We, indigenous peoples are more than just present, but are rebuilding our societies for the next 500 years of justice and liberty. We believe that it is crucial that all indigenous people come together to analyze what we have accomplished up until now. Our beliefs have been negated for so long; others have spoken for us and have imposed their political ideologies upon us. We must now come together in order to build a more just society, based on the rights of each group, no matter how small, to choose our own destiny. We are very conscious that the struggle for justice will not be achieved by Indian people alone. An alliance with other oppressed sectors is necessary. However, this alliance should emerge from an atmosphere of respect for our differences.
1492: Discovery? Encounter? Invasion? stands with the undefeated losers of the European conquest. This sixteen-page tabloid tells the story of the conquest from the perspective of the indigenous people of Latin America and of North America. It draws from the log of Columbus and from the writing of Rigoberta Menchu, a Guatemalan Indian. It draws from the statements of Native Americans organized for their own commemoration of 500 Years of resistance. It raises questions about "progress." It provides opportunities for student participation through suggested activities and discussion questions.
ABSTRACT: The year 1492 marks the beginnings of European colonialism in the Americas and 500 years of persecution and slaughter of the indigenous peoples here. 1492 also marks the end of Arab/Islamic civilization in Spain and the expulsion of Spain's Muslims and Jews. We can see this persecution in the Americas as an extension of the Catholic Church's campaign against non-Christians in Europe. While we rethink the past 500 years of the history of the Americas, we should also look at what happened in Europe and how our conception of Western civilization came to be created.
A great national debate is growing around the 500 year anniversary of Columbus's "discovery" of America. The U.S. Congress has established a Columbus Quincentenary Jubilee Commission which has selected San Francisco as the central site of America's celebration on Columbus Day, October 12, 1992. The traditional rationale behind this event is exclusively Eurocentric, ignoring the brutal realities of the subjugation and colonization of the indigenous peoples whom this expedition encountered.
Usually absent from our history books are some important facts. When Columbus landed here, he found that the Arawak and Taino peoples he encountered were remarkable (by European standards) for their gentleness, their hospitality, and their belief in sharing.
Some modern theoreticians propose that Columbus called these people "Indios" not because he thought he had found India, but because he felt them to be "people of God."
"They are gentle and comely people," Columbus wrote. "They are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone. . . They willingly traded everything they owned. . ."
Columbus, however, did not let his admiration prevent him from taking many of these "gentle and comely people" back to Spain in chains. "With 50 men," he wrote, "we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want."
Columbus and his men came to plunder and they did. He set in motion what Bartolome de las Casas, a friar who fought for half a century to save the native people from the conquistadores, called "the beginning of the bloody trail of conquest across the Americas."
Columbus built Puerto de Navidad, in Haitithe first European military base in the western hemisphere. From here, Columbus's men roamed the islands in gangs looking for gold and committed brutalities of every sort, taking women and children as slaves for sex and labor.
In 1495, he and his men rounded up some 1,500 Arawak women, men and children and selected the fittest 500 to load onto ships. Some 200 died en route to Spain; the remaining 300 were put up for sale by an archdeacon.
There was organized resistance to colonialism, even then. Virtually the entire island of Haiti rose in revolt, but the people were no match for the weapons, cavalry and dogs of the conquistadores. They were quickly defeated. Many succumbed to European diseases. And the conquest of the islands - Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, the Antilles, the Bahamas - and the slaughter of its people raged on.
De las Casas reports how the Spanish constructed low, wide gallows on which they strung up the people, their feet almost touching the ground. Then they put burning green wood at their feet. Thirteen Arawak people were hanged at each such ceremony, he said, in memory of "Our Redeemer, and His twelve Apostles."
The Arawak and the Taino people are all but gone. But the struggle continues. Today, indigenous peoples are still battling for land and self-determination. From Big Mountain to Akwesasne to Oka to the Black Hills to Guatemala to the Amazon rainforest - and to Palestine, an ocean away - peoples are fighting for the right to live on their land, to speak their languages, to practice their religions, to govern themselves and to live with dignity.
It is not surprising that community activists, including those active on behalf of Palestinian rights, are joining with Chicanos, Latinos and Native Americans to form Resistance 500 groups across the country.
At the centerpiece of the official hoopla, replicas of Columbus's three ships, having sailed from Spain, will enter San Francisco Bay through the Golden Gate on the exact day of the 500 year anniversary. Greeting them will be activists from all over the western hemisphere who are working to advance the struggle of indigenous peoples today.
For those of us involved with the Middle East, there are other obvious connections with Columbus's mission. Columbus's genocidal acts may be viewed as representing the transfer of the Spanish Inquisition to the Americas. It was no accident that the year 1492 marked the European invasion of the Americas and the end of Arab civilization in Spain. And nowhere is the end of that great period seen more markedly than in the expulsion of that civilization's Muslims and Jews - an expulsion that began that very year.
In 1469, the precipitous marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella joined the Christian forces of Aragon and Castile, and signaled the final assault on Granada, the last stronghold of Muslim rule in Spain. It was a campaign well planned and well financed. The King and Queen even convinced the Pope to declare it a "holy war" - a crusade. The Christians crushed one center of resistance after another and finally in January 1492, after a long siege, the Caliph of Granada, Muhammad Abu Abdallah (known in the West as Boabdil) surrendered the fortress palace of the Alhambra itself. Observing that surrender was a man who would make history late that same year, Christopher Columbus.
Although the terms of surrender looked good on paper, later that year the Inquisition under Ferdinand and Isabella brought expulsion orders to the Jews and the threat of forced conversion to the Muslims, who had, according to the agreement, until the beginning of 1495 (three years) to decide between living under Christian rule and exile. In effect, they had to choose between conversion, death or exile. Spanish treasury records now show that Columbus found financing for his voyages - not from the sale of Isabella's jewels as some romanticized accounts tell, nor with the monies saved from "no longer having to fight the Muslims" (a kind of peace dividend) as other accounts will offer - but with the revenue from the confiscated properties of Muslims and Jews.
Torture was used to force conversion to Christianity and to hasten the expulsions. After the Inquisitor General arrived, even those who had converted - "moriscos" (converted Muslims) and "marranos" (converted Jews) - were expelled (or fled to the "New World") bringing the total number to no less than 3 million banished over the next three centuries.
The famous Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, himself from Granada, said of this expulsion: "It was a disastrous event, even though they say the opposite in schools. An admirable civilization and a poetry, architecture and delicacy unique in the world - all were lost. . ."
It is appropriate, therefore, while rethinking the past 500 years of the history of the Americas, that we also look at what happened in Europe and what has resulted from narrow-minded Eurocentrism - "European History."
When studying Europe's Middle Ages why is it that we never include Spain (at least not until after the "reconquest")? Our libraries abound with books on the Middle Ages, but try to find in any of them a single word about daily life and customs in Spain. It is as if later historians, in order to justify a uniquely "European history," ignored the fact that a vibrant and brilliant civilization created by the "Others" - by Arabs, by Muslims, by Jews, by brown and black people - not only existed in Europe, but without whose contributions the region could not have become what it did. When we talk about "EuropeUs" Renaissance we never think of its beginnings in Spain several centuries before it reached Italy. It is as if we lopped off 1000 years of history - or at least amputated it from Europe. Nothing could be further from the truth.
How is it that Europe invented an "eternal West" unique since the moment of its origin? And why was this arbitrary and mythic construct created with an equally artificial and mythic Other (the "Orient")? Samir Amin and Martin Bernal,1 two historians who have analyzed the creation of this Eurocentric vision, say that the well-known version of "Western" history - a progression from ancient Greece to Rome to feudal Christian Europe to capitalist Europe - conspicuously omits the Arab and African roots of "Western" civilization. Elementary school books and popular opinion are as much or maybe more important in the creation and diffusion of this construct as the most erudite theses developed to justify the "ancestry" of European culture and civilization.
How is it that the two thousand odd years separating Greek antiquity from the European Renaissance are treated as a long and hazy period of transition when no one is able to go beyond ancient Greek thought? Christianity, which is established and conquers Europe during this transition, appears at first as a not very philosophical form of ethics, entangled for a long time in dogmatic quarrels hardly conducive to the development of the mind. Indeed, rational throught, scientific investigations, intellectual pursuits - all were thought to be in conflict with theology. Europe outside of Spain continued with these limitations until, with the development of scholasticism in the the later Middle Ages, it assimilated the newly rediscovered Artistotelianism. With the Renaissance and Reformation, Christianity freed itself, liberating civil society from the monopoly of religion over thought. Arab/Islamic philosophy is treated in this account as if it had no other function than to transmit the Greek heritage to the Renaissance world. Moreover, Islam in this Eurocentric vision could not have gone beyond the Hellenic heritage, even if it had attempted to do so.
The construct in question is entirely mythic. Martin Bernal demonstrates this by retracing the history of what he calls the "fabrication of Ancient Greece." Fabricated was the notion that the Greeks were European. Bernal recalls that the ancient Greeks were quite conscious of their belonging to the cultural area of the ancient Orient. Not only did they acknowledge what they learned from the Egyptians and Phoenicians, they also did NOT see themselves as "anti- Orient," which Eurocentrism portrays them as being. On the contrary, the Greeks claimed they had Egyptian ancestors, perhaps mythical, but that is beside the point. Bernal shows that nineteenth century "Hellenomania" was inspired by the racism of the Romantic movement, whose architects were moreover often the same people whom Edward Said2 cites as the creators of Orientalism. Bernal goes on to discuss how this impulse led to the removal of ancient Greece and Christianity from their Middle Eastern context - annexing them arbitrarily to Europe - while Amin concurs and explains the corollary creation of the Arab/the Muslim/the African as eternally Other.
The Romanticists who constructed this mythic version of European history ignored the primary source documents that told them otherwise. Thomas Aquinas, for one, had credited Ibn Rushd (known in the West as Averroes) with arming him with the arguments for dispelling the notion that rational thought and scientific investigation were the enemies of religion.3 Ibn Rushd had been expressing the views that enabled Islamic civilization to flourish - namely that in Islam there was no such conflict between faith and reason, leading Arab scholars to spirited inquiriers into all fields.
But given the Eurocentric view of history, rethinking the history of the lands around the Mediterranean may be as disturbing to those who hold dearly to these myths as will be the rethinking of the history of the Americas. The two debates cannot be separated, for their context is the same, and only with the understanding of how this unique "eternal West" was created can we come to remove the "us" and "them" and understand the truth of our History.
1 Samir Amin, Eurocentrism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1989). Martin Bernal, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987).
2 Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978).
3 Concurrently, this debate was also going on within Judaism thanks to another son of Muslim Spain, Musa Ibn Maimun (known in the West as Maimonides). Born in Granada and as a contemporary of Ibn Rushd, Ibn Maimun made the same arguments to his fellow Jews, sparking what became known as the "Maimonidean Controversy."
Copyright 1992 by Audrey Shabbas
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Especially interesting is the silly folk etymology of indios = en Dios. It doesn't get much air play among latinos it's so off the wall. Especially when one knows that "indio" was the common word for anyone from India for 1000 yrs. before Cristobal Colon, who may have been to Italia but was most likely a native subject of King Fernando el catolico of Aragon. Colon (meaning dove) being a common word in the catalan language of Cataolnia, Valencia and the Balearics, from whence most likely his ancestry -- a true sea-faring people (with por casualidad connexions to the Order Templar). With a name like Cristobal, it's doubtful the Almirante del Mar Oceano was ever a practicing Jew or Muslim, altho many were in 1492 Spain before the final fall of the Islamic Kingdom of Granada and the introduction of the Santo Oficio de la Doctrina de la Fe (the same still extant Vatican entity that silenced the liberation theologists for a while a few years back and order Matthew Fox a year of silence for his creation-centered spirituality... plu c,a change, plus c'est...) It's a common-knowledge historical "fact" in Valencia, that Isabel did NOT *sell* her jewels; she pawned them to Jewish (not Muslim) money lenders of Valencia for the going rate of the day. Jews had an important banking a professional role because they did not have the Koranic or Christian prohibition against usuary (which the so-called "Christian" countries could well use in this day of ridiculous interest rates). The ceiling of the Palacio de la Generalidad in central Valencia is embossed with gold leaf said to be taken from the royal interest payments and given to the City/State out of gratitude by the same Jewish merchants from the nearby Lonja -- the orginal European stock/commodities exchange (and source of the word lounge). (Oops, just made an un-PC statement, it's once again in catal'an, the Palaci de la Generalitat.) Little did they realize that the place that had been their home since before the fall of Valencia to el Cid Campeador, don Ruy, almost 500 yrs. before was soon to support the religious ban --and confiscate their wealth. I always assumed that was how the gold got on the Generalitat's ceiling, as it was "filthy luchre" having been taken in usuary, the city dads could only paste it up to look at. Oh religious sensibilities are the nicest ones to have.
At any rate, yes Colon was definitely a man of his times who not only admired the indios' kindness, pacific nature and freedom in the unspoled caribbean, but immediately pointed out their utility as slaves should he find the goldmines of the indies. What he did was no small feat for the times. Surely he had knowledge of the viking sagas and other prehistoric attempts to cross the Atlantic, which probably the Templars could have provided him. He was something a mystery to all who followed as he became quickly legendized, the only way to cope with someone who was also bound in chains as a potential traitor and at the same time a national hero. A sort of Lt. Col. Ollie North of his time? Great? Historic? Both yes. But how to evaluate at 500 yrs distance? Good, ethical? Maybe not. Seeking a way to flee the ghastly late medieval Europe? Also a likelihood. Worse than other Spaniards of his time? Probably even better. Disastrous for native peoples of this contntent? Oy gevalt!
But please carefuylly separate the leyenda negra and the leyenda de oro about the Spanish conquest very carefully. Both are legends, not history.
With the IV Latin American Episcopal Conference in Santo Domingo coming up in 1992, it is natural that the 500 years that have passed since the arrival of the Spanish to the continent be remembered. The theme of Santo Domingo in 1992, as is known, is the "new evangelization". It is of utmost importance to have present the voice of those who are the descendents of the ones who so suffered the most negative conseqences of the first evangelization. We refer here to the indigenous peoples. As much as we may pretend that they no longer exist or that they are ready to disappear, at the present time there are about 50 million indigenous people throughout Continental America who speak more than 500 different languages. Their voices, however, have been silenced because, if not they would be too troublesome. For this reason it seems very important to us to give them space so that they can express their complaints, their concerns and their hopes to the pastors who will meet in Santo Domingo in 1992 and to the entire world. Here is a rough draft:
1. Although the modernizing projects of the Nation-States have sentenced the poor to death, we indigenous people are not dead and we are not going to accept that destiny which is being imposed upon us. Consequently, we disagree with our pastors who assume the same language of the modernizers when they refer to us as a thing of the past, or as realities that, unfortunately, must die in order to give way to the "advent culture" or the culture of modernity. We indigenous people are alive and we believe that we are bearers of a life project that is valid not only for us, but also for all of us beings who populate this earth. Therefore, we urge the pastors of our Church to recognize the legitimacy of the indigenous struggle in the context of the struggle of the poor. We urge the opening of pastoral spaces for the defense and development of this struggle. Pastoral work has been the womb for many popular processes that, with time, have become adult and autonomous. Pastors must know how to accompany these processes without attempting to steer them, be godfathers to them or to pigeonhole them according to intraecclesial schemes. They are the inevitable consequence of the legitimate autonomy of temporal realities recognized and consecrated by the Second Vatican Council.
2. We indigenous peoples, although impoverished and devalued as a result of the centuries of oppression weighing upon our shoulders, do not wish to be treated with degrading paternalism that reduces us to the category of children incapable of taking care of ourselves. We are adults and we demand to be treated as such by society and Church. We require that our pastors take us into consideration when their ecclesiastical decisions affect our faith life; that they consider us true ecclesial interlocutors.
3. Let us once and for all rid the Church of the ignominy of continuing to consider, in its actions, that the indigenous peoples are beings incapable of the faith and conduct of our Christian life. It is unjust that in the ecclesiastical relationship with the indigenous people there is a prevailing prejudice that considers us to be second-class believers, suspected of heresy, apostasy or schisms, for the simple fact that we defend our right to be different in our culture and in the expression of our faith.
4. Let us now heal the injuries of the past. We indigenous people do not want to forever carry in our spirit the pain of crimes committed against our forebears. Social and ecclesial reconciliation is urgent today. Let us profoundly bond in the commitment to build a future where we will definitively eradicate the structural causes that gave rise to the crimes of the past. Let us guarantee all, but especially the poor, that such situations will never again be repeated.
5. For this reconciliation, only the humble acceptance of the historical truth will set us free. In the judgement of history, the Church will not be liberated if, as a point of departure, she does not recognize her responsibility for the crimes that for 500 years were committed against our peoples in her name and in the name of God. To the extent that she attempts to close her eyes to the truth, the Church runs the risk of losing the credibility that she now enjoys among the poor.
6. Although we too are marked by sin, we indigenous peoples consider that the Spirit of God is what animates our historical walk. We feel that if God has confidence in his poor people, then our pastors also should. Do not hinder our search, assuming that we are ignorant because we lack academic preparation. We poor are the chosen of God because we have the sensus fidei, the instinct for faith, that is capable of demonstrating the vacuity of the supposed wisdom of the intellectuals who write books.
7. Do not permit the contradiction of the facts with respect to the indigenous people. Support and accompany pastorally our processes for recuperating the land, the self-determination of the peoples, the affirmation of culture and the inculturation of the Gospel. Do not put out or allow others to put out the burning fuse of our efforts to inculturate the catechism, the theology, the liturgy and the ecclesiastical ministries. Encourage us to carry on with the construction of the Kingdom in history. Correct us if it is necessary, but with the clarity that must characterize the pastors, in order that the seed planted by God in our cultures would germinate, grow, flower and give the longed-for fruit to the Lord of the Harvest. In this way, with our own face and heart, let us integrate into the unity of the People of God, where people of every race and culture extend their hands, united in the same faith, but diverse in their cultural and religious identity.
8. Let us together, with audacity, assume the challenge of the "birth of the particularly indigenous churches, with autonomous heirarchy and organization, with theology, liturgy and ecclesial expressions that are adequate for a cultural experience of faith." (CELAM, Bogota, 1985.) The indigenous churches, with their new contributions, will revitalize and enrich the other churches in a truly multicultural and new scheme of Catholicism. Only in this way can we indigenous peoples, who have put our hopes in the Church see carried out in history that which our grandparents, our forebears dreamed and foretold.
In history, 1992 is the 500th anniversary of Columbus' first voyage to the New World. In herstory, 500 years is a fundamental cycle -- half of a millenium -- in which polarity reverses. Certainly the 1990s seem to be a time when the world is turning upslide down -- or insight out. In such a reversal of phase, the past takes a new face. In this changing light, let's look anew at who was Colombus.
Columbus kept a diary of his 1492 voyage. He wrote in this journal that at one point in the journey, he held a conference on the Santa Maria with the captains of all three ships. Christoforo penned in his log that he consulted his map, and based on his map and the sighting of some birds, they changed course. Eight days later, they sighted land.
Many historians and scholars have commented on this singular reference in Columbus' memoir to a map. They have wondered what it told him, and where he got it, and why he consulted it thus and then. No one has ever shed any light on this cartographic mystery.
When Columbus originally petitioned the Spanish Naval Commission for ships and provisions to make his voyage, he asserted that he expected to find land 850 leagues to the west. Indeed, eight days after they changed course based on Columbus' map, the three ships encountered land 850 leagues west of the Iberian Peninsula. How remarkable!
When Columbus set sail with three ships, there wasn't a Catholic priest on any three of the vessels. Considering this expedition was chartered by Spain's most Catholic monarchs, this seems a bit odd. If one of the men had died on the trip, who would have given last rites? Columbus? One of the other captains?
History tells us that Columbus' adventure was financed by the sale of Queen Isabella's jewelry. But that's only half the story -- history. We aren't told who bought her jewelry to capitalize Columbus' quest. Would Queen Isabella tell us this part of herstory?
Yet, in herstory, I've heard that a consortium of wealthy Moorish, Jewish and Cathar financiers put up funds to finance the foray. Now, this opens doors to several mysteries and speculations.
It's important to know that in 1492, Spain's most Catholic monarchs were endorsing passage of laws which enforced on all residents of Spain a requirement that they, too, be Catholic. Far from separating church and state, this wedding of religion and government would have closed steel jaws on any who refused to profess belief in both. Or put them to the sword. Or roasted them on a stake. In a few more years, this legally enforced religion led to the Inquisition and all its terrors.
Already, in 1492, many of Spain's non-Catholics were moving to liberal Portugal and other countries where the threat of persecution and oppression had not yet gathered the force of law. Wise and educated leaders of Spain's non-Catholic communities were looking for safe havens for their people.
According to a NY Times feature on 6/2/91: There have been those who think Columbus might have been Jewish, but the Encyclopedia Judaica doesn't seem eager to claim him. According to the entry on Columbus, "He was himself mysterious abouthis background, which he wished to conceal. However, he boasted cryptically abouthis connection with King David. The mystery of Columbus' origins is largely the outcome of his own mendacity."
Whoever he was, it is also odd that the sails of Columbus' vessels had crosses on them. Not Catholic crosses. Rather, these were Templar crosses, with four equal sided, flared arms meeting at a narrow center.
Now, on Oct. 13, 1307, French King Phillipe and Catholic Pope Clement (Phillipe's puppet) declared the Templars to be heretics who practiced a blasphemeous religion which included the worship of a skull and bones. For their crimes, the Templars were hunted down, imprisoned, tortured, forced to sign confessions, executed, and extinguished -- says history.
At the time in history, the Templars were the second most powerful organization in France. With their great wealth they created a banking and currency system; as holy knights, they maintained safe passage on roads and highways; as monks, they built the Gothic Cathedrals, and named them "Notre Dame" -- says herstory.
Fortunately, the Templars were forewarned of the King's play for power, and most escaped, taking with them the fabulous Templar treasury. Also disappearing then was the Templar fleet, which at that time was Europe's largest navy. No one knows where the Templar navy fled, but they had the most sophisticated maps and navigation equipment of that age.
History tells us that in 1492 Columbus was looking for a westward route to India. Upon arriving on a western shore, he therefore proclaimed them the "West Indies" and the inhabitants thereof were "Indians" -- a misnomer that has stuck through the last 500 years, testifying to our continuing confusion about culture, geography and history.
Yet, according to herstory, Columbus was so impressed by the goodness, grace, gentleness, and generosity of the residents of his new-found island that he declared they must be "in Dios" -- or living "in God." From this came their name: "Indians."
In the next century, Spanish galleons would haul vast bullions of New World gold back to Europe. Often these monarchial vessels were raided by ships which sported the Jolly Roger of a skull and crossed bones. History tells us these raiders were pirates; but herstory whispers these freebootin' buccaneers were Templars sailing from their secret refuge.
There's a lot of unknown history (and herstory) about how the New World was won (and lost). Even as Europeans have erased the native history, culture and populations, so they have erased their own native herstory of religion, culture and secret societies. Maybe, as we pass the 500 year, half millenial mark, in this saga of Empire and Re-public, maybe it's time to get the whole story.