{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Absence of Soul !

An extract from the important yellow book, Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America : Five Centuries of Pillage of a Continent. Added few links for starters like me.

Ideological justifications were never in short supply. The bleeding of the New World became an act of charity, an argument of the faith. With the guilt, a whole system of rationalizations for the guilty consciences was devised. The Indians were used as beasts of burden because they could carry a greater weight than the delicate Ilama, and this proved that they are in fact beasts of burden. The viceroy of Mexico felt that there was no better remedy for their "natural wickedness" than work in the mines. Juan Gines de Sepulvedam a renowned Spanish Theologian argued that they deserved the treatment they got because their sins and idolatries were an offense to God. The Count de Buffon, a French naturalist, noted that Indians were cold and weak creatures in whom "no activity of the soul" could be observed. The Abbe De Paw invented a Latin America where degenerate Indians lived side by side with dogs that couldn't bark, cows that couldn't be eaten, and impotent camels. Voltaire's Latin America was inhabited by Indians who were lazy and stupid, pigs with navels on their back, and bald and cowardly lions. Bacon, De Maistre, Montesquieu, Hume and Bodin declined to recognize the "degraded men" of the New World as fellow humans. Hegel spoke of Latin America's physical and spiritual impotence and said the Indians died when Europe merely breathed on them.

In the seventeenth century Father Gregorio Garcia detected Semitic blood in the Indians because, like the Jews, "they were lazy, they do not believe in the miracles of Jesus Christ, and they are ungrateful to the Spaniards for all the good they have done them". At least this holy man did not deny that the Indians were descended from Adam and Eve: many theologians and thinkers had never been convinced by Pope Paul III's bull of 1537 declaring the Indians to be "true men". When Bartolome de las Casas upset the Spanish Count with his heated denunciations of the conquistadors' cruelty in 1557, a member of the Royal Council replied that Indians were too low in the human scale to be capable of receiving the faith. Las Casas dedicated his zealous life to defending the Indians against the excesses of mine owners and encomenderos. He once remarked that the Indians preferred to go to hell to avoid meeting Christians.

Indians were assigned or given in encomienda to conquistadors and colonizers so that they could teach them the gospel. But since the Indians owned personal services and economic tribute to the encomenderos, there was little time for setting them on Christian path of salvation.

Indians were divided up along with lands given as royal grants, or were obtained by direct plunder: in reward to services, Cortes recieved 23000 vassals. After 1536 Indians were given in encomienda along with their descendants for the span of two lifetimes, those of the encomendero and of his immediate heir: after 1629 this was extended to three lifetimes and, after 1704, to four. In the eighteenth century the surviving Indians still assured many generations to come of a cozy life. Since their defeated gods persist in Spanish memory, there were saintly rationalizations aplenty for the victor's profit from their toil: the Indians were pagans and deserved nothing better.

The past? Four hundred years after the papal bull, in September 1957, the highest court in Paraguay published a notice informing all the judges of the country that "the Indians, like other inhabitants of the republic, are human being". And the Center for Anthropological Studies of the Catholic University of Asuncion later carried out a revealing survey, both in the capital and in the countryside: eight out of ten Paraguayans think that "Indians are animals". In Caaguazu, Alta Parana, and the Chaco, Indians are hunted down like wild beasts, sold at bargain process, and exploited by the system of virtual slavery - yet almost all Paraguayans have Indian blood, and the Paraguayans tirelessly compose poems, songs and speeches in the homage to the "Guarani soul"


KUBLA KHAN said...

I, dilletante, self confessed fan of latin american fiction, have been wondering of late as to why magic realism has not answered or asked as to why latin american memory of its past is so poor.
most of these writers, are only european in outlook and have betrayed a tendency not to ask themselves as to why that is so. why should not the subject of its being colonized be a part of this discourse?
literature that has come out since the 50's has addressed politics( marquez addressed it tamely though)but the indigenous population has been ignored. i love the novels of Bolano but was not surprised at his superior attitude towards the Gaucho in a short story. this list is endless.
i havent read the yellow book yet.......though i have it.

KUBLA KHAN said...

your blog page quotes Flaubert talking about art and honesty,and yet Flaubert had a policy, an unsaid one of not speaking or talking about France's pillage and plunder abroad.
alongwith Proust, the colonies were, they thought not worth mentioning, peopled as they were by inferiors!
i am an avid reader of such writers sadly but there needs to be a deconstruction of their novels, their attitudes.
by keeping quiet, writers like Flaubert expressed their politics. by ignoring that silence, so are we.

anurag said...

Actually, with all the data and facts that Galeano provides, the main theme of the book is memory and amnesia. So much happened and willfully forgotten.

I don’t read much but I feel bad when aesthetics of art and politics/history/activism/etc are treated separately. Also, we can not pardon the ignorance of an artist. An artist cant live in his own world, he is, as they say, product of his time, and if he consciously does that(paradoxically for the sake of his art) than it is quite unfortunate.

and, thanks a lot for visiting here :)