The history of colonization, regardless of who the perpetrator has been, has always had the same elements. Invasion and colonization have always been fueled by pride, ego, and a wish to show the world which nation is the most powerful. Furthermore, invasion and colonization have always resulted in violence, and has had a detriment on the conquered people’s lifestyles, rituals and ceremonies, and identities. Despite having to battle physical, psychological, and cultural wounds, the indigenous peoples who were victims of the Spanish desire for expansion and dominance, such as the Tainos and the Aztecs, never gave up or surrendered without a fight.
One of the most known narratives and exemplification of the devastation of warfare and Spanish greed, was the conquest of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, and the religious and governmental epicenter of the Aztec Empire. Prior to the invasion and colonization of the Spanish, Tenochtitlan was decorated and adorned with deity impersonators and related imagery and symbols, such as colorful bird feathers (Broken Spears, pg. 92). However, all of this changed with the Spanish presence. Whether it was by burning a central marketplace or placing their cannons over the Aztec sacrificial stone, the conquistadors undoubtedly and indiscriminately destroyed important symbols of the Aztec life and religion (Broken Spears, 99, 103).
The Spanish invasion of the Aztec territory was a horrid account of brutality. Both the Aztecs and the Spanish intelligently and relentlessly fought and murdered each other, with both entities losing many men due to wounds, disease, or as prisoners of war (Broken Spears, pg.103). Although the Aztecs were feared warriors, their arrows could not beat the horses and cannons of the Spanish. The Aztecs fought bravely and courageously, and their emperors led with grace and died with dignity. Most of the Aztec nobility perished during warfare, and unfortunately, the indigenous people who survived initiated a life of unwanted servitude to the Spanish who had destroyed their way of life.
Another example of Spanish rule over indigenous peoples is the tale of the embark to what the Spanish named La Isabella, the first Spanish colony located in the island of La Hispaniola. The town was initially thought of by Christopher Columbus and other Spanish men, as a potential trading post similar to that established in West Africa by Portugal (Ch 6). The Spanish were inconsiderate of the indigenous people already living in the island, the Tainos, and did not think about the incompatibility of a Portuguese-based trading model to the indigenous people’s cultures and economic system (Ch 6). In contrast to the Tainos, people in West Africa already had an economic model that involved trading in place when the conquerors arrived (Ch 6).
The Spanish maltreated the Tainos and the Aztecs in the same manner: by disregarding their human rights, their freedom, their customs, and even their lives, forcing them into physical and sexual enslavement. This is exemplified by San Bartolome De Las Casas’ accounts of the immoral and ineffective methods of Spanish colonization. The Spanish were not afraid to work their slaves, which could be any prisoner of war, any indigenous person, or those who did not convert to their religion, to death (Las Casas paragraph 5). Better treatment conditions were only achieved when the indigenous populations began to perish due to disease, as without subjects the Spanish would not be rulers (Ch 6).
Nevertheless, despite, denouncing the unnecessary suffering of the indigenous people ruled by the Spanish, Las Casas, a Spanish priest himself, never advocated for the end of Spanish rule or colonization, nor for the forceful conversion of religion (Ch 6). De Las Casas himself was a slave-owner and even favored using African slaves over indigenous slaves because of their higher resistance to European diseases, which obviously meant less deaths and more works (De Las Casas, paragraphs 8 and 9). Although De Las Casas later began to preach for the abolishment of slavery, and supposedly regretted having been a slave-owner, by not fully standing up against the Spanish system, De Las Casas illustrates the Spanish mindset of imperialism and supremacy that motivated unlimited conquest at the time.
The beginning of a world empire always begins with the addition of new lands, and the search for more wealth and more territory to expand a kingdom, an empire, a single currency, a single flag, a single monarch. The Spanish Conquest of the colonies of America during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries where no different. However, they do not stop to ever think about the peoples of the conquered lands.
The greatest contrast between Mesoamerica and the colonial era was not the physical conquest, but the ideological and cultural conquest that all indigenous peoples suffered. In the Americas, it ended with a whole world, with multiple cultures that had a history of thousands of years. The invasions and conquests all sought to end the identity of the conquered peoples. In order to do that, the Spanish imposed customs, religions, ideas, practices and language to the conquered indigenous peoples. This is one of the most terrible forms of colonization, and what I believe to be a cultural genocide. Many racial and cultural problems in Latin American identity remain to this day because their ancestors were stripped not only of their physical liberty, but from their own identity. They were thrown into a world without knowing who they were, only being told that they were inferior to their terrible conquerors.
- Anthony, D. (n.d.). July 2015: Bartolomé de las Casas and 500 Years of Racial Injustice. Retrieved June 24, 2017, from http://origins.osu.edu/milestones/july-2015-bartolom-de-las-casas-and-500-years-racial-injustice
- León-Portilla, M. (2009). The broken spears: the Aztec account of the conquest of Mexico. Boston: Beacon Press.
- Restall, M., & Lane, K. E. (2011). Latin America in Colonial Times. (Ch 6).