It could be argued that metaphorical movement has always been the nemesis of analogical order. But in the very real space of early American coloniality this would explain little. Las Casas saw in this new heresy disturbing structural parallels with the old Moorish threat. Derived from moro,10 the term was originally used, as it is still, to describe a black horse.
In the sixteenth century moreno became the general term used to refer to blacks and mulattoes alike,11 or to those whom Girolamo Benzoni called the Mori di Guinea,12 the Moors of Guinea and their descendants. The transition from Moro to moreno, however, was less factitious than it may seem, and it was not the product of a transmutation that took place during the Atlantic crossing. Peter Boyd-Bowman estimates that from to , Through this royal concession the city beside the Guadalquivir River became the center of the rapidly expanding Habsburg commercial empire and the principal stage of what is often referred to as the Golden Age of Spanish civilization.
At least initially, the promotion of Seville to the position of gateway to the Indies did not result in a population explosion. But not everyone was going to Seville in search of the treasures of the Indies. For others Seville held the promise of a new life in the Indies if they were lucky and skillful enough to elude the authorities and obtain passage. The great majority of these people were married and arrived with their children,18 joining a dwindling population of Sevillian moriscos and swelling the ranks of the outcasts, among which there were many Gypsies, who together with the moriscos and the conversos were thought to be ultimately inassimilable into Castilian society.
More than any other neighborhood in the city, Triana was where the great majority of the sailors of the Carrera de Indias, or Route to the Indies, were recruited. It seems that by the moriscos of Seville were concentrated in two very distinct and separate areas of the city. On the one side of the city, the moriscos residing behind San Marcos lived literally up against a wall, having retreated or been relegated to the districts that were farthest away from the centers of power and from the most important economic areas of the city.
On the opposite side of the city, more than one-third of all moriscos lived in the vicinity of the mercantile center and the harbor. They were at the threshold of the door to the Indies, on what could have been to some of them the last step in a voyage of no return that would grant them the possibility of starting life anew, far away from Spain and from Christianity. The majority in both cases were above the age of twenty and under that of sixty. No doubt, as a poor and marginalized people they were more susceptible to epidemics than other groups. When considering the morisco contribution to the colonization and settlement of the Indies it is even more important to take into account the much larger number of people who were not counted as moriscos but who were thoroughly amoriscados.
They formed the largest group among the peoples who went to Seville as part of the massive migration from the rural areas where, ever since the conquest of the city in the thirteenth century, the mudejars had been relegated as part of a clear policy to make Seville a predominantly Christian city. We have reports from several contemporary observers who lamented the fact, pointing with disgust to the corruption of the old Castilian pronunciation—a trademark of the city during the previous century—by the increasing use of Moorish speech patterns, most prevalent among which was the seseo, or pronouncing the 56 Contesting the Ideal c or z as an s.
Muley was the alleged leader of a morisco uprising that was being planned in Seville in Documents from the time reveal that he was regarded as a tagarino, as it was supposedly impossible to tell him apart from Old Christians on account of his good Castilian pronunciation. In addition, starting in the middle of the sixteenth century, anyone wishing to travel to the Indies legally had to prove purity of blood, a cumbersome procedure that required people to document that they were not the descendants of moriscos, conversos, or people condemned by the Inquisition for the past two generations.
In addition, enlisting as a soldier or seaman and deserting once on the other side of the ocean was the easiest way to circumvent the bureaucratic requirements, and it seems to have been the preferred way, well into the eighteenth century, for male immigrants who had neither the money nor the interest to purchase legal documents. In some years, the number of soldiers and seamen who deserted in the Indies surpassed the number of legal immigrants. Understandably, not too many questions were asked when volunteers came forward. But it should be noted that it was not at all uncommon to recruit them for such military purposes.
Pizarro, for one, is known to have taken some two hundred morisco soldiers to Peru. It conforms to the geometry of the eight-pointed star that was so characteristic of Islamic and Mudejar design. An entire world is contained in that medallion, a world that to its original owner must have seemed all but impossible to hold onto on account of the terrible reduction of the moriscos at the time. One of the clearest outward signs of this profound process of transculturation was the female custom of wearing a sort of almalafa, or Moorish veil that covered most of the face.
This custom was maintained until relatively recently by women in some of the oldest colonial cities of the New World. Every woman wore one, rich and poor, high and low, each looking exactly like the other. Disguised this way they went everywhere, to mass, to balls, to every public place. It is also, more than any other place, the most prominent and dramatic marker of the edge of town. Because of this, the guard post was infamous from the start. Once there, a strange feeling of precariousness overcomes the visitor, as one feels wedged between the tall escarpment and the mighty ocean and abandoned, experiencing a solitude that can be increased to the point of vertigo by the howling wind and the thundering waves.
One feels as if standing at the edge of the world, on a Caribbean Finisterre,43 facing the great unknown. Thus, in the story the name Flor de Azahar is a marker of Moorishness. Granted that the legend was embellished by Coll y Toste, its allure and the place of prominence it occupies within the Puerto Rican imaginary may be explained by the way it invokes the memory of the basic foundational elements of runaway culture, that is, the coming together of the Moor of Hispania and the morenos of the New World.
Foremost amongst these, as evidenced to this day in Puerto Rico and Cuba, was the custom of holding a communal pig roast on the most special occasions of the year. According to Quintero Rivera, this tradition was born out of the need to avoid persecution through a ritual simulacrum that was intended to demonstrate the Christianity and Spanishness of the members of the community.
Now one was Christian—Spanish—and it was important to show it. To this day the people of Cuba and Puerto Rico wait for the pig to roast while dancing to African rhythms and singing romances that are prefaced by melodic formulae that closely follow the patterns of old Andalusi music. There are, of course, no documented accounts of actual moriscos taking their songs with them up into the mountains of central Puerto Rico.
He was known to the Christians as Gonzalo de Guerrero, and the path he chose in the New World led some of his contemporaries to question his Christianity. Guerrero had been captured by the Mayans and had apparently adopted their ways, language, and religion, whereupon he was made a cacique, or lord, became a military leader among them, and married and had three children with a high-ranking Indian woman.
Asked by Aguilar to rejoin the Spaniards, Guerrero declined, arguing that he would never be understood and accepted by his former comrades, that in his assimilation into the Mayan culture he had, so to say, passed the point of no return. He treats Aguilar as a fellow Christian and tells him to go with God; however, he chooses to remain with the Mayans. Here was a man who chose to separate himself from the idea that Spaniards were creating of themselves as good Christians, an idea that was to be the basis of Spanish nationalism.
At the same time, Guerrero distanced himself from the Vitruvian-based ideal of the European body by mutilating his face and going with people judged to be incapable of reason or understanding. It is safe to assume that they must have been nothing but people of a vile cast and despicable heretics. There was thus, from the start of the colonial experience, a direct association between the Indian of the new contact zone, who was seen as incapable of reason, and the vile casts of the old.
Guerrero is said to have written, very appropriately on the back of the letter sent by Montejo, that he still remembered God and that he was still a friend of the Spaniards but that he would not go back because he was a slave and thus had no freedom to do as he pleased 64 Contesting the Ideal and that, besides, he was married and had children. This was indeed the tagarino way of saying no.
In the words of an old saying used to this day in the Spanish-speaking islands of the Caribbean to refer to those whose ingrained habits will never change: How many sailors were such turncoats? How many of them were truly men of the seas, people who had been cast out and who were in search of a new land? Guerrero, the most important renegade Spaniard reported to have jumped ship in the New World, would live as a Mayan until his death in battle at the hands of his former comrades in The term is even more problematic if we factor in the possibility that Guerrero could have been a neophyte and that, regardless of whether he was indeed of morisco origin, he was, as a result of his desertion, seen and condemned as such by his contemporaries.
Through this modality of mestizaje an alternate claim to the Indies had been put forth, one that contested both peninsular and nascent creole discourses of Indian possession. It is important, however, to distinguish between what I call the mestizos guerreros—the warring or runaway type, after Guerrero himself—and the mestizos conquistadores. The latter were the children of the Christian conquerors. By all accounts, the practice of mestizaje assumed vertiginous proportions within a few years of the initial contact.
When talking about the second half of the sixteenth century, when the conquest had proceeded south of Peru and over the Andes, we can hardly speak of native-born Spaniards per se. Juan de Garay founded Santa Fe 66 Contesting the Ideal Argentina in accompanied by seven Spanish-born settlers and sixty-nine settlers who where not Spaniards. We can suspect that many of these master builders, Contesting the Ideal 67 or alarifes from the Arabic al-ari, or knowledgeable one , were in fact of non-Christian origin, as were most of the masons and carpenters at the time in the regions of Extremadura and Andalusia, where Ovando recruited his men.
What is indisputable is that these people, and those like them who would follow, soon came to be an important group in the early colonial society of Santo Domingo.
Down there the night is darker and the stars shine brighter. The connections, however, are rather obvious, if only poorly documented and studied. It literally meant the person who inhabits or belongs to the frontier, and it was a term used by Christians to refer to those Andalusis who lived under Christian rule and who spoke both the Christian language s and Arabic so well that it was impossible to determine whether they were Muslims or Christians. When talking about the second half of the sixteenth century, when the conquest had proceeded south of Peru and over the Andes, we can hardly speak of native-born Spaniards per se. Amazon Prime Music Stream millions of songs, ad-free.
A document written two years after the expulsion decree of emphasized the importance of such skilled laborers to the welfare of the colony: First, we know that a number of these Berbers were in fact free and were employed and indispensable to the economic well-being of the colony. Second, many of them, free and slave, were already married and having children, thus contributing to the growth of the colonial population and displaying a certain commitment to the land. Third, there were still others who lived inland, away from the city—and from Spain—and thus closer to the internal frontiers of the colony.
They planned to stay, for they had no country to which to return. Though technically still the center of the colonial enterprise in the New World, Santo Domingo had virtually been abandoned. Nevertheless, the amount of construction that went on in the city during the second quarter of the century was impressive. This is why I deem it appropriate to name the entire period between and as the period of the alarifes. During this period the colony of Hispaniola experienced a slow recovery brought about through a change from mining to sugar cultivation and cattle raising as the main economic activities.
This, in turn, led to a dramatic change in the composition and distribution of the population, which increasingly became concentrated around the sugar mills—called ingenios or trapiches, depending on whether the mill mechanism was powered by water or animals— and was composed of Africans brought to the colonies to work as slaves. By the middle of the century there were some seventeen thousand people living in Hispaniola, twelve thousand of whom were slaves of African origin called bozales or their black or mulatto American descendants.
During the period of the alarifes a number of monumental structures had been built or come close to completion, including a fortress; the three church-monastery complexes of the Franciscan, Dominican, and the Our Lady of Mercy orders; the cathedral; the viceregal palace; the casas reales, or government houses; the cabildo, or city hall; the atarazanas, which was a shipping warehouse under the jurisdiction of the House of Trade; a jail; and the Hospital of Saint Nicholas of Bari, which was the twin of the monumental Hospital de la Santa Cruz in Toledo, Spain.
In addition to all these large-scale stone and masonry structures there were a good number of private residences that were equally well built and occupied large lots within the city grid. Most of them stood along two main thoroughfares running on a north-south axis for six city blocks. Under all that there was a sewer system, built of brick, that would have been the envy of most European cities of the time. The principal monument of the period was the cathedral, a building that is rather unspectacular both in order and in scale, but majestic in the complexity of the contradictions that gave rise to it and that it records.
The building marks the transition between the late medieval and the Renaissance periods. As the conquistadors embarked for Mexico, the peoples who had decided to establish themselves on the island, like the Berberiscos mentioned above, stayed behind. May the columns gracefully rise Like prayers to the sky; And may the ribs interlace, Holding up the vaults with grace. Quite appropriately, perhaps, he was buried there, so the church came to be built around his remains.
His grave, capped by a stone that bears a full-scale likeness of his body, remains one of the biggest curiosities in a city that is full of them. Granted, the image does not have the dynamism of Vitruvian projections. The cathedral has the plan of a basilica, without a transept. Together the nave and aisles measure twenty-three meters across.
The aisles, in turn, open into a series of seven lateral chapels placed between the buttresses on each side in typical Isabelino fashion. On the outside, the unpretentious simplicity of the surfaces and the relative ease with which large volumes are massed speak of Andalusi moral and aesthetic preferences and building practices. At the same time, the building conveys a sense of heaviness that is characteristic of late Spanish Gothic sensibilities. Altogether the structure is modest in size for a cathedral.
But what it lacks in size the building makes up for in the universalistic claim it puts forth on behalf of imperial majesty, a claim that it makes more clearly and strongly than the triumphalistic choreography of the palace of Charles V in Granada. The arches, which are oblique to a central vertical plane and foreshortened, were constructed using a forced perspective and recede toward two disparate points along the central axis of a composition that is otherwise symmetrical. Because of the temporal proximity of the works and the geographic distance that separates them, neither could have been a precedent for the other.
The single most important connection between the works is the elaborate and exquisite Plateresque decoration in the entablatures. At the farthest frontiers of the Christian world, in what 72 Contesting the Ideal Figure Above the entrance and between the arches is the royal coat of arms of Charles V, which was originally supported by the two-headed eagle of imperial iconography. The present-day sculpture is a reproduction of the original eagle, which was destroyed by the Contesting the Ideal 73 Haitians when they took the city of Santo Domingo in In all these cases the coat of arms was an adornment, the product of a simple albeit representationally charged exercise of power.
In the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, however, the coat of arms was part of a more complex composition that, through the perspectival manipulation of the twin arches, was intended to burst into real space. The arches, which emanate in forced perspective from a mathematically calculated place in space— the vanishing point—open into the world in opposite directions: They are thus a representation of the two hemispheres that were the object of all imperial desire.
But Santo Domingo was far from an ideal city. It was in the south portal where the Ecclesiastical Tribunal met and where those wanted by the authorities could claim asylum. This was the eagle that claimed to rule over the dexter and the sinister, over the legitimate and the illegitimate body, over the European Ideal and a metaphorical movement that always transcended it. But as in the palace of Charles V in Granada, there too the possibility of the realization of the ideal of universal rule would be haunted by the Zaharenian curse that heralded the ultimate end to empire.
In this case, also as in the Alhambra, the writing was quite literally on the walls of the cathedral. Horseshoe window above the altar of the Cathedral of Santo Domingo. Certainly there were important Mudejar elements in the Isabelino Gothic. But the use of this type of fenestration was infrequent, especially in such a place of prominence. As an architectural palimpsest this symbolic moment is the representative obverse of what we saw in the sanctuary of the church of the Convent of Saint Clare in Tordesillas.
If the superimposition of a Calvary scene over the Mudejar ceiling made the latter a discourse on the triumph of Christianity, the placing of the horseshoe window over the main altar in the Dominican basilica is a testament to the tenacity of 76 Contesting the Ideal the Moorish resistance to conquest, subjugation, and disappearance.
These architectural models have neither direct peninsular precedents nor clear American progeny. It is crowned with merlons in typical Andalusi fashion. A belfry in the corner is a recent addition. The single door of the entrance is capped by a rounded or neoclassical arch. All through the nave massive columns are capped by rings instead of capitals. Molded ribs rise from these rings, coming into being in an originary movement that is wholly disassociated from structural 78 Contesting the Ideal connotations.
The disjunction between structural vocabulary and form, so atypical of Gothic architecture, is even sharper in the base of the arch that opens into the apse refer again to Figure 12 , where the column is replaced by a compound pier capped by a polyhedral abacus. From the vaults the ribs and arches descend toward the capitals and crash into each other in a terrible and confused rivalry for dominance that results in the overlap and disappearance of major structural elements. In the end, it would seem, the will to graceful form of Bishop Geraldini never materialized.
Could the builders of the cathedral have forgotten the Gothic forms? It is more plausible to suspect that at least those among them who were of Berber and morisco origins had never properly known them. They were competent builders, but not of churches. In all its confused Gothicness—which is also the sign of a certain confused Christianity and Hispanicity—the arch that opens into the apse of the cathedral serves as a perfect frame for the horseshoe window.
The Other Black Legend, or the Legend of the Black Other The subversion of the national-imperial sign by the moriscos of the Indies was a movement that ran parallel to the destabilization of the Renaissance ideal of the body, which served as the ideological foundation of the European Ideal. This is what I call mulataje, a movement that from the earliest stages of modernity has tended to undo all the calculations of the coloniality of power. Contrary to common perceptions, the mulatto world also has its origins in the Iberian contact zone.
The etymology of the term mulatto is not altogether clear. Moreno, as we know, was used to 80 Contesting the Ideal name both blacks and mulattoes. Within the coloniality of power the mulatto can alternatively practice the movement of being-toward-the-black and being-toward-thewhite while at the same time being neither. In the two centuries that preceded the Columbian expeditions, blacks and mulattoes shared the streets of Seville with Jews, Muslims, Gypsies, foreigners, and of course Castilians.
Well-known examples of these are the Virgin of Guadalupe Mexico and the Virgin of Charity of el Cobre Cuba , images that were produced by the ideologues of the Church centuries Contesting the Ideal 81 later in the New World. But even before that, marking the origins and early development of the modern slave trade, the Sevillian Virgen de los Reyes Magos became the preferred image of worship of most of the black and mulatto brotherhoods of the Iberian Peninsula and of the New World.
The business was run from Lisbon, but Seville became the main Castilian depot for slave purchase and distribution. In fact, the rise and fall of Sevillian slavery coincides with the otherwise Golden Age of Spain. By then there was yet another black religious brotherhood and also a mulatto one. In the most important days of religious observance the three brotherhoods of morenos took to the streets, marching with their holy images and banners and sharing the streets of Seville with the many other brotherhoods of the city.
Descriptions of the day tell of how people would gather to wait for the procession of the black brothers so they could mock and insult them, throwing things at them and even, in some cases, poking them with needles. Christians or not, blacks and their descendants in sixteenth-century Spain were scorned as being naturally vicious and barbaric, prone to engage in criminal activity, and driven by passion and not by reason.
Unlike the moriscos or the Jews, the blacks and mulattoes of Seville did not belong to a religious minority. Due to their equatorial origins, the blacks of Seville could not be accused of being Jews or Muslims, and the mulattoes were for the most part the children of blacks and Old Christians. In addition, unlike the Gypsies, Jews, and moriscos, they seem not to have had a strong sense of ethnic identity.
If having Jewish blood was incompatible with Spanishness, then what should be done with the pious blacks of Seville, who were the most sanguine example of uncontamination? What sort of claim to Spanishness did they have? But the real contestation of the national ideal would not come from the blacks who seemed to have kept to themselves.
Capable of assuming or negotiating all markings and demarcations of identity, the mulatto body became the site that proved the futility of all demarcation, be it religious, national, political, or protoracial. After all, if the Virgen de los Reyes Magos could be all things to all people, why could not the mulattoes who worshiped her image strive for the same ideal? When speaking of the mulatto we are no longer speaking of the conquest and reduction of a well-known religious Other.
The mulatto would pose a greater danger than the moro ever had. First, because the mulatto could never be seen as an absolute Other. Second, because the mulatto was from the start—and to some degree has always remained— an absolutely unknown quantity. Finally, in the end, it was also a simple matter of numbers.
In an age of terrible human devastation on both sides of the Atlantic, the mulatto simply became the best adapted and the ultimate survivor: The arrival of the mulatto in early modernity was no cause for celebration. Between the romance of the Reconquest and the heroic spirit of the early imperial age, the birth of the mulatto was barely recorded. At the time Spanish slavery was still centered around the medieval fantasies of crusading knights in armor: Although the great majority of slaves sold in Seville were of West African origin, there were also, as we know, many Berbers and moriscos who were sold into bondage.
Making the Berber woman his concubine by force, the Christian master could dream of his slave as the captive Mora who abandoned her people and her religion for the love of the chivalrous knight. Romance of possession or not, the fact was that many more black women were sold in Seville than Berber ones and that these women produced mulatto slave children for their masters. But the town should be better known for what began to take place there once the admiral came back with news of land to settle on the other side of the Ocean sea. In fact, Palos de la Frontera seems to have become a human factory of sorts: Based on the record of one Sevillian parish, it is possible to point to what must have been the norm: So it was that the mulatto, who was not thought of as a religious Other, was able to claim the right to be a descendant of Old Christians.
Furthermore, by marrying outside of their group they also made it possible for their own children to escape slavery altogether. Far from being an ethnic or religious community of their own, the mulattoes of Seville were a group only insofar as they were all in a process of securing the promise of full integration into Sevillian society, a process that arguably would take a few generations to complete.
Acceptance was always a relative matter for most mulattoes. Foremost amongst these was the pringamiento, the practice of pouring boiling lard over the genitals and the wounds resulting from a whipping. Understandably, for the mulattoes, too, the New World was a land of promise, especially as the numbers of mulattoes in the islands began to rise considerably during the sixteenth century. In Hispaniola the increase in the importation of African slaves that followed the economic shift toward the early plantation system produced a new scenario.
We know that by the middle of the sixteenth century there were two blacks for every white on the island. It is evident that from the start early runaway society was a space of reunion for moros referred to in the laws as white slaves and morenos. In fact, the Ordenanzas of started by establishing a clear distinction between the two conditions, emphasizing that the ladino was the most dangerous element of the two. Fear of this subject of questionable loyalties had moved the authorities to curtail the entry of ladinos de Castilla ladinos from Castile, i.
They were the new tagarino subjects, who came to be seen by the authorities as a contaminating factor that could ruin the process of reduction and Christianization of the Indians and of the bozales. The men are all attired in a combination of dress and ornament that makes them the representative embodiment of the land and its people, as well as of the limits and possibilities of the colonial world in which they lived. The most striking features of the portrait are the gold adornments that pierce their faces. Although they are men of the coast, as evidenced by the necklaces of seashells they wear, their shirts are covered with the ruanas, or ponchos, that were typical of the Andean highlands.
In a detail that reminds us of the painting in the Hall of Kings in the Alhambra, the three mulattoes are holding their hats in their left hands as a gesture of deference and respect to the Spanish monarch while holding onto their spears with their right hands. These men were kings, too, and although it is possible to see, as William B. Taylor and Thomas B.
There is a triangulation of gazes in the painting, as Don Pedro and Don Domingo, standing behind Don Francisco, channel the energy of their gaze through him and out toward the Spanish king. In a way, Figure Don Francisco de Arobe looks out into that placeless site with the certainty of knowing that there is nobody—and no body—there. These are the three Reyes Magos of the Esmeraldas, the Moors of the New World, and they are posing in all their metaphorical regalia, as moreno Indians, as Indian kings, as Spanish gentlemen, as African warriors, knowing full well that theirs is no Epiphany and that the King of the Jews—the ultimate ideological underpinning that sustained the coloniality of power—is nowhere to be found, especially not on the other side of the picture plane.
Therefore, few in his day heeded the cryptic warnings he put forth in the text. He was eighteen years old when Granada fell to the Christian armies and twenty when his father, Pedro de las Casas, a merchant from Tarifa who accompanied Columbus on his second voyage, brought back from the Indies an Indian slave as a present to his son, then a student at the University of Salamanca. For him there was no question as to who was the enemy of Christendom.
Two years later the former master went to visit the lands from whence his slave and companion had come. Made from the roots of the yucca plant, cassava was also related to the death and extinction of the native Arawaks. Unless burned and boiled, the juice of the yucca is highly poisonous. Once the Indians realized the inescapable consequences of their devastating oppression, entire villages would gather on a fateful night to hear the stories of their ancestors retold for one last time before drinking the raw juice of the yucca, thereby choosing death over slavery.
He brought a new project to an old man who was still thinking of liberating Jerusalem. A year later, Ferdinand would be dead, buried as the self-appointed Christian King of Jerusalem. Las Casas, in turn, would be given the title of Procurador de los Indios, or universal protector of all the Indians, by Cardinal Cisneros. Las Casas was the champion of the latter cause, and he envisioned a victory of faith through sheer numbers.
He saw in every native of the Indies a potential Christian and in the conversion of the Indians a triumph of the Church over Islam and heresy that would lead to nothing short of the universal imposition of Christianity. From now on he would wage a crusade of conversion, gaining the enmity of most Spaniards in the New World and securing the support of the new emperor, Charles V, and of his Flemish counselors, all of whom were particularly ill disposed toward the conquistadores.
They would set up villages where Spaniards and Indians would live together in harmony and love. That was less than the procurador was hoping for, since his real plan was to colonize a thousand leagues of coastline and eventually to extend the project from Santa Marta present-day Colombia to the South Seas, covering the entire coastline, from Venezuela across the isthmus, and all the way down to Chile.
Needless to say, the project turned out to be a complete failure. As if that were not enough, two hundred Andalusian farmers he had brought from Seville and left in Puerto Rico as back-up decided to desert: Peaceful colonization and utopian societies based on Christian love had clearly proved unworkable.
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He wrote extensively thereafter. In exchange for the free land and labor the encomendero was obligated to provide the Indians with a Christian upbringing. At seventy-three, he was never to come back to the Indies. Military armies are the ones that the pseudo-prophet Mohammed called for, as he used to say that he acted through the terror of the sword.
The Dominican friar wrote of eight reasons that made him undertake such a monumental work, foremost among which was his intention that the Historia would contribute to the greater glory of God. This was a terrifying thought to Las Casas, not just because of the horrible human catastrophe it would amount to, but also because once the people were gone his project of universal conversion would also be destroyed. In other words, as the native populations of the Caribbean were decimated by war, slavery, disease, self-obliteration, and exile, Las Casas came to fear the ultimate failure of his enterprise.
He could really see the same disaster happening on a continental scale, as indeed, it almost did. Enslavement, it seemed, was a small price to pay for salvation. During the course of his life he would come to change his mind, not on account of the need to reclaim Africans for the Catholic religion but because of the perceived threat that the Africans posed to the stability of early colonial societies in the Indies.
In a most intriguing moment, toward the end of his Historia de las Indias Las Casas organized his view of the New World around the image of a pest, an infestation, a plague of ants that had come to devour most of the crops on the islands of Hispaniola and San Juan Puerto Rico. What Las Casas wrote about in chapters through of book 3 was the foundational moment of mulatto America.
Indeed, the Historia, as the foundational text of Caribbean historiography, is also a foundational text of Caribbean thought, a treatise that moves through space in the manner of the metaphorical subject, changing place, time, context, and action with the shifting winds that blow between the islands and across the Ocean sea. There was, however, a method to the madness of Las Casas. The chapters I will focus on hereafter—the insertion within the intercalation— are part of a larger narrative that, in turn, was intercalated into a brief moment in time. The account that comes to an end in chapter begins in chapter , where Las Casas tells us of his dealings in Spain with Cardinal Cisneros and in the court of Charles V between the years of and In this sense Las Casas represents the insertion of a certain perspective into the origins of modern thought that is truly transatlantic, where places at hand are in a constant play of superimpositions and events unfold as a complicated disgorging of concatenations.
Chapter By this time important things were happening on the island of Hispaniola, one of them being that while the Indians were becoming extinct their Spanish masters kept working them in the same tortuous manner. While trying to make sense of the consequences resulting from the introduction of African slaves, they also predict the imminent destruction of the project of Christianization in the islands.
Making sense of this tumultuous world was not easy. He had witnessed and was able to relate the destruction of the native inhabitants with the end of the mining economy and the subsequent introduction of agriculture as the main economic activity.
The aging friar reasoned that the introduction of African slaves that had followed the almost complete decimation of the Indian population in the islands would eventually result in the total destruction of the Indies as a site of Spanish colonization and of the project for the universal triumph of Christianity. As usual he was thinking on a large scale.
The danger for Las Casas was the real possibility that, on account of the claim to the land of the obstinate and virulent morenos, the New World would never be morally whole or become the empire of faith he had once envisioned. By virtue of his Christian upbringing Enriquillo was a ladino Indian who had been thoroughly acculturated to the ways of the conquerors.
Because of his noble origins Enriquillo enjoyed a privileged position in colonial society: At the time, in Hispaniola a mare was worth as much as about thirty Indians. Enriquillo was indignant and appealed to the authorities with much faith but to no avail. After being dismissed and then jailed for three days by Pedro de Badillo, then lieutenant governor of San Juan de la Maguana, he went to Santo Domingo and was given a document by the Audiencia that, as Las Casas admits, instead of protecting his interests caused him to receive the worst kind of abuse on the part of his master when he returned to the encomienda.
Following this mistreatment and left without any recourse to appeal, Enriquillo rebelled and took to the mountains, where he was chased by Valenzuela. In order to avoid discovery he forbade his people to make smoke and ordered the cutting of the tongue of every domesticated rooster kept in his domain. Clearly Las Casas narrated the last stand of the Indians of Hispaniola as an episode that need not have happened. He showed that Enriquillo was willing to submit and even when at war had refused to kill Christians unnecessarily or to stake any territorial claims beyond the inhospitable and rugged lands of the Bahoruco, limiting his actions to the most immediate defense of his sovereignty.
In the Lascasian story, all Enriquillo wanted was to live as a good Christian. But the institution of the encomienda had turned the good work of the Franciscans around. To the friar, therefore, it seemed that the encomenderos were doing the work of the devil. Las Casas argued that Enriquillo, who was defending his natural rights,21 was comparable to Pelayo, the legendary Visigoth king who resisted the initial Muslim invasion of the Iberian peninsula back in the eighth century.
This is an important moment in the Historia—and in the history of coloniality; Las Casas proposes to his reader that in the Indies the Spaniards had symbolically turned into their worst enemy: Las Casas believed that every Spaniard in Hispaniola was guilty and guilt-ridden. The world had been turned upside down, and it seemed that only divine intervention could set it straight again.
To be sure, God intervened in the next episode of the story, sending two successive plagues to the island. It was an epidemic of smallpox that, between and , decimated the remainder of the Arawak populations in the encomiendas. Let us remember that Las Casas was condemning the encomendero for having ruined the possibility of the perfect adoctrinamiento, or indoctrination, of the Arawaks, such as that performed by the Franciscans in claiming the soul of Enriquillo for the greater glory of Christ. The end was coming, but for whom?
In a way, he was making sense of the senseless destruction of an entire people. He was still a Spaniard, and a good Christian at that: The corpses of the Arawaks were there just to teach the Spaniards a lesson. But the contradiction in the discourse of the Procurador de los Indios is a simple one: It was simply imposed upon them by the oldest law in the books: In general, creole propagandists and thinkers in the Caribbean and in Usonia have taken the side of the Indian—against the black—once the Indian was no longer perceived as a threat. It was Las Casas who opened up the possibilities of this ambiguous and uneasy position toward the native in matters of hegemony and legitimacy.
It could not have been otherwise, for if the king of Spain had no right to rule over the Indians, he had no right to appoint a Procurador de los Indios to speak on their behalf. These were the people who had abandoned their Christian ways, the people whose hands were stained with the blood of thousands of Indians. However, in the absence of other viable examples—remember that Las Casas was writing about all this long after his failed attempt to colonize the coast of Venezuela—these farmers would have to do.
According to Las Casas, the business of purgation was going very well. It was as if the islands where such unspeakable tragedies had occurred were being turned into a Purgatory on Earth, where the people were at work doing planting and farming, fending for themselves and not living by the sweat and blood of others. The colonists were planting hope. Las Casas was of course aware of the importance of this moment, but—and this is curious—he seems not to have wanted his readers to linger on the point. What happened to the Procurador de los Indios that made him give up with such haste and nonchalance the people he had vowed to defend?
Why can we not speak of Indians anymore? If we do, we will soon realize that there was more going on in this pivotal moment than what the monk wanted us to know.
As I have noted, this moment announced the end of the West Indies as the center of Spanish operations and the beginning of Mexico as the seat of the future Viceroyalty of New Spain. Concurrently, agriculture replaced mining as the main economic activity in the islands. Furthermore, it was the moment when sovereignty was transferred from the Indians—those we have been told shall never again be spoken of—to the Europeans.
With the Indians gone, the Spaniards had to fend for themselves. This was the moment when the defender of the Indians took the side of the indianos. But this was a book he died before beginning to write. If the Indians were still around, why was Las Casas in such a hurry to dismiss them from all historical protagonism? I think that Las Casas saw Enriquillo for what he was, that is, for a well-indoctrinated Christian.
The record indicates that he was no longer an Indian in the sense that he laid claim not to the land but rather to an ideal of Renaissance humanism he wished to emulate. It could be argued that Enriquillo saw the writing on the wall and that he decided to make peace with a formidably superior enemy instead of facing complete annihilation. But he was too fast to make a deal and too willing to submit.
He did so while being hosted in Santo Domingo during a celebration in his honor that lasted for twenty days. In this sense, this Indian was already an indiano and an early precursor of creole subjectivity. The treaty conferred certain privileges on Don Enrique and his people. In exchange for peace they would be given land whereon to build a settlement that, according to Dieve, was located near the town of Azua.
His men would take up the task of pursuing all runaway Indians and blacks through the forests of the island, including some of their former comrades, returning them to the Spanish in exchange for four cotton shirts a head. If Guerrero would not return to the Spanish side, and the mulattoes of Esmeraldas would later prove to be able to make the most out of the political possibilities of metaphorical movement, Enriquillo was proving to be the prodigal son of the European ideal, the ladino enforcer of the coloniality of power.
The Franciscans had done an excellent job. Enriquillo would not live to see the ultimate fate of his people. A decade later, in , his pueblo was ransacked and so thoroughly destroyed by a band of runaway slaves that today there is no trace that it ever existed. Apparently there were only about a dozen survivors, and they, in turn, were swallowed up by the forest as they went to hunt down the morenos. The island was ready for a second plague. Just as the smallpox epidemic resulted in the impossibility of speaking about Indians as such anymore, this second plague could have left the islands uninhabited altogether: The victims this time would be the Spaniards.
At the same time, the combination of sleep deprivation and remorse puts the indiano into a trance that will ultimately yield an apocalyptic vision of the New World. What was this vision about? Las Casas tells us that the ants in Hispaniola attacked the roots of plants, turning the trees black and drying them until they were dead. What, then, could Las Casas have been alluding to in this image of devastation? I will argue that it refers to the African and to the imminent threat, spiritual and material, that Las Casas foresaw in the practice of slavery and in what I call mulataje. Las Casas interpreted this plague as an omen of things to come.
In fact, in his Historia there is a triumvirate of plagues, all of which can be seen as references to the same preoccupation. The connection is there, as the Africans had come to displace the Indians as the major threat to indiano and European interests in the New World. The overlap of these two images is no coincidence. Initial proof of the connection between the African slave and the moro or morisco is the fact that, as Las Casas relates, the ants attacked the orange groves and the pomegranate trees.
This is yet another sorpresa de los enlaces: There is one more reason to think that the plague of ants should be seen as a manifestation in the New World of a common trope in the mechanics of nation building. Mercuric chloride is a highly toxic poison, very irritating to the eyes and nose, and the sale of it to blacks and Indians in Hispaniola at the time was strictly forbidden. The references are indirect, but it is undeniable that in presenting this second plague as the most virulent threat to the European during this second phase of colonization of the New World, Las Casas used allusions that pointed in the direction of the traditional enemy of Christianity.
In the previous chapter we saw how during this time the principal threats to the Christian state, and to Spanishness, came to be perceived as coming from an external or foreign agent, and hence how the Turk came to replace the moro as the antithesis of all things Spanish. The importation of African slaves represents the analogical revisitation of the foundational moment of Spanish nationality in the context of the Indies: The mulatto, as I will show, would later come to embody the internalization of this threat.
In fact, the Franciscan monastery was raised over the graves of thousands of people, some of which have been opened in recent years by archeologists. The black ants, Las Casas writes, came from as far away as half a league, climbing on the roof to taste the poison and die. Second and more important is the domestic metaphor. The ants had come into the house and were littering the place with their presence. But it also attracted them to the monastery, and although they had come to die in the place, they polluted, contaminated, and soiled the house, unacceptably invading and threatening the domestic space of the religious friars.
Could this have been an allusion to the way in which African slavery led the to corruption of the European ideal through the process of mulataje? Forgetting about the original need for the poison, the Spanish friars unanimously agreed to remove the stone and throw it away. Behind these questions lie other preoccupations of Las Casas and a clear sense of vulnerability.
The second is the paradox that such a small agent might consume a seemingly indestructible thing. Between the two images there is a sense of inevitable doom and a movement of corruption that leads to obliteration. The African ants had come to soil the house in this powerful metaphor of contamination. They had come from afar, attracted by a poison slavery? But as more of them came, the poison was increasingly reduced.
The solution would not hold for long. More important, hidden in this obscure passage is a foundational moment of modern racial discursiveness. As in the case of the previous plague, only divine intervention could set things right, both in the context of the story and in its mechanical entanglement. The people of Santo Domingo decided to call upon Saint Saturnine, and through his intercession the plague was reduced and eventually eliminated.
In fact, this might be a reference not to the Christian saint but rather to the Roman god Saturn, who, after being expelled from the heavens by Jupiter, went to the Latium to teach men how to farm and work the soil, ushering in a period of peace and prosperity. In any case, both names proceeded from the same Latin root, sator, meaning sower or planter, and reinforce the moral of the Lascasian story, that only farming by European settlers and evangelization can ultimately succeed in claiming the lands of the New World in the name of God and for the king of Spain.
But in the New World the image of Saint Saturnine was a bad omen, as it conjured up the terror of the Plantation. The Golden Age would never come to the West Indies. Soon the islands would slip into the background of the Spanish enterprise in the New World as the center of colonial power in the Caribbean shifted from Santo Domingo to Mexico.
In turn, a population of farmers and merchants would develop along the northern shores of Hispaniola. In time this economy was to be eradicated with fury and particular vengeance by the Spanish authorities. A new crop had to be found. It was then that the colonial government decided to subsidize the construction of sugar mills. The plantation had been set in motion. At this point in his story, Las Casas becomes one of its principal characters. He tells how, before the sugar factories were invented, he had acted on behalf of some encomenderos and already obtained permission from the king to introduce African slaves into the islands on the condition that upon their arrival the Indian slaves would be set free.
Following his advice, the king decreed that four thousand slaves be imported into the islands. At this point Las Casas confesses his guilt and adds that he soon experienced remorse at the realization that he had caused the beginning of an enterprise that was to prove as detrimental to the Africans as it had to the Indians, and that the latter would never be freed or be able to live any better than before the slave trade had begun.
Other permits were subsequently granted after the license he had secured, so he could report that more than thirty thousand slaves had been brought to Hispaniola and upward of one hundred thousand to the Indies altogether. Thus the slaves taken to the Indies performed a similar role in the production of the imperial persona and of the proto-national symbols of the state as had the moriscos, who were taxed before being expelled from Spain so that Charles could build himself a palace in the Alhambra.
Las Casas tells us how before they were placed in the sugar factories Africans were thought to be strong and very healthy people: On account of the conditions and treatment in the sugar mills, many of them died every day. But let us also remember that even when he was in open contestation of Spanish rule, Enriquillo had been raised inside the Franciscan monastery. He was thus a known quantity: Read more Read less. To get the free app, enter mobile phone number. See all free Kindle reading apps. Don't have a Kindle? Be the first to review this item Would you like to tell us about a lower price?
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