american-holocaust.pdf - -=-~ HISTORY"A much-needed...

This preview shows page 1 out of 391 pages.

Unformatted text preview: - .- ·-=-~~~~~-- HISTORY "A much-needed counterbalance to centuries of romantic confabulation." , Los Angeles Times Book Review In a work of impassioned scholarship, David E. Stannard describes in horrific detail the mass destruction of entire New World societies that followed in the wake of European contact with the Western Hemisphere-destruction that lasted for more than four centuries, and that continues in many places even today. In a sweeping introductory overview of the native cultures of the Americas as they existed prior to 1492, Stannard provides a vibrant context for understanding the human dimension of what was lost in that tragic firestorm of violence and introduced disease. He concludes with a searching examination of the religious and cultural roots of Euro-American racism and genocidal behavior. "Vivid and relentless, combining a formidable array of primary sources with meticulous analysis-a devastating reassessment of the Conquest as nothing Kirkus Reviews less than a holy war." "The product of massive reading in the important sources .... Stannard's convincing claim is that what happened was the worst demographic disaster in the history of our species." The Boston Sunday Globe "A devastating portrait of the death, disease, misery, and apocalyptic destruction experienced by American Indians during the centuries after 1492." The Washington Post Book World "Drawing on the latest demographic, geographical, and anthropological research ... [and] driven by a gruesome account of the ascetic Christian roots of genocidal racism, Stannard's is a terrifying, spirit-withering story." The Chicago Sunday Tribune David E. Stannard is Professor of American Studies at the University of Hawaii. His previous books include Death in America, Shrinking History, The Puritan Way of Death, and Before the Horror. Cover design by Marek Antoniak 9xford Paperbacks Oxford University Press ISBN 978-0-19-508557-0 52 4 9 9> 9 780195 0 85570 u.s. $24.99 AMERICAN HOLOCAUST AMERICAN HOLOCAUST The Conquest of the New World DAVID E. STANNARD OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS New York Oxford Oxford University Press Oxford New York Toronto Delhi Bombay Cakutta Madras Karachi Kuala Lumpur Singapore Hong Kong Tokyo Nairobi Dar es Salaam Cape Town Melbourne Auckland Madrid and associated companies in Berlin lbadan Copyright © 1992 by David E. Stannard First published in 1992 by Oxford University Press, Inc., 198 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016-4314 First issued as an Oxford University Press paperback, 1993 Oxford is a registered trademark of Oxford University Press All rights reserved. No pan of this publication may be r!produced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of Oxford University Press, Inc. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Stannard, David E. American holocaust : Columbus and the conquest of the New World I David E. Stannard. p. em. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN-13 978-0-19-50S557-0 1. Columbus, Christopher-Influence. 2. America-Discovery and exploration-Spanish. 3. Indians, Treatment of. 4. Indians-First contact with Europeans. I. Title. E112.S82 1992 970.01 '5-dc20 92-6922 25 24 23 22 21 20 Printed in the United States of America On acid-free paper For Florence Evelyn Harwood Stannard -the poet who gave me life and taught me that in kindness and charity there is strength and for Haunani-Kay Trask -the poet who sustains me and is unwavering in the struggle for justice CONTENTS Prologue I ix BEFORE COLUMBUS Chapter 1 3 Chapter 2 17 II PESTILENCE AND GENOCIDE Chapter 3 57 Chapter 4 97 III SEX, RACE, AND HOLY WAR Chapter 5 149 Chapter 6 195 Epilogue 247 APPENDIXES Appendix I: On Pre-Columbian Settlement and Population 261 Appendi?C II: On Racism and Genocide Acknowledgments 283 Notes 285 Index 347 269 PROLOGUE of an early July morning in 1945, on a desolate spot in the New Mexico desert named after a John Donne sonnet celebrating the Holy Trinity, the first atomic bomb was exploded. J. Robert Oppenheimer later remembered that the immense flash of light, followed by the thunderous roar, caused a few observers to laugh and others to cry. But most, he said, were silent. Oppenheimer himself recalled at that instant a line from the Bhagavad-Gita: I N THE DARKNESS I am become death, the shatterer of worlds. There is no reason to think that anyone on board the Nina, the Pinta, or the Santa Maria, on an equally dark early morning four and a half centuries earlier, thought of those ominous lines from the ancient Sanskrit poem when the crews of the Spanish ships spied a flicker of light on the windward side of the island they would name after the Holy Saviour. But the intuition, had it occurred, would have been as appropriate then as it was when that first nuclear blast rocked the New Mexico desert sands. In both instances-at the Trinity test site in 1945 and at San Salvador in 1492-those moments of achievement crowned years of intense personal struggle and adventure for their protagonists and were culminating points of ingenious technological achievement for their countries. But both instances also were prelude to orgies of human destructiveness that, each in its own way, attained a scale of devastation not previously witnessed in the entire history of the world. Just twenty-one days after the first atomic test in the desert, the Japa- X AMERICAN HOLOCAUST nese industrial city of Hiroshima was leveled by nuclear blast; never before had so many people-at least 130,000, probably many more-died from a single explosion. 1 Just twenty-one years after Columbus's first landing in the Caribbean, the vastly populous island that the explorer had re-named Hispaniola was effectively desolate; nearly 8,000,000 people-those Columbus chose to call Indians-had been killed by violence, disease, and despair. 2 It took a little longer, about the span of a single human generation, but what happened on Hispaniola was the equivalent of more than fifty Hiroshimas. And Hispaniola was only the beginning. Within no more than a handful of generations following their first encounters with Europeans, the vast majority of the Western Hemisphere's native peoples had been exterminated. The pace and magnitude of their obliteration varied from place to place and from time to time, but for years now historical demographers have been uncovering, in region upon region, post-Columbian depopulation rates of between 90 and 98 percent with such regularity that an overall decline of 95 percent has become a working rule of thumb. What this means is that, on average, for every twenty natives alive at the moment of European contact-when the lands of the Americas teemed with numerous tens of millions of people-only one stood in their place when the bloodbath was over. To put this in a contemporary context, the ratio of native survivorship in the Americas following European contact was less than half of what the human survivorship ratio would be in the United States today if every single white person and every single black person died. The destruction of the Indians of the Americas was, far and away, the most massive act of genocide in the history of the world. That is why, as one historian aptly has said, far from the heroic and romantic heraldry that customarily is used to symbolize the European settlement of the Americas, the emblem most congruent with reality would be a pyramid of skulls. 3 Scholarly estimates of the size of the post-Columbian holocaust have climbed sharply in recent decades. Too often, however, academic discussions of this ghastly event have reduced the devastated indigenous peoples and their cultures to statistical calculations in recondite demographic analyses. It is easy for this to happen. From the very beginning, merely taking the account of so mammoth a cataclysm seemed an impossible task. Wrote one Spanish adventurer-who arrived in the New World only two decades after Columbus's first landing, and who himself openly reveled in the torrent of native blood-there was neither "paper nor time enough to tell all that the [conquistadors] did to ruin the Indians and rob them and destroy the land." 4 As a result, the very effort to describe the disaster's overwhelming magnitude has tended to obliterate both the writer's and the reader's sense of its truly horrific human element. In an apparent effort to counteract this tendency, one writer, Tzvetan Todorov, begins his study of the events of 1492 and immediately there- PROLOGUE xi after with an epigraph from Diego de Landa's Relaci6n de las cosas de Yucatan: The captain Alonso Lopez de Avila, brother-in-law of the adelantado Montejo, captured, during the war in Bacalan, a young Indian woman of lovely and gracious appearance. She had promised her husband, fearful lest they should kill him in the war, not to have relations with any other man but him, and so no persuasion was sufficient to prevent her from taking her own life to avoid being defiled by another man; and because of this they had her thrown to the dogs. T odorov then dedicates his book "to the memory of a Mayan woman devoured by dogs." 5 It is important to try to hold in mind an image of that woman, and her brothers and sisters and the innumerable others who suffered similar fates, as one reads Todorov's book, or this one, or any other work on this subject-just as it is essential, as one reads about the Jewish Holocaust or the horrors of the African slave trade, to keep in mind the treasure of a single life in order to avoid becoming emotionally anesthetized by the sheer force of such overwhelming human evil and destruction. There is, for example, the case of a small Indian boy whose name no one knows today, and whose unmarked skeletal remains are hopelessly intermingled with those of hundreds of anonymous others in a mass grave on the American plains, but a boy who once played on the banks of a quiet creek in eastern Colorado-until the morning, in 1864, when the American soldiers came. Then, as one of the cavalrymen later told it, while his compatriots were slaughtering and mutilating the bodies of all the women and all the children they could catch, he spotted the boy trying to flee: There was one little child, probably three years old, just big enough to walk through the sand. The Indians had gone ahead, and this little child was behind following after them. The little fellow was perfectly naked, travelling on the sand. I saw one man get off his horse, at a distance of about seventyfive yards, and draw up his rifle and fire-he missed the child. Another man came up and said, "Let me try the son of a bitch; I can hit him." He got down off his horse, kneeled down and fired at the little child, but he missed him. A third man came up and made a similar remark, and fired, and the little fellow dropped. 6 We must do what we can to recapture and to try to understand, in human terms, what it was that was crushed, what it was that was butchered. It is not enough merely to acknowledge that much was lost. So close to total was the human incineration and carnage in the post-Columbian Americas, however, that of the tens of millions who were killed, few individual lives left sufficient traces for subsequent biographical representation. The first xii' AMERICAN HOLOCAUST two chapters to follow are thus necessarily limited in their concerns to the social and cultural worlds that existed in North and South America before Columbus's fateful voyage in 1492. We shall have to rely on our imaginations to fill in the faces and the lives. The extraordinary outpouring of recent scholarship that has analyzed the deadly impact of the Old World on the New has employed a novel array of research techniques to identify introduced disease as the primary cause of the Indians' great population decline. As one of the pioneers in this research put it twenty years ago, the natives' "most hideous" enemies were not the European invaders themselves, "but the invisible killers which those men brought in their blood and breath." 7 It is true, in a plainly quantitative sense of body counting, that the barrage of disease unleashed by the Europeans among the so-called "virgin soil" populations of the Americas caused more deaths than any other single force of destruction. However, by focusing almost entirely on disease, by displacing responsibility for the mass killing onto an army of invading microbes, contemporary authors increasingly have created the impression that the eradication of those tens of millions of people was inadvertent-a sad, but both inevitable and "unintended consequence" of human migration and progress. 8 This is a modern version of what Alexander Saxton recently has described as the "softside of anti-Indian racism" that emerged in America in the nineteenth century and that incorporated "expressions of regret over the fate of Indians into narratives that traced the inevitability of their extinction. Ideologically," Saxton adds, "the effect was to exonerate individuals, parties, nations, of any moral blame for what history had decreed." 9 In fact, however, the near-total destruction of the Western Hemisphere's native people . was neither inadvertent nor inevitable. From almost the instant of first human contact between Europe and the Americas firestorms of microbial pestilence and purposeful genocide began laying waste the American natives. Although at times operating independently, for most of the long centuries of devastation that followed 1492, disease and genocide were interdependent forces acting dynamically-whipsawing their victims between plague and violence, each one feeding upon the other, and together driving countless numbers of entire ancient societies to the brink-and often over the brink-of total extermination. In the pages that lie ahead we will examine the causes and the consequences of both these grisly phenomena. But since the genocidal component has so often been neglected in recent scholarly analyses of the great American Indian holocaust, it is the central purpose of this book to survey some of the more virulent examples of this deliberate racist purge, from fifteenth-century Hispaniola to nineteenth-century California, and then to locate and examine the belief systems and the cultural attitudes that underlay such monstrous behavior. PROLOGUE xiii History for its own sake is not an idle task, but studies of this sort are conducted not only for the maintenance of collective memory. In the Foreword to a book of oral history accounts depicting life in Germany during the Jewish Holocaust, Elie Wiesel says something that befits the present context as well: "The danger lies in forgetting. Forgetting, however, will not effect only the dead. Should it triumph, the ashes of yesterday will cover our hopes for tomorrow." 10 To begin, then, we must try to remember. For at a time when quincentennial festivities are in full flower to honor the famed Admiral of the Ocean Sea-when hot disputes are raging, because of the quest for tourist dollars, over whether he first actually landed at Grand Turk Island, Samana Cay, or Watlings Island-the ashes of yesterday, and their implications for all the world's hopes for tomorrow, are too often ignored in the unseemly roar of self-congratulation. 11 Moreover, the important question for the future in this case is not "can it happen again?" Rather, it is "can it be stopped?" For the genocide in the Americas, and in other places where the world's indigenous peoples survive, has never really ceased. As recently as 1986, the Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States observed that 40,000 people had simply "disappeared" in Guatemala during the preceding fifteen years. Another 100,000 had been openly murdered. That is the equivalent, in the United States, of more than 4,000,000 people slaughtered or removed under official government decree-a figure that is almost six times the number of American battle deaths in the Civil War, World War One, World War Two, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War combinedY Almost all those dead and disappeared were Indians, direct descendants-as was that woman who was devoured by dogs-of the Mayas, creators of one of ~he most splendid civilizations that this earth has ever seen. Today, as five centuries ago, these people are being tortured and slaughtered, their homes and villages bombed and razed-while more than two-thirds of their rain forest homelands have now been intentionally burned and scraped into ruin. 13 The murder and destruction continue, with the aid and assistance of the United States, even as these words are being written and read. And many of the detailed accounts from contemporary observers read much like those recorded by the conquistaqors' chroniclers nearly 500 years earlier. "Children, two years, four years old, they just grabbed them and tore them in two," reports one witness to a military massacre of Indians in Guatemala in 1982. Recalls another victim of an even more recent assault on an Indian encampment: With tourniquets they killed the children, of two years, of nine months, of six months. They killed and burned them all. . . . What they did (to my xiv AMERICAN HOLOCAUST father] was put a machete in here (pointing to his chest) and they cut open his heart, and they left him all burned up. This is the pain we shall never . forget. . . . Better to die here with a bullet and not die in that way, like my father did. H Adds still another report, from a list of examples seemingly without end: At about 1:00 p.m., the soldiers began to fire at the women inside the small church. The majority did not die there, but were separated from their children, taken to their homes in groups, and killed, the majority apparently with machetes. . . . Then they returned to kill the children, whom they had left crying and screaming by themselves, without their mothers. Our informants, who were locked up in the courthouse, could see this through a hole in the window and through the doors carelessly left open by a guard. The soldiers cut open the children's stomachs with knives or they grabbed the children's little legs and smashed their heads with heavy sticks. . . . Then they continued with the men. They took them out, tied their hands, threw them on the ground, and shot them. The authorities of the area were killed inside the courthouse. . . . It was then that the survivors were able to escape, protected by the smoke of the fire which had been set to the building. Seven men, three of whom survived, managed to escape. It was 5:30 p.m. 15 In all, 352 Indians were killed in this massacre, at a time when 440 towns were being entirely destroyed by government troops, when almost 10,000 unarmed people were being killed or made to "disappear" annually, and when more than 1,000,000 of Guatemala's approximately 4,000,000 natives were being displaced by the deliberate burning and wasting of their ancestral lands. During such episodes of mass butchery, some children escape; only their parents and grandparents are killed. That is why it was reported in Guatemala in 1985 that "116,000 orphans had been tabulated by the judicial branch census throughout the country, the vast majority of them in the Indian townships of the western and central highlands." 16 Reminders are all around us, if we care to look, that the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century extermination of the indigenous people of Hispaniola, brought on by European military assault and the importation of exotic diseases, was in part only an enormous prelude to human catastrophes that followed on other killing grounds, and continue to occur today-from the forests of Brazil and Paraguay and elsewhere in South and Central America, where direct government violence still slaughters thousands of Indian people year in and year out, to the reservations and urban slums of North America, where m...
View Full Document

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture

  • Left Quote Icon

    Student Picture