In Defence Of The Indians
At the dawn of the modern era of European Imperialism, soon after Columbus' 'discovery' of 'the New World' in 1492 there was a major debate in Valladolid, convened by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V and the Council of the Indies in 1550-51. The disputation was an attempt to resolve the continuing contention in Spain over the morality and legality of the wars of conquest against the Indians. In the thinking of this period, 'God figured prominently as the source of legal authority, and law merged with theology' (S James Anaya, 'Indigenous Peoples in International Law' (Oxford, 1996, p 10).
The case for conquest was argued by Juan Gines de Sepulveda on four bases: (1) that the Indians were barbarians; (2) that some of their practices were against divine and natural law; (3) that it was necessary to rescue the innocent victims of such practices; and (4) evangelization, to bring the Christian faith to the Indians.
Sepulveda argued that the Indians 'are barbaric, uninstructed in letters and the art of government, and completely ignorant, unreasoning, and totally incapable of learning anything but the mechanical arts; that they are sunk in vice, are cruel, and are of such character that, as nature teaches, they are to be governed by the will of others.'
A detailed rebuttal of Sepulveda's arguments was offered by Bartolome de las Casas, published as In Defence of the Indians. He had this to say about the argument that the Indians were mere barbarians: 'They are not ignorant, inhuman or bestial. Rather, long before they had heard the word Spaniard they had properly organised states, wisely ordered by excellent laws, religion and customs. They cultivated friendship and, bound together in common fellowship, lived in populous cities in which they wisely administered the affairs of both peace and war justly and equitably, truly governed by laws that at very many points surpass ours.'
Keywords: Anaya, S. James, barbarism, colonialism, colonisation, Columbus, Christopher, Europe, indigenous people, International law, New World, property law, terra nullius, 1550-1551
Quotes by kind permission of Oxford University Press.
Author: Nettheim, Garth
Source: Anaya, James