How did Bartolome de Las Casas characterize the native population? How do you think they would have responded to this description? 

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In short, Bartolome de Las Casas is an example of an early and very influential reformer, one who viewed Native Americans with empathy and humanity. But in many ways, Las Casas adheres to a "noble savage" trope that was already common in European literary depictions of Native Americans. He describes...

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In short, Bartolome de Las Casas is an example of an early and very influential reformer, one who viewed Native Americans with empathy and humanity. But in many ways, Las Casas adheres to a "noble savage" trope that was already common in European literary depictions of Native Americans. He describes them as "innocent Sheep," people devoid of "Craft, Subtlety and Malice."

Of course, there is a sense in which Las Casas, in describing them in this way, denies them their humanity, portraying them as passive, weak figures. But it is important to note that he did so in order to juxtapose them with the Spaniards, who he consistently refers to as "Christians" in order to dramatize their brutality and greed. They treated the natives not simply as animals but as the "most abject dung and filth of the Earth," murdering them indiscriminately, stealing their wealth, and—perhaps most abominable to Las Casas—denying them the ability to become Christians.

This is actually another key point that Las Casas makes. The Natives, he argues, are ideal candidates for conversion to Christianity, precisely because he sees them as meek and guileless people. He notes that very few of the native peoples in the areas he visited were actually converted to Christianity, though he claims they were "apt to receive the principles of Catholic Religion." In this way, the Spanish conquerors had not only abused, tortured, and massacred these people, they had failed to live up to their responsibilities to God.

Las Casas, a witness to the horrors he described, sought to idealize Native Americans in order to demonstrate the brutality of the Spanish. He did so in order to advocate a more humane approach to dealing with Native Americans, one which would have the effect of leading more people in the Spanish Empire to Christianity.

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The Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas's view of the native peoples he encountered in the New World is a stark departure from the view of most of his Spanish contemporaries. In his account, Historia de las Indias de las Casas describes the native peoples he encountered and his views on Spanish imperialism. In his work, he repeatedly refers to the natives as "sheep," indicating that they were unable to defend themselves from the Spanish "wolves and tigers." Also, by calling them sheep, he indicates that they were God's innocent creatures who should have been protected, not slaughtered. Bartolomé de las Casas often refers to the yearning the native peoples had to be free from subjugation, but he also refers to their complete helplessness at the hands of the Spanish.

It is hard to say exactly how the native population would have responded to Bartolomé de las Casas's description of them. They likely would have agreed with his statements about their desire to be free from Spanish subjugation and cruelty. Bartolomé de las Casas viewed them as human beings worthy of compassion and respect. They probably would have lauded him for that view. However, they may have taken exception to being described as completely helpless to defend themselves. There were indeed a number of courageous, yet ill-fated, native uprisings against the Spanish. However, it is easy to see why Bartolomé de las Casas thought the native peoples were helpless. Nearly all of them, including mighty nations such as the Inca and Aztec, were completely defeated and enslaved in a short amount of time.

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Las Casas characterized indigenous people as human beings in a setting where they were seen as objects of material wealth.

Las Casas was passionately against slavery because he saw its targets as human beings.  Unlike many of his contemporaries, who supported the institution of slavery, he did not see the indigenous population as solely objects of material wealth.  Rather, when he participated in the colonization of Cuba, he saw victims of slavery as human beings: "I saw here cruelty on a scale no living being has ever seen or expects to see."  When Las Casas writes of cruelty, he displays empathy with those who have suffered injustice.  Las Casas saw indigenous people as ends in and of themselves, and not as a means to an end:  “The reason why the Christians have killed and destroyed such an infinite number of souls is that they have been moved by their wish for gold and their desire to enrich themselves in a very short time.”

Las Casas saw the "wish for gold" and the coveting of material profit as driving forces behind slavery. In his writing, Las Casas sought to create a  compassionate portrait of indigenous people.  He characterized them in traditional Christian terms of charity, good will, and obedience:  "And of all the infinite universe of humanity, these people are the most guileless, the most devoid of wickedness and duplicity, the most obedient and faithful to their native masters and to the Spanish Christians whom they serve." Las Casas suggested that those who were targeted as slaves were "most devoid of rancors, hatreds, or desire for vengeance of any people in the world."  In his writing and advocacy, Las Casas saw indigenous people as more than just tools for profit.  His characterizations reflected depth, understanding, and empathy.

Once convinced of slavery's immorality, Las Casas spent the bulk of his time in Spain trying to eradicate the institution.  Indigenous people would have responded favorably to Las Casas and his ideas.  His understanding towards those victimized by slavery was radical, reflective in the resistance that fellow Spaniards displayed towards him.  His actions underscored the courage of his convictions.  Las Casas himself was the owner of slaves and possessed an encomienda in Cuba.  However, when he realized that slavery was antithetical to Christian ideals, Las Casas gave up his holdings and freed his slaves.  It is fair to say that those who were freed would have viewed Las Casas as different than other Spaniards. They would have seen him as honorable and decent, and much different than others who participated in the slave trade.

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