Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Conquest of New Spain: A Three-pronged Approach to Colonialism

The Spanish conquest of the Americas and its peoples illustrate a three pronged pattern used by Spain not only in the New World, but also in Africa. Much like the triangle, each aspect of this pattern works to support and sustain the other two. In no particular order they are: A quick turnaround of resources; a renaming of the land and people and a lack of self-representation in the cannon – with the exception of a very important few that will not be addressed in this response due to lack of spatial constraints.

The Resources:

At each area of conquest, Bernal Diaz very carefully notes the commands given by Cortes to replenish supplies or the receipt of gifts of food by the natives. And, each of the early stops discussed in The Conquest of New Spain center around the resources and the ease and ability, or lack of either of these, for the Spanish to collect them. For example, the battle of Tabasco is not framed in the context of a conquest – one could read that as a forgone conclusion. Rather, the battle is framed as a quest for resources. The natives are given the option of fighting or letting the Spanish come in and trade goods for food (Diaz 69). Then, following the battle and during and after the parley, Diaz accounts the resources given by the natives including maps who’s lands are soon renamed with Spanish names, 20 women who became converts to Christianity, the natives’ ignorance about cannons and weaponry and a variety of traditional material resources like gold and food. The resources are turned around almost immediately: The understanding of the natives’ ignorance was used to impress Montezuma’s messengers, material for trade the maps to alter the entire discourse and Donna Marina for translation and public relations.

Absent from Diaz’s account, according to Matthew Restall’s “Black Conquistadors: Armed African’s in Early Spanish America,” are records of the African and mulatto men who accompanied Cortes. This is not surprising because although they were resources, like horses (Diaz 55), and not men on the expedition, they were not resources gained on the expedition – in the same vein, Diaz does not talk about the gold, ivory and slaves from Oran and Bejaïa ( _4/Spanish_Empire.html#s16).

Going beyond the lack of names provided by Diaz, Restall observes it is “plausible that a third to half bore that name [Juan]” due to a lack of imagination on the Spaniards part when assigning names to the slaves. Like the maps and Donna Marina, the resources have lost their autonomy. And, like the rest of the resources from New Spain mentioned above, the Africans have been commandeered from an area conquered by Spain and are being used acquire a new resources.

The triangular nature of the pattern:

The following three paragraphs each take a single aspect of this pattern and juxtapositions it with one of the other aspects. In each case, the support of the third aspect of the pattern becomes apparent.

Couple the concepts: “lack of autonomy” with “being a resource.” The result sets up a situation where self-representation becomes impossible. Be it gold, horse, or any other resource, barter-able item lacks the ability to represent itself.

Couple the concepts: “being a resource” and “lack of self-representation.” The lack of autonomy that is created with this combination helps prevent rebellious uprisings and to facilitate the turnaround of the resources.

Couple the concepts: “lack of autonomy” and “lack of self-representation.” Without representation, an individual or group lacks the ability to be a human that operates within society. That person then becomes either a resource or waste. Without autonomy, the individual cannot even choose which of those to become – and with the value of unskilled labor at a high in New Spain, waste was not an option.

For a complete bibliography and/or permission to use the above text beyond the terms of fair use, please contact the author, Joseph R. Thompson, by email

1 comment:

Jim said...

Spain Rapes the Inca Empire

Histroy records not only great and daring deeds, but misdeeds as well. Francisco Pizarro, of all the Spanish Conquistadors, was the most ruthless. It is demonstrated in this story of his first dramatic encounter with the Incas, one of the more advanced civilizations in the New World.