Post Number: 428
|Posted on Monday, January 19, 2009 - 03:05 am: |
"Crossing the Continent 1527-1540" by Robert Goodwin
It's a good book I've been reading about a black conquistador named Esteban Dorantes (1500-1539), sometimes called "Estevanico," for instance, by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, however, I don't understand why they use the diminutive. Although he was a slave, a squire, more or less to another man, he was ultimately appointed by the viceroy as the military commander of a religious expedition sent to establish a permanent route from the Spanish imperial capital at Mexico City, into Arizon and New Mexico.
Here's the review in the Washington Post:
I'll post a couple of excerpts from the book, which will explain better than I can the climate of violence in the conquistador culture, the beginning of slave trade, the conquest of the Americas, and the genocide of Amerindians. These things are not inherent to Europeans.
The Reconquista: Why Sketches of Spain Matters
In AD 711 an Islamic army crossed the narrow Strait of Gibraltar, a channel only eighteen miles wide separating Spain from Morocco--Europe from Africa--and quickly overran the weak Spanish kingdom. In the mountains of the far northwest, a few Christians resisted these invaders, but Islamic Spain soon developed into a great intellectual and artistic culture and its principalities and caliphates became centers of religious and political tolerance. Still, occasional periods of puritanical fanaticism led to social unrest and cultural censorship. During those periods of trouble and conflict, the tiny Christian kingdom in the far north was able to expand its territories and grow in strength.
The relationship between the Christian north and the Muslim south was complicated. Mostly, alliances were formed and broken with no regard for religion. But the call of the crusade or jihad was a potent political force, and from time to time border conflicts degenerated into outright holy war. More often than not, the Christian Spaniards won those wars, so that eight centuries after the Islamic invasion, almost all Spain was Christian once more. Finally, in 1492, Granada, the last remaining Islamic kingdom, capitulated to the Catholic Monarchs, as the joint King and Queen of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, were known.
The character of Christian Spain had been defined by this long history or reconquista, the "reconquest." It was a history of bloody battles, border raids, hostage-taking, and ransom. Spain was a land of warlords, overmighty aristocrats who won their wealth by violence and who ruled their estates with an iron fist. They were proud of their warrior status and their pure Christian heritage. Blond and blue-eyed, they despised work and commerce, the business of peasants, Jews, and Muslims. But there was no more of Spain to conquer. They had quite literally, reached the sea.
In the crusading euphoria surrounding victory over Granada, the rulers of Spain decreed that the Jews should convert to Christianity or be expelled. Legend has it that money stolen from these refugees paid for Columbus's voyage. That tradition is largely myth, not fact, but Columbus was able to manipulate the triumphant spirit of the age in order to persuade the Catholic Monarchs to support his proposed voyage to China across the Atlantic. [Robert Goodwin, Crossing the Continent 1527-1540]
For centuries only a few black slaves at a time could be brought north across the desert by the camel trains. But the number rose dramatically when the Christian Spaniards and especially Portuguese defeated the last Islamic kingdoms on the Iberian peninsula. Eight hundred years of the reconquest, eight centuries of continual conflict, had forged a warmongering culture and a warrior aristocratic class. The Portuguese now turned that bellicose and acquisitive approach on Africa, taking control of important Muslim towns such as Azemmour and exploring far down the west coast, raiding for slaves.
For six centuries the Portuguese had ridden side by side with their Spanish cousins, waging holy war, pursuing a crusade against the Muslim presence on the Iberian peninsula. But by the early 1400s, the Spaniards had claimed exclusive rights of conquest over the last Islamic kingdom in Spain, Granada, a place far from the Portuguese frontier, steeped in romantic legend and ruled by indulgent sultans from their opulent palaces of the Alhambra.
The Portuguese aristocracy had a long and noble history of winning their spurs by waging war on the frontiers of Christendom and Islam. But now, without that religious borderland, they were deprived of an infidel adversary and instead went to war with Spain. The fratricidal butchery continued until shedding the blood of fellow Christians began to weigh so heavily on the pious Portuguese monarch and the Spanish king that a truce was called in 1411. But peace brought a new problem: a generation of Portuguese noblemen who had been bred for war faced the unexciting prospect of living out their lives as gentlemen farmers on their estates at home, idly watching the Atlantic waves break on the rocky shores of their isolated homeland. [ibid, p. 91-92]
The textile market of Mexico, Cortés claimed, was even richer and more sumptuous than the wonders of the silk market in Granada. The mention of Granada was doubly charged with significance for the Spanish monarch, Charles V. Granada was the Islamic jewel in his many crowns, a former Muslim stronghold that was for centuries an Oriental thorn in the side of Catholic Spain. It had long been a reminder of the 800 years that Spain was culturally part of the African, eastern, Asian, Islamic world.
But in 1492 the city had been recaptured by Charles's grandparents, the Catholic Monarchs. Suddenly, the cloud was lifted and the Spaniards lost their sense that a mysterious, alien world was a threatening presence close at hand. With the fall of Granada, Spain felt that the real, truly mysterious Orient might one day be hers to conquer.
Columbus had believed he was landing in China when he first set foot on the shores of Cuba in 1492 and had sent ambassadors inland to communicate with the Great Khan, but it was quite clear to Cortés that Mexico was not the east. [ibid, p. 45]
The basics are certainly true. A small force of Spaniards, perhaps as many as 1,500, seized control of the mighty Aztec Empire [...] They had in fact managed to capture the Aztec capital at Tenochtitlán, later renamed Mexico City, only because they were supported by a coalition of indigenous armies drawn from a population long subjugated and persecuted by the Aztecs. [ibid. p. 4-5]
The Requerimento, the "Requirement, or Mine. Mine. Mine.
This peculiar document had its origins in some of the strictest interpretations of Islamic Shari'a law, medieval interpretations that had once encouraged Muslims engaged in holy war (jihad) to enslave non-Muslims wh refused to accept Islam. Reinvented by Spanish bureucrats for use in the New World, the Requirement must be one of the most ludicrous legal institutions ever conceived of by a lawyer or legislator. It was an official statement of crown policy toward subjects in the New World. All Spanish conquistadors were obliged to have the document read out loud in the presence of a notary and other crown officials whenever they formally took possession of a new territory on behalf of the Spanish sovereign.
As a result, from the date of its institution, the Requirement was regularly read to empty beaches, forests, mountainsides, and deserted villages. Often it was read to utterly uncomprehending Indians who understood no Spanish and so had no idea what it meant.