In the year 1492, under the patronage of the Spanish rulers, Columbus sailed across the seas and accidentally discovered the new world.
The Spaniards found the new land beautiful and its native people simple and peaceful. They did however, wonder, if they were, in fact, human or subhuman. If they were indeed subhuman they could then be exterminated and their land occupied. But if they were human then they would have to be converted to Chritianity. This was the logic of the Spaniards. The natives were lucky that the Pope in the 16th century declared them human and missionaries arrived to change their religion. Therefore religion and gold were two motives of the Spaniards in the newly discovered world.
When they first arrived, they found that the Caribbean Islands were covered in lush green thick forests. After settling down, they cut the trees to use the land for sugar cane cultivation; thus destroying the original environment.
We Spaniards know a sickness of the heart that only gold can cure. — Hernan Cortez
The native population was either killed by the settlers or they died of some disease that was brought to the islands by the Europeans. Columbus could not get as much gold as he had hoped he would and died in poverty. Those who followed him to the new lands were successful in extracting gold from the conquered countries.
Cortez who invaded Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City) in 1519 forced the Aztec king to surrender and give him gold. He collected all the gold idols, melted them into gold bricks and in this way, destroyed the antiquities of the Aztec civilisation. In 1532, Pizarro invaded and plundered the Inca Empire.
As more settlers arrived in the new world, they established great plantations and forced the native people to work as slaves. The Spanish government after discovering silver in Peru and Mexico used the local population to work as miners. As the local population was not enough in numbers to work in the plantations and the silver mines, it was decided that slaves should be imported from Africa. North America was hence colonised by European powers who reduced its native population to a non-entity; slavery being a significant factor in Europe’s growing prosperity and richness.
The year 1492 is significant in the history of Europe. According to J.M. Blaut, who in his book 1492: The Debate on Colonialism, Eurocentrism and History argues that “before 1492, cultural evolution in the eastern Hemisphere was proceeding evenly across the landscape; in Africa, Asia and Europe a multitude of centres were evolving out of (broadly) feudalism and toward (broadly) capitalism. Many of these regions in all the three continents were at the same level of development and were progressing at about the same rate and (as to their modes of production) in the same direction. They were in fact evolving collectively, as nodes in a hemisphere-wide network or process of evolving capitalism. Europe was not in any way ahead of Africa and Asia in development or even in the preconditions for development”.
He further explains that “after 1492, Europeans came to dominate the world, and they did so because 1492 inaugurated a set of world-historical processes which gave to European protocapitalists enough capital and power to dissolve feudalism in their own region and begin the destruction of competing protocapitalist communities everywhere else. By the end of the 17th century, 200 years after 1492, capitalism (or capitalists) had risen to take political and social control of a few Western European countries, and colonial expansion had decisively begun in Africa and Asia. Europe was now beginning to dominate and lead the world in level and peace of development”.
On the other hand, in the narratives of the Native Americans, the arrival of Columbus and the discovery of the new world was a curse for them. The arrival of the Europeans, their conquest and occupation destroyed their environment, culture, traditions and also their faith. They lost their independence and were subdued by the Europeans. A new system of slavery was introduced to them where Africans were kidnapped and brought to the new world after depriving them of their family and country.
Since the native people were not in a position to write their own history in the absence of documentary materials, their history was written by the Europeans from the angle of sympathy. Oppressed people should express their own emotions and feelings and how they suffered and endured pain and agony.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 17th, 2014