Yet, despite his boosterism, he was disappointed to find these natives less advanced than he expected of Asians. In fact, the Tainos were fairly sophisticated agriculturalists living in villages of a thousand or more, each with up to fifty round, conical-roofed houses of wood and thatch ringed around a plaza and presided over by a chieftain. The villages were organized into district chiefdoms; two social strata, nobles and commoners, existed; and local artisans worked in wood, ceramics, weaving, and other crafts, including gold imported from mainland South America.
Even so, they were hardly what might be expected by someone who had read about Marco Polo's travels to the Orient. Soon the neighbor-loving Tainos made it plain that their particular neighbors, known as Caribs and located to the south in what we call the Virgin Islands, were cannibals bent on wiping out the Tainos. Here we have an early version of two of the longest-running stereotypes about the native peoples of America-the noble savage and the bloodthirsty barbarian.
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Before many more years passed, both the Tainos and the Caribs who were probably innocent of cannibalism were largely extinct, victims of European diseases, the vicissitudes of Spanish enslavement, and outright murder. But untold millions of other native peoples awaited the Europeans in the New World, and once it became clear that this was not Asia, the questions soon arose: Who the hell are these people, where did they come from, and when did they get here? Even after the passage of more than five hundred years, the answers to these simple questions remain somewhat imprecise.
Early on, some Europeans wondered if the native populations of the New World were actually people-humans, as Europeans defined the word. The Spanish thus had an early realization of the breadth of cultural diversity to be found in the New World, but even the Aztecs, with their own version of high society, did not fit well into the pigeonholes of European preconceptions.
And it was only a few years after the Spanish arrival that even the Aztecs and Incas were reduced to peonage, their civilizations effectively razed. At the time, maps of much of the world outside Europe still reported that "there be monsters here," and stories abounded of creatures on distant shores who were part human, part animal.
Unicorns could still appear to those whose lives had been perfectly meritorious, and as late as the next century an English adventurer, Martin Frobisher, would return from an Arctic voyage with tales of gold and with the single horn of what he believed to be a sea unicorn an object we know as a narwhal tusk , which he presented to Queen Elizabeth. Coming upon the shores of America, one might imagine, then, that creatures with so little by way of the trappings of civilization were people, yes, but people without souls, just as animals were without souls.
Paracelsus, the brilliant sixteenth-century Swiss physician who is often thought of as the father of chemical medicine, believed that the aboriginal Americans were not "of the posterity of Adam and Eve" but had been created separately and were without souls. The matter would continue to be debated for the remainder of the century by Spanish philosophers and papal theologians. Generally speaking, the men of the Church took the most benign view of the Indians, believing that the pope's benevolent sway should be extended over the natives' lives in order to save their souls.
At the outset, Columbus commented that the Arawaks' easygoing nature made them excellent candidates for enslavement, and the Spanish colonists saw them all as little more than useful chattels. Some theologians cited Aristotle's Politics to the effect that many people were born to be ruled over, and the Native Americans, having no "written laws, but barbaric institutions and customs," were among them-meaning that they could be enslaved or killed in order to bring them to Christ in the afterlife.
People on the ground, however, typically took an even less benign view. Amerigo Vespucci, sailing for the Portuguese, found the natives of South America to be hardly more than brutes, as well as worshipers of the Devil, given to cannibalism and other amoralities. They are more given to sodomy than any other nation.
There is no justice among them. They go naked.
These earliest people, called Paleoindians, settled into the interior plains of North America between 11, and 11, years ago, and from there they spread across North America and southward to the southern tip of South America following diminishing game reserves for the next 1, years. These people, known to us as the Clovis, were accomplished toolmakers and hunters. Please provide an email address. Toggle navigation MENU. Adovasio has been transformed from a renegade into a leader in the field. I may therefore affirm that God has never created a race more full of vice and composed without the least mixture of kindness or culture. He lives in Corrales, New Mexico.
They have no respect either for love or for virginity. They are stupid and silly. They have no respect for truth, save when it is to their advantage. Most hostile to religion, dishonest, abject, and vile, in their judgements they keep no faith or law. I may therefore affirm that God has never created a race more full of vice and composed without the least mixture of kindness or culture.
We here speak of those whom we know by experience. Depressingly enough, sentiments very much like these were heard throughout the ensuing centuries, even to the present. He claimed that the pope had no temporal or coercive power over the native populations, that the gospel should be preached to them but only peacefully, and that the conquistadors' claims on the Indians' land and persons were illegal. He saw all people, including the Native Americans, as humans in various stages of cultural development and thought the natives of the New World were probably quite ancient.
Las Casas had a good deal of influence on the powers back home, as did another cleric, the Dominican Bernardino de Minaya. Minaya deserted Pizarro in disgust and went to Rome to persuade Pope Paul III to issue a papal bull in that rejected the idea of Indians as mere brutes and declared them capable and desirous of embracing the Catholic faith.
Not only that, the bull proclaimed, even those Native Americans who chose not to follow Christ were not to be enslaved or have their property taken. This was too much. Bristling with secular outrage, Emperor Charles ordered all copies of the bull confiscated and prevailed on the pope to rescind the bull altogether. For his efforts Minaya was thrown into jail by the head of his order. They were barbarians-meaning non-Christian-to be sure, and Acosta attempted to put all barbarians into one of three categories. First were peoples such as the Japanese and Chinese, who had permanent governments, cities, commerce, and writing.
This class of barbarians was to be proselytized to and converted to Christianity without force. Second were those such as the Aztecs and Incas, who were without writing but enjoyed permanent governments and recognizably religious ceremonies. If such peoples-so far from what he called "right reason"-were not put under Christian rule and ordered to become Christian, they probably could not be converted and thus would remain barbarians.
The third class of barbarians was free-roaming savages, without government, laws, or fixed settlements. They were the people of whom Aristotle had spoken-who deserved to be enslaved-and, like the Caribs, they needed to be forced to accept Christianity or suffer the consequences. Of course, this all led to a philosophical conundrum: If an illiterate barbarian-a savage, say-were converted to the Cross, was he still a barbarian?
Could there be such a thing as a Christian barbarian? Interestingly, many of the early European explorers and adventurers noticed the similarity in appearance between the Indians and Asians. De Acosta took this a step further, suggesting that the Americas had been populated by a slow overland migration from Asia, perhaps as early as two thousand years before the arrival of the Spaniards. This was an astonishing insight, considering that no European had even come close to the Bering Sea or had any notion of the configuration of the lands to the north.
Indeed, on maps of the time, the whole area from northeast Asia to the Urals was called simply Tartary. By , the Englishman Thomas Gage had posited the Bering Strait area as the region crossed by Mongolian-type people-a path that would become a certainty only in the next century, when Vitus Bering, a Dane sailing in behalf of the Russian czar, discovered the strait that bears his name.
As for the early Spanish soldiers and settlers, if they intended to enslave the native people of the New World whenever they were needed and that was indeed their intent , and if they sought justification which they rarely did , Aristotle's pronouncement about people born to be subjugated was moral balm. Even more convenient was the word of Saint Augustine, who, in the fifth century, had first enunciated the Christian notion of a just war: one waged to right an injustice or wrong by another nation, one such wrong being by implication not being Christian. Any refusal by the barbarians of the New World to let a missionary preach or to let a Spaniard "sojourn" among them could now be construed as sufficient cause to launch a just attack.
To sojourn meant to trade, in fact, and the right of men to do commerce anywhere in the world was soon added to the mandate to promulgate the Cross as a justification for war shared by all the European nations in the New World. When Native Americans stood in the way of what we now think of as free trade, they became mere impediments to be shoved aside or eliminated. This was especially true of the British colonists, who had little interest in converting the natives to their own versions of Christianity.
With a few notable exceptions, such as William Penn and, to an extent, the clergyman Roger Williams, the British were mainly intent on taking over as much land as they could and removing the aboriginal inhabitants from it as quickly as possible. Even the French-many of whom were like the Spanish given to intermarrying with the natives and unlike the Spanish adapting to their ways-initially had trouble even seeing them accurately. One of the earliest representations of American natives appeared among the decorations on a French map of , an engraving based on drawings by Samuel de Champlain himself.
Along with such identifiable local fruits as hickory nuts, plums, and summer squash is a "savage" couple evidently from Nova Scotia, then called Acadia. They both have feathers in their hair and earrings; the man holds a knife and an arrow in his hands, while the woman holds an ear of corn and a squash neither was grown aboriginally in Nova Scotia. She wears only a loincloth and he what looks for all the world like a Speedo bathing suit.
Both have wavy blond hair, European facial features, and the muscular calves and delicate feet of Renaissance art. Most Europeans, whether botanists, artists, or philosophers, tried to fit all the astounding new finds from the New World into the classical schemes that informed the Renaissance-which, as art historian Hugh Honour has pointed out, were largely "wish-fulfillment dreams" of an Arcadian past that had never existed. Ancient Earth Mysteries. Leslie Anthony. Neil P Harvey. Benita Estevez.
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