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Bartomolé de Las Casas
Spanish priest who wrote a book (A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies) revealing the genocide committed by the Conquistadors in the New World
(1484-1566)



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This coastline, too, was swarming with people and it would seem, if we are to judge by those areas so far explored, that the Almighty selected this part of the world as home to the greater part of the human race.

God made all the peoples of this area* , many and varied as they are, as open and as innocent as can be imagined. The simplest people in the world – unassuming, long-suffering, unassertive, and submissive – they are without malice or guile, and are utterly faithful and obedient both to their own native lords and to the Spaniards in whose service they now find themselves. Never quarrelsome or belligerent or boisterous, they harbour no grudges and do not seek to settle old scores; indeed, the notions of revenge, rancour, and hatred are quite foreign to them. At the same time, they are among the least robust of human beings: their delicate constitutions make them unable to withstand hard work or suffering and render them liable to succumb to almost any illness, no matter how mild. (...)

They are also among the poorest people on the face of the earth; they own next to nothing and have no urge to acquire material possessions. As a result they are neither ambitious nor greedy, and are totally uninterested in worldly power. Their diet is every bit as poor and as monotonous, in quantity and in kind, as that enjoyed by the Desert Fathers. Most of them go naked, save for a loincloth to cover their modesty; at best they may wrap themselves in a piece of cotton material a yard or two square. (...)

They are innocent and pure in mind and have a lively intelligence, all of which makes them particularly receptive to learning and understanding the truths of our Catholic faith and to being instructed in virtue; indeed, God has invested them with fewer impediments in this regard than any other people on earth. Once they begin to learn of the Christian faith they become so keen to know more, to receive the Sacraments, and to worship God, that the missionaries who instruct them do truly have to be men of exceptional patience and forbearance; and over the years I have time and again met Spanish laymen who have been so struck by the natural goodness that shines through these people that they frequently can be heard to exclaim: ‘These would be the most blessed people on earth if only they were given the chance to convert to Christianity.’

It was upon these gentle lambs, imbued by the Creator with all the qualities we have mentioned, that from the very first day they clapped eyes on them the Spanish fell like ravening wolves upon the fold, or like tigers and savage lions who have not eaten meat for days. The pattern established at the outset has remained unchanged to this day, and the Spaniards still do nothing save tear the natives to shreds, murder them and inflict upon them untold misery, suffering and distress, tormenting, harrying and persecuting them mercilessly. We shall in due course describe some of the many ingenious methods of torture they have invented and refined for this purpose, but one can get some idea of the effectiveness of their methods from the figures alone. (...)

At a conservative estimate, the despotic and diabolical behaviour of the Christians has, over the last forty years, led to the unjust and totally unwarranted deaths of more than twelve million souls, women and children among them, and there are grounds for believing my own estimate of more than fifteen million to be nearer the mark. (...)





The reason the Christians have murdered on such a vast scale and killed anyone and everyone in their way is purely and simply greed. They have set out to line their pockets with gold and to amass private fortunes as quickly as possible so that they can then assume a status quite at odds with that into which they were born. Their insatiable greed and overweening ambition know no bounds; the land is fertile and rich, the inhabitants simple, forbearing and submissive. The Spaniards have shown not the slightest consideration for these people, treating them (and I speak from first-hand experience, having been there from the outset) not as brute animals – indeed, I would to God they had done and had shown them the consideration they afford their animals – so much as piles of dung in the middle of the road. (...)

One fact in all this is widely known and beyond dispute, for even the tyrannical murderers themselves acknowledge the truth of it: the indigenous peoples never did the Europeans any harm whatever; on the contrary, they believed them to have descended from the heavens, at least until they or their fellow-citizens had tasted, at the hands of these oppressors, a diet of robbery, murder, violence, and all other manner of trials and tribulations.

-- Bartomolé de Las Casas, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies (1552) (1992 English translation) - Preface.


They are credulous and aware that there is a god in heaven and convinced that we come from there. And they repeat very quickly any prayer we tell them and make the sign of the cross. So your Highnesses should resolve to make them Christians, for I believe that if you begin you will soon convert to our holy faith a multitude of people, acquiring huge dominions and great riches for Spain. Because without doubt there is in these lands a very great quantity of gold.

-- The Diario of Christopher Columbus's First Voyage to America 1492-1493. Abstracted by Fray Bartomolé de Las Casas. Transcribed and translated into English with notes and a concordance of the Spanish, by Oliver Dunn and James E. Kelley, Jr. (1989). This quote (drawn from Columbus's now lost diary) is of Columbus writing in 1492 about the tractable Taino Indians to his royal patrons Ferdinand and Isabella, the king and queen of Aragon and Castille.


Footnote

* "this area" refers to the mainland nearest the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (modern day Haiti and the Dominican Republic)


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The selection of the above quotes and the writing of the accompanying notes was performed by the author David Paul Wagner.

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