Bartolomé de las Casas – from The Very Brief Relation of the Devistation of the Indies

Early modern Europe’s most eloquent apologist fr Native American rights, Bartolomé de las Casas first heard of the new “discoveries” as a student in Seville in 1493, when Columbus triumphantly entered that Spanish city.    (N6AmA 38)

The Very Brief Relation of the Devastation of the Indies is a fairly early political tract—scarcely more than a pamphlet—written about America.  Hardly the first political writing published in Spain, but one of the first and perhaps the first important one written about the then-New World.

Casas was motivated to help alleviate the suffering of natives an America, and for this (admirable) reason, it’s hard to take his lists of atrocities seriously.  Europeans are just too perfectly evil in Casas’ writing for me to really believe it.  Call it a DFW-style framing of cynicism and mistrust of the politically-motivated written word, but I read all of his assertions of the truth of what he writes to do the opposite of their intent: I read “I once saw this…” and “I saw all these things I have described, and countless others” (40) before and after (respectively) a gruesome anecdote about the screams of Indians being burned alive as meaning “You’re not going to believe this.”

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