Close Reading American Literature

Native American Destruction

“And because all the people who could do so fled to the mountains to escape these inhuman, ruthless, and ferocious acts, the Spanish captains, enemies of the human race, pursued them with the fierce dogs they kept which attacked the Indians, tearing them to pieces and devouring them. And because on few and far between occasions, the Indians justifiably killed some Christians, the Spaniards made a rule among themselves that for every Christian slain by the Indians, they would slay a hundred Indians.” -Las Casas

My original reading of this passage was that it was just another narrative of the plight Native Americans had to face. Now, after beginning my paper which specifically focuses on how religion participated in the obliteration of Native Americans, I view this passage completely different. The significance of this piece by Las Casas is to show the true ruthless and inhuman nature settlers had toward the natives. It portrays just how worthless the life of these human beings was to, in this case, the Spanish captains. I think history informed and changed the way I perceived this reading. Looking that this passage, I feel like it could even be compared to slavery in America. It began with the widespread murder of Indians and was followed up with the enslavement of African Americans later on. The same tactics and values were used in both scenarios. For example, similar to the natives, slaves we not seen as people but things to be owned. Their lives were not valued as human beings. They were controlled and hunted by attack dogs just like the Native Americans before them. While it may be a stretch, reading this passage closely mirrors slavery and the brutal treatment they endured. It shows how history clearly repeats itself when it comes to dominating, killing and oppressing others. In addition, religion plays a huge role in the enslavement and murder of other people. While religion usually is supposed to be a loving and accepting state of reasoning, settlers used their faith to justify their heinous and murderous behavior. As seen in this passage they used their faith to convince themselves and others that they were better people and more valuable human beings. This is seen clearly when Las Casas writes, “for every Christian slain by the Indians, they would slay a hundred Indians”. They value 1 Christian over 100 Indian lives. This implausible ratio truly reveals how religion fueled the justification of degrading and devaluing human life when in effect, it’s supposed to do the complete opposite.

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6 thoughts on “Native American Destruction

  1. I like how at the end of your post you mention “for every Christian slain by the Indians, they would slay a hundred Indians” because when we had to read the passage for class that is what really stood out to me the most and I believe that, that line will help you a lot in your paper.

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  2. I like that you talk about religion in oppression. It reminds me of the Game of Thrones project we did, and the way religious beliefs can spur people into action. I also like that you talk about how ruthless and inhuman the settlers were, because we now consider them to be so but they considered themselves the pinnacle of pious and thought the Native Americans were the ruthless and inhuman ones. Religion can play a large part in who we consider to be human, and what makes us humans, etc. It all goes to show how history can change perspectives.

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    1. I agree with Bryanna’s distinction (and yours, Paige) between our view of the Spanish settlers now versus how they viewed themselves (as Christians) then. I wonder what the text, and how Las Casas wrote it, reveals about how he viewed himself as a Christian. I think that could be an important part of your paper, especially considering Las Casas’ continued support of the enslavement of African men and women until later in his life…what changed? Was it his view of slavery or his understanding of Christianity?

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  3. I think you chose a great portion of Las Casas’ text to analyze. Your analysis of it in the linking of religion and oppression is a great start. I was pleasantly surprised with your decision to include slavery. What might be relevant to your paper is how religion is used in Uncle Tom’s Cabin and in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. As we had discussed in class, religion had the potential of offering consolation to the slaves, but could also be twisted to the goals of slaveowners. Hence, there are characters in both texts that will sometimes question the sanctity of a God that would allow such injustice. A good example of this in Jacobs’ narrative is: “Sometimes I thought God was a compassionate Father, who would forgive my sins for the sake of my sufferings. At other times, it seemed to me there was no justice or mercy in the divine government” (272).

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  4. I don’t at all think it is a stretch to compare the plight of Native Americans to the treatment of African slaves. You’ve noted the parallels very clearly; both groups were slaughtered mercilessly and treated as objects only worthy of what they could provide for the settlers. As Las Casas mentioned, Native Americans were enslaved as well.

    I think it’s interesting how Christianity was viewed as justification for such evil. I guess it goes to show that everything is up to interpretation, or that people will purposely misuse a guiding force like religion in order to do wrong and enlist others to support it.

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