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The Indians, a Privileged Class

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Undoing the slanders against the colonization of the Americas

In the overseas kingdoms, all are full-fledged citizens

This common Catholic mentality meant that the kingdoms of Spain and Portugal did not look upon new possessions as mere colonies or additions, but as parts of themselves: “The basic concept of the Spanish Empire is not what we now call ‘colonial.’ One may rather classify it as several overseas kingdoms, in their category and dependence on the Crown, given parity with their counterparts on the motherland” (Powell, p. 34).

In these new kingdoms, Indians are full citizens. By the Laws of the Indies (Law XXVII, Book VI, Compilation of 1680) they were granted the right to freely own and sell real estate, furniture, and movable property. This right “could be exercised without any hindrance to those that also obliged the Spanish.” Law XVIII, Book VI, Title VI, “reminded that the Indians could freely use their farm and should be given back any property unlawfully taken away from them.” Earlier, in 1546, Charles V had given indigenous communities the right to freely make their will (Law XXX, Book VI, Title I), a faculty that his successor, Philip II, extended in Law XXXII, Title I of the same Book and title to “wealthy Indians or somehow farmers” (Crawford, El País, July 31, 1992, p. 6).

They exercised those rights with unprecedented breadth. For example, in the 18th century there was an Indian chief on the Quilcata Plain (Peru), Agnes Capchaguamani, who had “20,000 head of sheep, a countless number horses and cattle, and 20,000 ‘sheep of the land [llamas]’,” according to Huamanga Mayor Demetrio O’Higgins” (ibid.).

Indians, a privileged category

In addition to being full-fledged citizens and enjoying the same rights as Spaniards and natives, the Indians had countless additional rights that made them a privileged category. For example, they were exempt from paying court fees both in claims brought by them and by protectors or prosecutors (cf. Crawford, El País, August 22, 1991, p. 6). Compilation 39 of the Laws of the Indies “provided that Peruvian doctors heal the Indians without charging for their services.” In Mexico, their treatment was free without being required to obtain a certificate of indigence; and when they died in hospitals, they received free funerals and burials (Crawford, El País, May 10, 1991, p. 6).

“On May 12, 1589, the Quito Audience reported that up to that time, there had been eight thousand more litigations initiated by Indians than by Spaniards. How to explain that?”, asks the scholar Leslie Crawford. He responds by quoting the Argentine historian Roberto Lavillier:

“The Indians came to seek justice for the very clear reason that they were heard and obtained reparation for damages suffered. ‘They know so well how to complain that no one dares to make any affront to them,’ wrote the King to the governor of Peru, Castro the diplomat” (El País, July 12, 1991, p. 6).

Crawford concludes with this sentence, which should be food for thought to many “liberation theologians”: “One can argue whether one law or the other was strictly and universally enforced; but it is a notorious historical fact … that Castilian legislation treated the Indian better than the white or mestizo man”’ (El País, July 26, 1991, p. 6).

Indigenous nobility, Iberian nobility

The sons of Spaniards had no problem marrying with Indian females of a better condition, nor did Indians of royal blood find any obstacle to join the Spanish nobility. Dona Isabel, the mestizo daughter of the Conqueror of Guatemala, Pedro de Alvarado, married Don Francisco de la Cueva, a descendant from the Dukes of Albuquerque. In Spain, the daughters of Montezuma received the status of princesses, and their grandchildren reached the highest positions in the nobility. Diego de Avendaño, one of Peru’s conquerors and descendant of the kings of Lombardy, married Huayna Cápac’s sister, “and this marriage is the starting point for several illustrious Chilean families honored with decorations of the Order of Santiago.” Martin García de Loyola, a relative of Saint Ignatius, married Beatriz Clara Coya, daughter of the Inca Sayri Tupac. His daughter, Maria Inca y Loyola, received the titles of the Marquess of Santiago de la Villa de Oropesa and Adelantada of the Yungay Valley. She married Juan Enríquez de Borja, of the House of the Dukes of Gandia. The daughter of Jujuy’s conqueror Juan Ortiz de Zárate and Leonor Yupanqui, Dona Joana, was Adelantada of Rio de la Plata and married Juan Torres de Vera y Aragón, descendant of King Ramiro I of Aragon. Hispanic scholar Leslie Crawford writes: “One could fill whole pages with mestizo developments” linking indigenous nobility with the Spanish one (El País, May 17, 1992, p. 6).

This assimilation between the indigenous and the Spanish nobility was so natural that you had cases like the one of the chief of Jauja (Peru), Don Jerónimo Lorenzo Limaylla. In the seventeenth century, he proposed the creation of “a Chivalry or Order similar to those established in Spain, reserved for people who descended from [native] lords or vassals so they would have an incentive to be loyal to the Crown.” The name of the new Order would be “Santa Rosa.” The proposal did not prosper for circumstantial reasons (Villena, p. 27).

Pe. Antônio Vieira SJAs in Spanish America, aborigines and free men of African descent in Brazil often achieved high social positions. That was the case with the hero of the miraculous victory against Dutch invaders, the indigenous chief Felipe Camarão. “Two seventeenth-century Brazilian mulattos” also rose to the social elite: “João Fernandes Vieira (knighted for services rendered in the wars against the Dutch), and Father Antonio Vieira, SJ (who became the King’s chaplain)” (Armesto, p. 48). The same happened with artists, such as the brilliant baroque architect and sculptor, the mulatto Antonio Francisco Lisboa, called “Aleijadinho.” Just like certain indigenous names in Hispanic America such as Montezuma, Yupanqui, etc., those of daughters of Brazilian chiefs married to Portuguese, or the names of the tribes to which they belonged, such as Tibiriçá, Tamoio, Paraguaçu, Potiguara, etc., became honorable surnames of the Brazilian aristocracy and people.

Triple Institutional Protection

By royal order, the Indians of Spanish America are protected by at least three institutions: “The Audience, and the Indians’ correctors and protectors, among others, are vigilant that the laws of protection become effective, and more than once they are seen taking strong action in favor of the natives.”

Thus, in 1571, the ombudsman Egas Venegas, when visiting the encomiendas[1] of La Imperial and Valdivia [Chile], obliges beneficiaries to repay the indigenous 150,000 gold pesos.” In 1594, “the mayor of Mendoza [Argentina], Domingo Sánchez Chaparro orders Sergeant Major Rafael de Zárate to be intercepted and arrested. He … violated royal warrants by attempting to enslave a group of Huarpes Indians and lead them through the mountain range to Santiago” (Eyzaguirre, pp. 53-54). “On May 16, 1539, the Quito Townhall calls on Mayor Rodrigo de Ocampo not to allow people to lead Indians to Popayán [Colombia] even if they are ‘yanaconas’ [Indians who were in the service of the Spaniards] or belonged to the ‘Distributions.’ Because chained and imprisoned, they would be sold or die of ill-treatment, as was public and notorious.’’ As the abuses continued, on March 31, 1540 the regents summoned Governor Lorenzo de Aldana to abide by the natives’ defense laws and threatened, ‘if this does not happen, we will complain to the king’”(Sierra, Así se hizo America, 1955 p. 149).

Aboriginal Languages: A Historical-Philological Monument Unparalleled in History

In that emerging civilization, it is fair to recognize that the Iberians spared no effort to incorporate the Indians and make them full-fledged citizens, without losing their natural and peculiar characteristics, as long as they conformed to natural law. The linguistic field, in which the work of the Spanish and Portuguese was gigantic, is perhaps the field in which this effort of cultural preservation stands out the most.

The missionaries, to address the Indians, first learned their language. Their difficulties were immense, almost insurmountable. Even the most civilized Aborigines lacked not only orthography but also “lacked graphics to express noncommunicable states of mind through images. So, to learn indigenous languages ​​to spread the Catholic Faith from profound metaphysical bases was the equivalent of studying them scientifically to make grammars and vocabularies that would facilitate their understanding of the new doctrine and serve at the same time for the continuity of missionary work. Vicente G. Quesada says, ‘The vocabularies, grammars, catechisms, sermons and confessional practices that the religious wrote in indigenous languages are so large and important that they suffice to construct an unparalleled philological historical monument”  (apud Sierra, Así se Hizo America… p. 210). For example, Father Bayle, SJ, cites fifty such books.

Andres de OlmosFather Francisco Jiménez composed, before the mid-sixteenth century, the first grammar and the first Aztec vocabulary. Shortly after, Alonso de Molina made known his Arte de la lengua Náhuatl and a corresponding dictionary with 20,000 words. So did Father Andrés de Olmos in 1547 with the Huaxteca language, and in 1550 with that of the Totanescos; Father Juan Bautista de la Laguna, in 1574, with the Tarascos; Father Melchor de Vargas, with that of the Otomis in 1576; Father Domingos de Santa Maria in 1560, with the Mixteca; Father Pedro de Feria, in 1567, with the Zapateco; Father Diego Carranza with the Chontal, in 1580; Father Andrés de Castro with Matlazingo, in 1570; and Father Bartolomeu Roldán, in 1580, with the Chuchón.

In Guatemala, with nine local languages ​​and their corresponding dialects, the same task was undertaken by four religious: Francisco de Cepeda, Juan de Torres, Pedro de Betanzos and Francisco Parra.

Various Caribbean-Tupi languages ​​were also systematized by Friar Juan Azpicueta Navarro in 1550, and by Saint José de Anchieta, Apostle of Brazil, in 1595.

Likewise proceeded Ludovico Bertonio with the Aymaras of Upper Peru, whose study required forty years. Quechua, the language of the Incas, was the subject of several studies by Father Torres Rubio y Ore, Dominican Father Domingos de Santo Tomás (1560), Jesuit Father Alonso de Barzana (1584), and Father Diego Ortiz (1590). Father Barzana, sent by his superiors to evangelize the Tucumã, learned their language in one year and composed a vocabulary, catechism, confessional, and book of sermons (cf. Sierra, idem, pp. 209-211).

In the Captaincy of Chile, “Father Luis de Valdivia composes grammars in the Araucana, Puelche, and Huarpe languages, printed in Lima in the early seventeenth century. A century and a half later, other Jesuits, Andrés Febre, and Bernardo Haverstadt publish new treatises of the same kind” (Eyzaguirre, p. 46).

In short, it was a work of linguistic preservation unequaled in history.

For this reason, an American historian stated: “No European nation (with the possible exception of Portugal) has so seriously taken responsibility for its Christian duty to native peoples as has Spain” (Lewis Hawke, Spanish Struggle for Justice, cited by Powell, p. 24).

Autonomy of Aborigines

To this must be added the protection of the Indians’ autonomy. The aim was to respect the original constitution of indigenous groups, their natural hierarchies, and to preserve and honor the authority of their chiefs.

In 1535, “King Charles I and Queen Joana issued a Royal Decree ordering … that the chiefs, who ruled the Indians — for the prevailing idea was to not separate natives from their chiefs and natural lords — should be educated from childhood in the Catholic Faith. This resolution gave rise to the creation of several schools in Peru, endowed with funds from the Royal Treasury” (Sierra, Así se hizo America…, p. 187). Cardinal Cisneros (1540), the Princess Governess (1554) and Philip II (1579) reissued the same decree (cf. Ibidem). Among the Cuzco Indians, the ceremonial to choose their chief, which dates from the Conquest,  remains to this day. One of the requirements is for the candidate to know Catholic doctrine, for which he undergoes a rigorous examination.

The missionaries sought to civilize tribes with less substantial and stable ties of family and authority by establishing their governing structure from its very root – from the ground up. Father Guillermo Furlong, SJ notes, “The civil government in every village [of the Jesuit missions] was exclusively indigenous. It was effective, not merely nominal. Each had a judicial official and his lieutenant, two principal mayors, a royal lieutenant, four governors, a guild mayor, a prosecutor, and a notary. Elections in these municipalities were identical to those in cities” (Jimenez, p. 54).

A Solidly Established Christendom

 The benefits of Christian civilization in Latin America stood out in all aspects of life. American historian Philip W. Powell notes, in the academic field, “the Spanish record of some 23 colleges and universities in America, with 150,000 graduates, including the poor, the mestizo, and some blacks” (Powell, p. 35).

Lima is an illustrative example. In 1630,  a century after its foundation, the city had 18 convents, 40 churches, 220 oratories and seven major colleges (cf. Guarda, OSB, p. 102, note 3). On the other hand, “it had more hospitals than churches, and on average, one bed per 100 inhabitants, a considerably higher rate than the city of Los Angeles today” (Powell, p. 35).

A fascinating mix of practicality and humanitarianism

Another American historian, Prof. Charles F. Lummins, writes: “Spain’s astonishing maternal care for the souls and bodies of the natives, who opposed its entry into the New World for so long, began early on and never diminished. No other nation designed and carried out a ‘regime of the Indies’ as noble as that which kept Spain in its western possessions spanning four centuries” (Los ex­ploradores españoles del siglo XVI, Barcelona, 1959, p. 37, apud Terradas S., CPCR, pp. 159-160).

“It is fair and obligatory to recognize,” Powell concludes, “that despite the risk of rebellion, Crown policy, heavily influenced by members of the Dominican Order, never deviated from what we might call a goal of pro-indigenous legislation, the same spirit found in most of Spain’s later laws in the Indies. In developing its overseas policy, the Crown produced a fascinating mix of practicality and humanitarianism … and certainly deserves more honor than has been bestowed upon it” (Powell, p. 47).[2]

The Aborigines themselves provide the most conclusive testimony to the goodness of this regime. When the revolutionary upheavals of American emancipation broke out, the Indians were the most stubborn defenders of Spanish power. Examples: the royalist resistance on the island of Chiloé, the epic of the legendary Agostino Agualongo in southern Colombia, and the popular War of Las Punas, which Antonio Navala Huanchaca, chief of the Iquichanos, unleashed in Peru against republican forces under the motto, “Love of Religion and the best of Kings.” Had Charles III not committed the mischief of expelling the Jesuits from America with his Pragmatic Sanction, the vast region of Guarani Missions would probably never have separated from Spain.

In his book, La evangelización de América – Retrospección crítica [The Evangelization of America – a Critical Retrospection] (Claretiana, Buenos Aires, 1992), Manuel Sánchez Márquez makes an assessment of that great enterprise: “In contrast with the others, in which secularism was rife, religiosity always dominated Spanish colonization. In the latter, Indians were free; in the others, they were massacred or enslaved under the aegis of mercantilism” (apud AICA No. 1854, July 1, 1992, p. 264).

Attacks by opponents of the Fifth Centenary are thus sufficiently refuted. From these attacks, alongside Spain and Portugal (declared or undisclosed targets of this volley of untruths) the Catholic Church emerges with the serene awareness of having faithfully and gloriously fulfilled her providential historical mission of incorporating the New World into Christian civilization.

Excerpts from the book, The Fifth Centenary Facing the Twenty-First Century – Authentic Christendom or Tribal-Communist Revolution, pp. 88-94)

 

[1] Institution by which, during the Spanish colonization of America, a person was granted the benefit of the work of a group of indigenous people in exchange for teaching and protecting them.

[2] If any reproach should be made of the overseas policy of Spain and Portugal in America, it must fall on its excessive centralism, which prevented the new local societies from acquiring all the vitality proper to a vigorous and dynamic social body as were, for example, the various regionalisms generated by medieval organic society.

This rigorous centralism of the two Iberian metropolises is a result of the absolutist doctrines of the Renaissance and represents a decay in relation to the complex and most varied customary law, which was one of the riches of the Middle Ages.

From this point of view, one can say that in the colonization of America there converged two decadences: that of indigenous peoples, and that of Christian Europe, already suffering the effects of Protestantism and the Renaissance, the first major cultural manifestation of the anti-Christian Revolution (cf. Corrêa de Oliveira, Revolution and Counter-Revolution, 1982, Part I, Cap. III).

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