Heroic Catholic Priest Challenged Columbus' Barbarism, Upheld Natives
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.
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.