It is my thinking that Barreiro wrote this article for the purpose of showing readers how the greed of Western culture, a greed that still lives today, can be destructive to what we really need to do, which is to try and make our stay on this earth longer. I believe his argument is: When is enough ever going to be enough? I agree that this is something we really need to concentrate on these days. We abuse this earth too much. Barreiro supports his argument by portraying the ravage of the Spaniards, in contrast to the ecologically peaceful lifestyle of the Tainos, and by showing that, today, the Taino way of life is sought by some that have seen the error of their ways. Focusing upon this, I would add to Barreiro’s argument by asking two questions. How can we learn from our mistakes? How can we make life better in the future? Society on a whole, and not just the few who really care about the environment, must look at what we have done in the past, and see what needs to be changed – We must learn and practice the earth-abiding ways of the Tainos.
First, Barreiro states that “Taino culture was dominant throughout the Caribbean,” and that many other indigenous peoples of the Caribbean, including the Cibony, Guanahatabey, and even some Caribs in the Lesser Antilles, followed their psycho-spiritual framework. Generosity and kindness were dominant values, and “among the Taino peoples, as with most indigenous lifeways, the physical culture was geared toward a sustainable interaction with the natural surroundings.” Barreiro goes on to speak of the Tainos specific resourcefulness, using trees, etc., to make their homes and canoes. He also mentions their various skills in farming, irrigation, fishing, and marine navigation. By explaining the various things that Tainos did, Barreiro shows that the Tainos were very adept at taking good care of themselves, without the “mercy” of the Spanish.
I say “mercy” because the high ethnocentrism practiced by the Spanish in 1492, and thereafter, led them to believe that they were doing the Tainos a favor – that placing them into encomiendas and forcing Christianity upon them was bringing them into civilization. In 1503, Queen Isabella wrote to Nicolas de Ovando saying: “The Indians [shall] live in community with the Christians of the island and go among them, by which means they will help each other to cultivate, settle, and reap fruits of the island, and extract the gold which may be there, and bring profit to my Kingdom and my subjects.” Apparently, Queen Isabella thought that the Tainos would need their assistance to “cultivate, settle, and reap fruits,” as if they were unable to do this before the Spaniards arrival. Also, the Tainos would “live in community with the Christians.” The only way that was going to happen was if the Tainos themselves became Christians. Not withstanding, it was important that the Tainos sought gold for Spain. Gold would be the main reason for all the trouble Spaniards caused.
Barreiro goes on to state that Columbus would write poetically about the beauty of the Caribbean in his journals, but would look at it with the eyes of a real estate agent, and not just with appreciation. He sized up the islands and their inhabitants, trying to see all that he could get (mainly gold) for his investors, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. Barreiro included as evidence of this pursuit, an excerpt from a prayer by Columbus: “Our Lord in his mercy, direct me where I can find the gold mine.” Unfortunately, the only citing available on the web site for this prayer by Columbus was “(Tyler 1988)”. The endnotes on the web site were not complete, thus it was difficult to say exactly who wrote that Columbus wrote this. Also unfortunate is the fact that this was the case with the majority of the work that Barriero cited in his article. Apparently, those who put Barreiro’s article online did not bother to include all of his endnotes. Nevertheless this quotation strengthens Barriero’s argument that Columbus sought the wealth of the land, and not just the visual beauty of it.
Barreiro goes on to speak of the various confrontations between the Spanish and Tainos soon after the Spaniards’ arrival. When the Spaniards decided that it was time to take what they could, the Tainos, thinking in their own terms as to what was of value to them, offered food as peace offerings to the Spanish, thinking that they too would value food offerings and make peace. The Tainos soon caught the real gist of the matter - that gold was the true Spaniards’ god. This was true to such a degree that Tainos, when in battle with the Spanish, would feed captured Spaniards gold, probably as a statement saying: “You seek gold so much as if it were able to sustain life. Well, eat the life sustaining gold that you so desire.” “It would take a full season for the Tainos, happy people of paradise, to lose their essential good will for the Spanish, who increasingly demanded women, continued to take captives by surprise, and virulently announced their hunger for the yellow metal the Indians called guanin - the Spanish oro or English gold.”
The Spaniards virulent behavior was initially met with kindness, good judgement and maintenance of better public order on the part of the Tainos, but this changed over time, and the Tainos needed to leave the now inhospitable place, which they once called home (“Bohio” in Santo Domingo/Haiti), and many did indeed do so. Along with the outright genocide of Tainos by the Spanish, disease brought to the Caribbean by the Spanish, and later by Africans, who were also placed into slavery by the Spanish, drastically decreased the size of the Taino population. Some Tainos fled to mountain valleys, some to the west and south, and some even to the Lesser Antilles with the help of the Caribs, their traditional enemies. The anguish of living under Spanish rule was so bad that the previous anguish received from encounters with the Caribs, was nothing in comparison. Never before, had the Tainos seen the likes of the bloodshed imparted upon them by the Spanish. As time went on the “discovery” of the Yucatan and Peru changed things for the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean. More gold was found there, so the focus was redirected to the Central and South American mainland. The Greater Antilles islands would, however, remain important to the Spanish as trading posts. Barreiro does note, however, that “there were incidents of sympathetic individual Spanish men marrying Indian women and thus removing the cacicas and their particular tribes from the encomienda system.” This, nonetheless, was done by the Spanish mainly to gain labor. For the Taino caciques “it was a way to marry their remaining people and take status as one of the new people, neither white nor pure Indian Taino, but with at least the ability to establish families and hold land.” This practice of marrying Spaniards would prove to be a better scenario for the Tainos than staying under the brutal encomienda system. We could regard this practice to be the first form of creolization.
Despite the efforts of these few somewhat good-hearted Spaniards, and those of persons such as Bartolome de Las Casas, who spoke out against the Spaniards’ cruelty to the Tainos, the Tainos and other American indigenous peoples would never be the same. Spanish ethnocentrism denigrated them, and greed for gold overworked and depleted them. Even though some Westerners, today, see that the ecological and agricultural practices that were vital to the indigenous peoples in the Caribbean are “required” of us today in order to maintain life, many still look down on manual labor, and have high materialism and greed. Western Civilization has proposed that farming, fishing, etc. for the sustenance of life, and not just as hobbies, is “primitive.” “The anti-nature attitude inherent in this idea came over with the Iberians of the time, some of whom even died rather than perform manual labor, particularly tilling of the soil.” The loss of “the sophistication and sustainability of agricultural and natural harvesting systems was an important value and possibly the most grievous loss (of Caribbean indigenous peoples) caused by the conquest of the Americas.”
The Indigenous populations of the Caribbean did not get a chance to teach their culture to the newcomers. The encomienda system would destroy the indigenous Caribbean people as well as valuable knowledge that they could have shared with Westerners. Barriero argues this point stating that “five hundred years later, it might be appropriate to appreciate what more we might have now known, had their humanity been respected and their social-cultural knowledge intelligently understood. That the Tainos could keep their quite numerous people strong and well fed, yet prescribe both agriculture and fisheries of a reduced scale, and using the softest of technologies, reaped sufficient yet sustainable yields of food, housing, and other resources, is a significant achievement. Such new fields as "sustainable agriculture" and "eco-systems management," and the theoretics of "no growth" are establishing themselves in colleges and universities. Their applicability and racticability in a world of fragile ecologies are increasingly accepted. Taino life, in fact, most of what heretofore has been branded as "primitive" and thus not worth emulating about indigenous cultures, is viewed in a totally different light as humankind enters the twenty-first century. “Primitiveness" which should only define a people's "primary" relationship with nature, might be seen as a positive human value and activity in these ecologically precarious times.”
Barreiro goes on to state that Europeans have, for a long time, written the history of the Caribbean and the Americas on their terms, and seldom from an indigenous perspective. This has also been a point of Aims McGuinness who said that the majority of the Caribbean history books we read today are written from a European perspective, and rarely from an indigenous perspective. Thus it is important that we read Caribbean history books critically. We must not be quick to believe everything we read in Caribbean history books, for they could have been written by Europeans with the purpose of making unimaginable wrong-doings seem not as terrible as they really were.
This being the case, even Jose Barreiro’s “A Note on Tainos: Whither Progress?” should be read critically. Indeed the lack of complete citing on the web site (which, I think, is the only thing that needs improvement) should be reason enough for us to read, at least, the web site version of this article critically. Despite the fact that the web site does not fully cite quotations made by Barreiro which I believe is no fault of his, he has used many examples from others to support his claims. In my mind, this has made his work something of value nevertheless. It is even more valuable when we take time to look at the big picture he is trying to paint, and not allow the flaws of the online version of his article to make us miss his point.
Barreiro’s picture is one that says
Western culture has hurt many others and now it is hurting the Westerners
themselves. Our materialism has caught up with us, and we are now
realizing that we do need to slow down, or we will destroy ourselves
sooner or later. This is evident in the push to recycle goods, and
perform environmental clean-ups, etc. If only we were able to stop our
greed, and learn how to live in harmony with nature from indigenous
peoples like the Tainos. If only we were not so concerned with being
looked down upon in society and being called “primitive” or
“uncivilized.” If only we realized that money and fame are not that
important in life, but instead love, family, friends, and peace are. True
progress is making sure that we are socially rich and not just financially
so. If only we realized this earlier, maybe we would not be in the mess
that we are in today - pollution, poverty and warfare. Yet many of us say
we are in good shape, and create a wall to block out the bad. History has
shown us that we have been this way for a long time, for example, in the
case of absenteeism - we want more and more, but would rather not deal
with the fact that we are being horrid in our greed. History has also
shown us that as long as there are excessively rich people, someone else
will suffer, and it would be justified by those who are not suffering.
There are extremely wealthy and famous people today who are considered to
be “heroes,” but some people on this earth suffer the consequences of the
actions of some of these so-called “heroes.” Yet we paint a picture that
says all is well. When is enough ever going to be enough? Society on a
whole must make a change.
Menhinick begins his piece by praising the Caribs for their ability to survive colonization, stating “Dominica can boast the only remaining tribe of Carib Indians in the Caribbean.” This notion is supported by an account that Christopher Columbus provides in a letter, describing the Caribs as “ferocious” compared to the other “cowardly” indigenous groups. Menhinick proceeds to explain, using Carib accounts of history as his evidence, why the Caribs in Dominica managed to survive the conquest, while all other native Caribbean cultures were completely wiped out. Menhinick explains that when the Spanish came to Dominica in 1493, their intent was to subjugate and enslave the Caribs. Yet their attempts failed, mainly due to the fact that the landscape of Dominica posed as an obstacle to the Spaniards as did the Caribs’ fierce resistance. In “The Report of Dr. Chanca”, Dr. Chanca details and account of such Carib resistance. He describes how a group of Caribs in a canoe, although outnumbered 7 to over 25, refused to surrender to the Spanish without a fight. Menhinick asserts that “ . . . the invaders were finally persuaded that it was preferable to trade with the Caribs rather than run the risk of further embarrassing defeats.”
While Menhinick begins his argument preaching the invincibility of the Caribs to the European conquest, he eventually admits that even the Caribs had their weaknesses. Throughout the period of colonization, many Caribs were unable to withstand the diseases brought over by the Europeans. Additionally, some suffered from battle fatigue. Menhinick also adds that, after Dominica was declared a British colony, the Caribs were allotted a mere 223 acres of land, where they continue to live today. Further, he describes how the Carib culture has suffered, especially in the areas of language and religion. Yet he feels that Carib identity still remains strong: “But even those with only a small amount of Carib blood are fiercely proud of their unique heritage.”
Menhinick concludes his piece with a section of moderate length entitled “The Caribs Today.” In this section, Menhinick provides some interesting population statistics, information about the role of Caribs in Dominica’s economy, as well as the present cultural and political activity of the Caribs. Taking a look at the Caribs’ present situation is very powerful. It signifies how the Caribs are reminded of their history on a daily basis and, additionally, demonstrates why it is so important to study Caribbean history and to get it right.
Overall, the information that Menhinick presents on the Caribs in Dominica is quite accurate and fairly inclusive. Yet, at the same time, in order to develop a more comprehensive history of the Caribs in Dominica, Menhinick needs to add a few important pieces. One thing that Menhinick never mentions in his piece is how the Europeans viewed the Caribs. Where did the name “Carib” come from to begin with? As Franklin Knight writes, “ . . .Columbus gave the names ‘Carib,’ and ‘Caribbean’ Sea and islands and ‘cannibals’ to the area and its peoples . . . every reference made to the Caribs by Columbus accused them of eating humans. And so the connection between cannibal and Carib became established.” This information is important, not because it gives a “true picture” of the Caribs, but rather because it reveals a critical factor in the nature of the relationship between the Caribs and the Europeans. Because Columbus stereotyped the Caribs as savage, warlike cannibals, any indigenous groups that displayed such characteristics were termed “Caribs.” It is key that any misconceptions of this kind be dissolved in order to give an accurate account of Carib history.
Another area where I think Menhinick could improve his site is in his descriptions (or lack there of) of other indigenous groups. Early on in his piece, he praises the Caribs for surviving a genocide that no other group could endure, implying that these groups were both weak and unfit for survival. One might ask: who were these other groups? Why did they not survive? Why were there no alliances built between the Caribs and other indigenous peoples? Phillip Boucher suggests that political alliances played a large part in the extinction of indigenous groups, as well as in the survival of the Caribs. The Spanish allied themselves with the Arawaks (whom they eventually decimated), thus reinforcing the already oppositional relationship between the Caribs and Arawaks. The Caribs, likewise, strategically allied themselves with other European groups. Boucher states: “[s]uch Euro-Carib encounters were more often than not friendly because of mutual economic advantage and mutual antipathy toward the Spaniards.” Menhinick does not discuss the dynamics of these alliances and political arrangements, which are key to having a complete understanding of both Carib history and the history of all indigenous peoples of the Caribbean.
Perhaps one small web-site does not have
the scope to carry so much information. It is possible that Menhinick is
aware of these issues, but did not have the space or the interest to
include them in his own argument. But it still goes to show that, when
writing history, all perspectives must be taken into account. To examine
a situation such as the conquest of the Caribbean from only the European
perspective or only the Carib perspective is to tell only a partial
truth. However, Menhinick still must be given credit for providing a new
and rare element into the larger picture. Looking at his information and
arguments in light of many other accounts of this time period is taking a
step in the right direction for the Caribs today.
Bartolome' de Las Casas was born in Seville in the year 1474 to a man who was a common soldier under Christopher Columbus on his first voyage. His father gained wealth in the Indies and sent Bartolome' to the University of Salamanca where he studied both divinity and law. In 1502 the Spanish Conquistador Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo sent out from Spain over to the Americas, in what was the greatest armada ever sent from Spain, Bartolome' accompanied the voyage, and in 1512 he Bartolome' became the first person in America to be ordained a priest.
Las Casas worked hard to destroy two institutions of discrimination and what some might refer to as slavery. The encomienda, as defined in class on January 25, is a labor grant. The other institution called the repartimiento is the requirement that Indians work lands or little or no pay under harsh rule. In 1516 Las Casas felt desperate and returned to Spain to explain to King Ferdinand V what was going on. But the King had passed away and his successor was out of the country. But in 1520 Cardinal Francisco Jimenez y Cisneros, who named Las Casas the "Protector of the Indians," authorized him to establish a colony in Santo Domingo. At the same time the Indians were fighting profusely with the Spanish settlers and were the targets of a punitive expedition that arrived at the same time as Las Casas. He felt discouraged once again, he felt he could do nothing to help the Indian cause, but he would not give up. Jim Tuck does a great job making the reader feel as if he or she is actually Las Casas and that they have been decimated in an effort to better a situation. An excellent job making the reader feel Las Casas pain. The reader gets a better feel for the desperate pain that Las Casas feels at this moment.
Feeling desperate Las Casas took refuge and later joined a monastery run by Dominicans. He still felt the need, however, to help the Indians, which he had done his whole life prior to taking refuge. All of his efforts resulted in the enactment of the Nuevas Leyes de 1542 (New Laws of 1542). These new laws prohibited the enslavement of Native Americans and destroyed the system of awarding land grants with Native Americans as servants. Jim Tuck does an excellent job expressing Las Casas feelings for the Indians. He tells of the struggles he went to and the extremes he went to, trying to gain support for the Indians from people in power.
Bartolome de Las Casas did support the idea of blacks being imported into the New World, but he said that he was not substituting one form of slavery for another. He wanted the Nuevas Leyes de 1542 to apply to blacks as well as Native Americans. Las Casas wanted to see the blacks also as free laborers and not slaves. This is one of the main arguments that Jim Tuck makes in his discussion of Bartolome' de Las Casas. In our class readings and discussions it is clear that the only reason that Las Casas did support the importation of Africans as slaves, was to alleviate the slavery of the indigenous peoples, whom Las Casas was a firm advocator and protector of. Many portray Las Casas as a bad man for trying to enslave blacks, but in fact it was just the opposite. We find out in class readings that he regretted his initial plan to enslave Africans in colonial society. This was also the motivation that Jim Tuck has to make this site. I believe he tried to clear Las Casas name as a man who disliked and wanted to enslave the blacks. Personally I feel that any type of slavery was wrong. But in understanding Las Casas, he wanted to free the indigenous peoples first and stop the oppression of them. The only way that he could possibly complete his life long venture was to promote the enslavement of another group. This was a smart tactic by Las Casas. He later helped the Africans and also said in his writings that he regrets his doings. I feel that his doings and actions were wrong, but his intentions were done with a good heart. At that time it was inevitable that there slavery was going to exist, ecspecially with sugar being such a popular product. Las Casas did his best to try and protect the oppression of both groups, but he had to use one group to benefit another, and he was as all readings stress more of an advocate of the indigenous peoples. This point is also cleary defined in Tuck's article.
Jim Tuck could have supported his facts
for Las Casas being a supporter of the blacks in a little more depth. He
gives convincing reasoning for the argument but needs to provide a little
more evidence. It is hard for a reader who has read other books about
Bartolome' de Las Casas to see him as a lover of the blacks. To a reader
who has no clue who Las Casas is the argument is convincing. His efforts
were thought to be a failure while his life was going on, however, the
effects that he left behind him, and the battles he fought for the Indians
inspired Indian emancipation movements from the Rio Grande to Tierra del
Fuego. He is greatly remembered for his Brief Report On the Destruction
of the Indians (or Tears of the Indians), a book that went into large
detail on how the Spanish brutally conquered and tried to destroy the
Indians. It was used to stir up allot of controversy between the English
and the Spanish, the English portrayed the Spanish as a dynasty to be
aware of, after the influence of Las Casas book.