become later in his life. La Casas was to then travel to the carribean in the company of 2,500 men and women whose intentions were to settle permanently in the Carribean. La Casas was in the good graces of the governor of Hispaniola who he encountered as a consequence of this voyage; Hispaniola is the modern day Dominican Republic and Haiti. The governor allowed Bartolome de las Casas a piece of land as well as 100 natives to serve him. Nevertheless, Bartolome de las Casas came back to Spain in the year 1507 (Friede, 1974).
Upon his return to Spain, Boruchoff (p. 498) claims that Bartolome de las Casas travelled to Italy in Rome where he joined the priesthood and was ordained as priest by the Don Alonso Manso, Bishop of Puerto Rico, by the year 1512. Vested with the duty of being Chaplain to the Spanish expedition, Bartolome de las Casas disembarked in Cuba where he witnessed the colonization of Cuba. After the successful conquest of Cuba, Bartolome de las Casas was even granted a parcel of land alongside Pedro de Renteria. During the colonization and subjugation of Cuba Bartolome de las Casas witnessed first hand the manner in which the natives were inhumanely treated. In the year 1914, after seeing the manner in which the Native Americans were vindictively butchered by the Spanish, Bartolome de las Casas gave up his land and the wealth that he had accumulated so far so as to commit himself entirely to the condemnation of the Spanish colony treatment of the natives. According to Brading (p. 119), La Casas dedicated his entire life into alleviating the anguish of the Native Americas and converting them to Christianity. In the year 1521, a Roman Empire Charles the 5th, also Charles the 1st of Spain, issued a decree which authorized Bartolome de las Casas to arrange for and carry out peaceful colonization and Christian indoctrination processes in Venezuela at a place referred to as Cumana. Bartolome de las Casas efforts were demeaned by disruptors who interfered and caused aggression meted out put against the natives. This greatly dampened the spirit of Bartolome de las Casas and he decided to return to Spain where he would dedicate his time into writing down documentations campaigning for the human rights of the Native Americans under the subjugation of the Spaniards (Tierney, p. 272).
In the year 1523 Bartolome de las Casas became a member of the Dominicans and avoided any form of confrontations with the Spanish colonizers due to their colonial policies. After joining the Dominicans in the year 1523 Bartolome de las Casas was in a process of introspection which allowed him to recover from his past failures and rejuvenate his energy in the campaign for the rights of Native Americans. It was at this time that he began writing his most impressive pieces of work. Barding (p. 124) claims that the 1530’s witnessed Bartolome de las Casas become active in the Spaniard colonization policies; he even embarked on journeys to places like Guatemala, Peru, Darien, Venuzuela and New Granada so as to scrutinize the colonial activities and their effects on the Natives. Due to Bartolome de las Casas’ presupposition that the governing councils as well as the royal family in Spain were not conscious of the ills that were perpetrated in their names by the Spanish colonizers, Boruchoff (p. 500) purports that Bartolome de las Casas took it upon himself to document and disseminate information regarding the same to then in forms of treaties, petitions and proclamations pressing for a reconstruction of the colonial policies by Spain. In the year 1543, Bartolome de las Casas was ordained as the Bishop of Chiapas in Mexico, a position he held up until the year 1549 when he made his comeback to Spain.
The cultural legacy left by La Casas as well as his importance to Mexico is evident in the number of tributes that are paid to La Casas in Mexico. In the year 1848, for example, the capital city of the Chiapas Mexican state was transformed to San Cristobal de Las Casa from Ciudad de San Cristobal, as a special tribute to its first Bishop, Bartolome de Las Casas. In the year 2000, the Roman Catholic Church commenced on the sets of procedures that would lead to the beatification of Bartolome de Las Casas. Dumont (1997) claims that the first complete piece of writing by La Casas was the Historia de las Indias estimated to have been written in the year 1527. In this piece of writing La Casa traced in detail the invasions and conquests by Europe in the New World from 1492 to 1520. In this piece of writing, La Casas went out of his way to describe why the Native Americans were equal to Europeans despite their discrepant cultural orientations. In the year 1552 La Casas wrote the Apología [In Defense of the Indians] as well as the Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias [The Devastation of the Indies: A Brief Account]. Emilio (p. 21) points out that the doctrines of La Casas as indicated in his work greatly affected the perception of human rights in Mexico. La Casas argued that every human being has natural rights that require that their basic needs and requirements be satisfied. This was a very important contribution by La Casas due to the fact that natural law is the genesis of the International and positive laws. While the positive laws refer to those that are used to administer to people in a certain community, the international law refers to that which is agreed upon by several nations in the international arena to be used to govern their associations with each other (Tierney, p. 272).
Bartolome de las Casas was greatly criticized during hit time. As a matter of fact, Catro (2007) claims that numerous citizens of Spain as well as serving officials in the Spanish government branded La Casas an over-enthusiastic conspirator who deserved to be not only publicly punished for his activities, but also to have his writing prohibited. Nevertheless, Dumont (1997) points out that such negativity and cynicism back at home did little to prevent the impacts that La Casas and his writings had on the political institution existent during his time. Master (p. 92) points out that in the year 1573, for example, Bartolome de las Casas defense in Valladolid was very instrumental in determining the decision by Phillip the 2nd to control the manner in which aggression and military force would be utilized in the acquisition of new conquests. By the end of the 16th century, many nations such as France, Italy, Great Britain, Germany, Netherlands and the United States of America made use of Bartolome de las Casas’ Brief Account as the basis of propaganda directed in opposition of the Spanish. As a matter of fact, during the War between the Spanish and Americans, the An Historical and True Account of the Cruel Massacre and Slaughter of 20,000,000 People in the West Indies by the Spaniards documentation was printed in the American state of New York for purposes of stimulating unfavorable sentiments about the Spaniards occupying Cuba (Castro, 2007).
Tuck (p. 2) claims that contrary to a widespread common belief, the liberalization of theology did not commence with Bishop Ruiz or the Berrigan brothers, Rather it began in the 15th -16th century by Bartolome Las Casas. According to Emilio (p. 19) there are a number of ways in which the works of Bartolome de las Casas have been important to Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular. La Casa claimed that any Christian evangelist who intends to spread the gospel and induce their audience into accepting Christianity ought to first of all win over their audience’s minds. This can only be done by the evangelist being very attentive, compassionate and unassuming as indicated in the tone of voice and body expressions that they demonstrate. By portraying body expressions that imply meekness and gentleness, a Christian evangelist is able to win over their audience and Christianize them. According to Emilio (p. 19), Bartolome de las Casas agreed that the Spanish Christians had a right to trade, and exchange ideas and culture as well as religion, but in a peaceful manner. But rather than use aggression on the Native Americans, Huerga (2002) asserts that La Casas argued that rather than make use of force and aggression to rid the natives of their religion and barbaric practices such as cannibalism and the sacrificing of human beings, it was more efficient to Christianize them in a kind and understanding manner. This was because of La Casas conviction that meting out violence on the Native Americans would only cause them to hate the Christian religion and consequently they would reject the gospel. In order for a Christian preacher to play their role effectively, they have to possess great oratory and rhetoric skills so as to be persuasive enough while at the same time making the gospel very attractive to the unbelievers (Emilio, p. 18).
According to Emilio (p. 20) indicates that in order to detach Christianity from the taxation that was imposed the natives and increase the gospel’s legitimacy, La Casas came up with five main features of the best technique to preach the Christian gospel. The first part is that the Christian, in their spreading of the Gospel, must make sure that their audience of unbelievers is ware of the fact that the preacher does not intent to wield any power or control over them through the preaching that they are exposed to. Brading (p. 117) claims that according to La Casa, after making sure that their audience understand that the evangelist is not trying to control them, the second part is to make sure that the unbelievers, particularly the infidels, do not feel that the sole purpose of the preacher is to Christianize or change them from their religions and cultural beliefs. Such a feeling would cause the unbelievers to withdraw or develop a negative attitude (Huerga, 2002). The third part which is very important in the preaching of the gospel is for the preacher to be very attentive, considerate, humble, gentle and friendly in their interactions with the unbelievers. The fourth part in the spreading of the gospel for any Christian, particularly the Catholic, is that the evangelists have to be very charitable and patient with the unbelievers. Bartolome de las Casas argued that in a similar manner to the apostles in the early church, the evangelist must be able to welcome all the unbelievers in a kind manner without judging or condemning them for their past mistakes or lifestyles. The fifth and last requirement in the effective spreading of the gospel according to Bartolome de las Casas as indicated in Emilio (p. 20) is that the evangelist must teach by example though the blameless and holy lives that they live.
As indicated in this paper, Fray Bartolome de Las Casa (1474-1566), as he was commonly referred to, was born in Seville in the year 1474 to his father, Pedro de Las Casas. Bartolome de Las Casa was one of the people in history who contributed greatly to the human rights framework as it is known in the modern day. This is due to the fact that La Casas committed himself to campaigning for the rights of the Native Americans who were under the subjugation of their Spanish colonizers in the New World. By defending the Indians in the Americas, La Casas was in real sense advocating for the rights of all the human beings under different forms of oppression in different parts of the world. La Casas was also very impactful in the Christian religion. In order to detach Christianity from the taxation that was imposed the natives and increase the gospel’s legitimacy, La Casas came up with five main features of the best technique to preach the Christian gospel. La Casa was also very influential in the human rights debate since he argued that every human being has the right to justice, freedom, preservation of their culture, dignity and the right to own property and land. This however, does not mean that the person of Bartolome de las Casas was without controversy; as a matter of fact, he was one of the most controversial figures of the 16th century, particularly in Spain. For many a government officials in Spain colonies at this time, La Casas was a constant irritant perceived to be a traitor and whose ‘unpatriotic’ activities played a great role in fueling the Black legend in opposition of Spain.
Boruchoff, David A. (2008), Another Face of Empire: Bartolomé de las Casas, Indigenous Rights, and Ecclesiastical Imperialism (review), Early American Literature 43 (2), pp. 497–504
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Castro, D., (2007), Another face of Empire: Bartolome de Las Casas Indigenous Rights and Ecclesiastical Imperialism, Duke: University Press
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Huerga, A., (2002), Bartolome de Las Casas in Puerto Rico, Ponce, PR: Pontificia Catholic University of Puerto Rico
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Tuck, Jim, (2008), Bartolome de las Casas: Father of Liberation Theology, http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/258-bartolome-de-las-casas-father-of-liberation-theology [Accessed on 25th February 2013]
Wynter, Sylvia, (1984), New Seville and the Conversion Experience of Bartolomé de Las Casas: Part One, Jamaica Journal 17 (2), pp. 25–32