Si no fuera por el Almirante, que quería más el tributo
October 12, 2014 5:00 PM   Subscribe

The Relación of Fray Ramón Pané famously records what one Hieronymite friar learned about the religious beliefs and healing practices of the Taíno between 1494 and 1496 (bilingual PDF with another translation and more introductory material), supposedly at the request of Christopher Columbus. Research published in 2006 on a "Lost document [that] reveals Columbus as a tyrant of the Caribbean" indicates that Pané was also a key witness in the trial of Columbus, partially responsible for sending Columbus home in chains, as depicted on the Columbus Doors of the U. S. Capitol building (detail).
posted by Monsieur Caution (3 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
What a great post, Thanks. This will be some interesting reading. I'm surprised no one has commented. It seems the truth about Columbus is starting to spread into popular discourse, albeit the left leaning media. Jon Oliver's "Why is this still a thing?" segment was fantastic.
At some point we're going to actually have to reflect on our very shitty past and the worst genocide of all time.
Happy Indigenous People's Day
posted by ivandnav at 12:17 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

He was a jerk just like the rest of them. Reading some of this makes me think Pané testified against him mostly because of some "drama," not for any moral reasons. If anything, money and politics were involved. All these guys hated each other and we're kind of petty and ridiculous. I could see Columbus slighting Pané in some stupid way or Pané misinterpreting something Columbus did and then developing some grudge. They were all assholes and I like to imagine them as characters in some realty show like Jersey Shores. I don't watch any. I'm sure there's a better example.

Also, that Oatmeal cartoon that suggests we change Columbus day is pissing me off. It keeps getting reposted everywhere. I agree with a commenter that said
"Stop trying to find people to replace the person whose holiday today used to be celebrated. Inevitably, people keep picking white folk, and almost universally other colonizers (De Las Casas is completely missing the whole point). While Indigenous Peoples' Day is a step in the right direction, it's fundamental to remember that a day does not end colonialism which is still being visited upon indigenous peoples in this country. And I'm really fucking tired of people sharing that goddamn Oatmeal piece. Stop it."
posted by ivandnav at 5:16 PM on October 13, 2014

Although there are obvious moments of profound ethnocentrism in it, the Relación is, relative to anything else from its time, an amazing effort to understand and document another worldview. It's decades later before you see better work, e.g. Bernadino de Sahagún or Diego Durán. And it's easy to fail at it. Las Casas's most famous work is important for other reasons, but I found it hard to discern ethnographic details in it. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca spent six years on the Gulf Coast and gives a good account of visible things like modes of subsistence, but to me, it seems evident that he understood little about what the people he lived with were really thinking.

There's also little question about the earnestness with which many folks from the church pursued (painfully minimal and frequently compromised) rights and protections for indigenous peoples. Consider Montesinos's Christmas sermon from 1511:
I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness ... In order to make your sins known to you I have mounted this pulpit ... This voice ... declares that you are in mortal sin, and live and die therein by reason of the cruelty and tyranny that you practice on this innocent people. Tell me, by what right or justice do you hold these Indians in such cruel and horrible slavery? By what right do you wage such detestable wars on these people who lived mildly and peacefully in their own lands, where you have consumed infinite numbers of them with unheard-of murders and desolations? Why do you so greatly oppress and fatigue them, not giving them enough to eat or carrying for them when they fall ill from excessive labors, so that they die or rather are slain by you, so that you may extract and acquire gold every day? ... Are they not men? Do they not have rational souls? Are you not bound to love them as your love yourselves?
Thanks to Las Casas and others, all those sentiments are eventually echoed in the Sublimus Dei in 1537. It's reasonable to be cynical about this stuff and suppose it was self-interested in some way (even simple perpetuation of church authority in the region), but they sure wanted it.

So an interesting thing about the new finding is that it places one of the better sources from the period squarely at odds with typical apologists for Columbus, who think Bobadilla's inquest was a misunderstanding or a sham.

Furthermore, that source is someone to whom we can generally ascribe the motives of his faction: motives which, however compromised they might be by non-altruistic politics and ideology, at least included the aim of recognizing indigenous peoples as ordinary human beings and not "natural slaves." (This was seriously debated.)

And finally, I admit it's sort of choice for it be the local clergy lining up against Columbus for preventing missionary work because, even though I know that where there's a will there's an argument, that seems like a real puzzle for defending him along socially conservative lines.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:04 PM on October 13, 2014

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