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Heroic Catholic Priest Challenged Columbus' Barbarism, Upheld Natives

Updated on October 13, 2013

He Wasn't a Peacher Then - He, Too, Was a Plunderer in the New World of the 1500s

Bartolome de las Casas sailed to the shores of the Americas, intent on plunder, willing to do the unthinkable to pillage the gold from the native peoples' lands. He was just another of those historic adventurers we were taught to admire, back in our schooldays.

During my American 1950s' childhood townspeople gathered for civic presentations recognizing moments of great merit, such as Memorial Day and the 4th of July, with speeches, parades and picnics. We celebrated heroic figures from our country's short history - that is, the history of our invading ancestors after they encountered the indigenous people. And we were all too eager to sing the proud heritage of Christopher Columbus in our childhood song...in 1492 Columbus sailed the oceans blue!

We colored pictures of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, as we recited poems. This was a fun holiday at school and at home. We performed skits in school assemblies and just celebrated how grand and powerful we were to have wrestled this great continent from the clutches of XYZs, native peoples who treated the land as a gift from God. Our ancestors knew better - it was a land of gold that was a gift from God to US!

Some of our Founding Fathers have their own holidays: Presidents Washington and Lincoln. Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King has a day; other national holidays memorialize such frolicsome feasts as what has become of Christmas Day (formerly primarily a religious observance, it is now the major holiday of commercialism), and Thanksgiving Day. But Christopher Columbus wasn't a Founding Father --- he wasn't even the discoverer of America. One of my other ancestors sailed to the land known as America back in the 500s CE, but Columbus' name fits better in the ditty than Leif Erickson's does.

What we don't know is that another of his compatriots also navigated ships of plunder across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain, following in the illustrious footsteps, or captain's boots. Bartolome de las Casa, modeled after Columbus's techniques, rounded up indigenous peoples for his pleasure, stole their wealth, including most of all their gold and their daughters, and wreaked ferocious mayhem on the natives, until one day he could stand it no longer. His conscious prickled and in shame he refuted his former ways and turned to ministry to those he had previously enslaved.

Dr. Paul S. Vickery, writer and professor, weaves a tale to rival great thrilling adventure stories, such as those about Sir Horatio Hornblower, a favorite subject in many books on my family's library shelves. With the skill of a professional sleuth and scholar of Amerindian history and lore, Vickery paints a thrilling tale of marauding figures we have, through the centuries, turned in heroic figures worthy of our adulation. But Vickery strips them of their regal garments, laying bare the ghastly nature of their exploits.

On Columbus Day 2013 we might turn our attention to the subject under review. Perhaps Bartolome de las Casa should supplant Christopher Columbus as a man truly worthy of having a national holiday named for him, and celebrated in his honor. So doing would recognize that even the worst sort of marauder may suddenly begin to see and hear with the heart of a human, rather than with the sword or the gun on his hip.

If I've caught your ear, with this talk about Columbus, and this Dominican Priest, you may want to read the elucidating statement on The Oatmeal Exposes Christopher Columbus and Introduces Bartolome de las Casa. It's an exciting, vibrant read! Afterwards you'll want to read Vickery's book.



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All Mankind Is One: A Study of the Disputation Between Bartolome De Las Casas and Juan Gines De Sepulveda in 1550 on the Religious and Intellectual Capacity of the American Indians
All Mankind Is One: A Study of the Disputation Between Bartolome De Las Casas and Juan Gines De Sepulveda in 1550 on the Religious and Intellectual Capacity of the American Indians

Written to breach the chasm between the Conquistador attitude (and that of the European world) that regarded American Indians as subhuman and definitely not Christian --- and Bartolome de Las Casas' enriching understanding of the beauty and humanity of the indigenous peoples.

This book provides landmarks in comprehension between the white man's position, held by Sepulveda, and the fully human man de las Casas was to become..

 

Short Video Synopsis of de las Casas Transformation

Here's a Cliff Notes' style version of the whole story that was not taught to schoolchildren when I was a kid.

Detail of Somali painting copyright Leslie Sinclair
Detail of Somali painting copyright Leslie Sinclair

Does this story of Bartolome de las Casas resonate with you? Picture is detail from my painting about another travesty of justice when Westerners decided to 'change things' across the globe by conquer

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Please Share Your Thoughts About the Notions de las Casas Promoted

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    • lesliesinclair profile image
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      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @GrammieOlivia: It's always so refreshing when some new winds blow old muggy clouds away.

    • profile image

      GrammieOlivia 3 years ago

      Great Lens Papier, I just happened to see the Oatmeal about this a couple of days ago. So much is learned after the fact, sometimes long after the fact.....

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @Diana Wenzel: Oh, me too, I learn every day that my education was short suited and it pains me that I may have acted like a conqueror without even knowing it in my youth (and if I'm honest, even today). I consider myself lucky if someone kindly points that out to me. Thank you for spending the time on my lens and sharing your thoughts.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 3 years ago

      @ecogranny: I like redemption stories and experiences in life, and find de las Casas story so compelling. Thanks for sharing your history with this broad issue that concerns some of our European ancestors (and how we whiteys benefit still from these atrocities), African ancestors and contemporary descendants, Central American descendants, and so much more, all wrapped up into a string ball of injustice. I appreciate reading about your experience, since I also was taught that we were always merely taking our due, with nary a concern for indigenous peoples who were robbed in so many ways.

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      I was shocked in the video to see de las Casas advocating replacing the native slaves with African slaves. Thankfully, years later he finally came to his senses on that score as well. Many years ago I saw a book which contained many of the drawings in the video; they were drawn by a priest who witnessed the destruction firsthand. Perhaps it was a book about de las Casas and his writings.

      I remember being shocked by the violence depicted in the drawings, and the quotations from the conquerors detailing in their own words how we Europeans destroyed the people we found here. What can I say, I was younger then and still believing much of the propaganda I learned in school as a child.

      Excellent review. Thank you.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 3 years ago from Colorado

      I feel like I need to begin my education all over again. Very enlightening. I love books that are illuminating. Thank you for a very thought-provoking review.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      @SavioC: It makes me feel privileged to finally know about this man.

    • SavioC profile image

      SavioC 4 years ago

      History is full of people who were truly courageous and real heroes, of course we will never know of many. Yes there will be many instances when we realize we were wrongly informed and we sort of worshiped the wrong "hero".

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      @ColettaTeske: I'm always so impressed by a person who has the courage to recognize that they've made a mistake, sometimes a horrific mistake, and then take steps to rectify what they can.

    • profile image

      ColettaTeske 4 years ago

      I agree. We do need to celebrate people of character and integrity, people who show respect for others, that take responsibility for their actions and who consider how their actions affect others. Thank you for the great review and an honest look at history.