Spanish colonization started in 1492 when Cristoforo Colombo, Christopher Columbus, arrived in the West Indies . 1 Even though Columbus was on route to find a easier, quicker route to India, he stumbled upon an unknown land full of exotic new people, plants, and animals. Columbus was the first Spanish American to come to America, but many more Spanish explorers would follow after him; including Cortes, Aguirre, and Pizarro. The Spanish seemed to be fascinated with what riches the new land would provide them. Their lust for the new goods made them ambitious, selfish, and untrustworthy.
They couldn’t even trust each other, never mind culturally different people. From the beginning the Spanish acted against each other, in rivalry’s such as Columbus versus Francisco, and Aguirre versus Ursua. The relations between the Spanish and the indigenous peoples evaporated quickly because of the Spanish lust for wealth and the religious missionaries forcing their ways upon the native peoples. From the first moment the Spanish took step on American soil, they believed themselves to be superior than the natives.
“Columbus took formal possession of the island for the Spanish crown”2 The Spanish had no consideration for the peoples who already inhabited the area. The first time Columbus encountered the native people, he thought “they were handsome and similar to the Canary Islanders, but they wore no clothes. “3 The way the natives dressed was primitive and savage, according to the European way of dress. Also, when Columbus first met the Taino people he “attempted to learn if they had gold”4 Columbus also “captured local people to serve as guides and interpreters”5 Every explorer, once in Spanish America, speaks and thinks of gold constantly.
The thought of wealth, fame, and fortune drove the Spanish to the Americas in the first place. Columbus traveled to the Americas because he wanted to find a better trade route to the Indies, in order to stake a claim in the trades. Once he landed on the islands of the Caribbeans, he claimed the land for Spain, and was rewarded the land for him and his descendants to rule over by the King and Queen of Spain. This made sure that Columbus had a stake in the land and also helped him rise on the economic chain.
Hernando Cortes came to the Americas for the same reason, to seek out his fortune. Cortes’ strategies were to “learn about the politics and wealth of the region. “6 Bernal Diaz, who traveled with Cortes and was a historian, tells in his writings about all the gold the Mexicans had. He says that what they wore on their feet was made of gold and the upper part of their shoes was covered in gems. The other chiefs were also dressed richly. 7 He goes on to speak about the “very rich necklace made of golden crabs”8 that Motezuma, the leader of the Aztecs, gave to Cortes.
The Spaniards always seems to look eagerly at the natives, wondering where the gold was. They did not seem to see the wonders of the new world surrounding them. They were consumed in their lust for gold. When Cortes was being run out of the city of Tenochtitlan, he divided up the gold the Spaniards had with them and gave it to the soldiers to take care of it “otherwise it would be lost among these dogs of Mexicans. “9 The Spanish were more worried about the gold then their own life’s.
They were being attacked by the Mexicans and still they needed to save the gold rather than their own life’s. Diaz even states, ” I had no desire but the desire to save my own life, but I did not fail to carry off from same small boxes that were there… the prize of them served me well in healing my wounds and getting me food. ” 10 Diaz tries to escape, but still he attempts to acquire the gold, which he wages his very life for. Like many of his Spanish counterparts, Aguirre, is greedy and lustful.
He purposefully created a mutiny and took over control of the expedition team. Aguirre then told his men that either they find the City of gold, El Dorado, or if they try to leave the expedition they would be killed . 11Aguirre is consumed with fame and riches. It is shown when the expedition team first came upon some native people. . The first thing they do is rip the gold-like necklace from them and ask where the material came from.. He was so worked up about finding fame and fortune, that he did not care about the fact that his men were starving or sickly.
Aguirre’s loss of reason started from the beginning when he realized the expedition was out in uncharted territory and he started thinking about Cortes’s so-called conquest of Mexico. He related his expedition with Cortes’s and thought he could get fame by conquering the native people and taking over the land. . One slave even says, “all of us will gain something, and perhaps I will even be free. “12 Aguirre kills his own men by negligence and continues on alone for the city of El Dorado where he will find his fame.
Even though greed and wealth helps explain why the relations deteriorated between the Spanish and the Natives the other factor that helped contribute to the deterioration was the religious one. From the beginning of the Spanish colonization one of their primary goals was to convert the savages to Catholicism. During the time of Columbus’s first voyage the Spanish crown just concluded the Spanish Inquisition. This had a huge impact on the Spanish explorers as they came from a land were Christianity was the main religion and no others were tolerated.
On Columbus’s first voyage to the islands he states that the Tainos were eager to convert to Christianity. 13 When Cotes visited the new land he found strange religions and practices that seemed devil-like to the Spaniards. Cortes even told Montezuma, ” these idols of yours are not gods, but evil things that are called devils…. do me a favor to approve of my placing a cross here on the top of this tower. ” 14 Montezuma was not happy with this comment but later on in the conquest of Mexico, Cortes did end up putting up a cross in the idols place.
There are also many accounts of human sacrifices to the idols. One survivor of a shipwreck says that ” many of his men had been sacrificed to the idols” 15 Another account recalls that there were temples filled with bodies of men and boys that had been sacrificed and the walls and alters were stained with blood, and the hearts were placed as offerings before the idols. 16 The Spanish tried to force their religion upon the native peoples by putting up pictures of the Virgin Mary and by forbidding the Natives to practice their religion.
One account recalls that Cortes ordered the natives to give up their idols and sacrifices, and believe in the one and only god. He then told the natives to erect an alter and put the picture of Our Lady there, and they did so at once. 17On Easter Sunday Cortes erected an altar and held a mass for his soldiers and some of the natives peoples. 18 Cortes and the Spaniards thought that the Natives worshiped the devil and little by little the Spanish were influencing the religious beliefs of the native people.
It seemed the Spanish were trying to replace the native religion all together. During the movie, Aguirre: The Wrath of God the religious aspect is fully present. The movie captures the Spanish need to convert the Natives. In one scene in particular, the priest gives two natives the Bible to hear the word of god; but the Native can not hear the book and puts it on the ground. The Spaniards then killed the Native for putting the book on the ground and the priest said, ” These savages are hard to convert.
” 19 The natives and the Spanish come from two different religious worlds. The Natives believe in Polytheism, whereas the Spanish believe in monotheism. The natives believed in a time that carries out in cycles and the Spanish believe in a more linear time frame. The two peoples were from different cultural backgrounds and could not understand each others religions. The Spanish were not tolerant to the native’s religions at all. . .Although the Spanish and the native peoples were polite to each other in the first encounters, the relations towards each other soon collapsed.
Although there was not much of a relationship to begin with. The natives were prosecuted by the Spanish because of their religion which happened to not coincide with Christianity. Also, the Spanish lust for gold made the relations between them nonexistent. The Spanish took whatever gold there was without trading or by little trading. The Spanish explorers were more interested in the wealth they could be find then theywere in the relation’s of the native by the relation’s of the native peoples, or the land around them.
Courtney from Study Moose
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