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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Of the Island of Cuba
By Bartolomé de las Casas (1474–1566)
From ‘A Relation of the First Voyage’

THE SPANIARDS passed, in the year 1511, into the Island of Cuba, which contains as much ground in length as from Valladolid to Rome. There were formerly fine and flourishing provinces to be seen, filled with vast numbers of people, who met with no milder or kinder treatment from the Spaniards than the rest. On the contrary, they seemed to have redoubled their cruelty upon those people. There happened divers things in this island that deserve to be remarked. A rich and potent Cacique named Hatbuey was retired to the Island of Cuba to avoid that slavery and death with which the Spaniards menaced him; and being informed that his persecutors were upon the point of landing in this island, he assembled all his subjects and domestics together, and made a speech to ’em after this manner:—“You know,” said he, “the report that is spread abroad that the Spaniards are ready to invade this island; and you are not ignorant of the ill usage our friends and countrymen have met with at their hands, and the cruelties they have committed at Hayei.” (So Hispaniola is called in their language.) “They are now coming hither with a design to exercise the same outrages and persecutions upon us. Are you ignorant,” says he, “of the ill intentions of the people of whom I am speaking?” “We know not,” say they all with one voice, “upon what account they come hither, but we know they are a very wicked and cruel people.” “I’ll tell you then,” replied the Cacique, “that these Europeans worship a very covetous sort of god, so that ’tis difficult to satisfy him; and to perform the worship they render to this idol, they’ll exact immense treasures of us, and will use their utmost endeavor to reduce us to a miserable state of slavery, or else to put us to death.” Upon which he took a box full of gold and valuable jewels which he had with him; and exposing it to their view,—“Here is,” says he, “the god of the Spaniards, whom we must honor with our sports and dances, to see if we can appease him, and render him propitious to us, that so he may command the Spaniards not to offer us any injury.” They all applauded this speech, and fell a-leaping and dancing round the box, till they had quite tired and spent themselves. After which the Cacique Hatbuey, resuming his discourse, continued to speak to them in these terms: “If we keep this God,” says he, “till he’s taken away from us, he’ll certainly cause our lives to be taken from us; and therefore I am of the opinion ’twill be the best way to cast him into the river.” They all approved of this advice, and went all together with one accord to throw this pretended god into the river.  1
  The Spaniards were no sooner arrived in the Isle of Cuba but this Cacique, who knew ’em too well, began to think of retreating to secure himself from their fury, and resolved to defend himself by force of arms if he should happen to meet with them; but he unfortunately fell into their hands; and because he had taken all the precautions he could to avoid the persecutions of so cruel and impious a people, and had taken arms to defend his own life, as well as the lives of his subjects, this was made a capital crime in him, for he was burned alive. While he was in the midst of the flames, tied to a stake, a certain Franciscan friar of great piety and virtue took upon him to speak to him of God and our religion, and to explain to him some articles of the Catholic faith, of which he had never heard a word before; promising him eternal life if he would believe, and threatening him with eternal torment if he continued obstinate in his infidelity. Hatbuey, reflecting on the matter as much as the place and condition in which he was would permit, asked the friar that instructed him whether the gate of heaven was opened to the Spaniards; and being answered that such of them as were good men might hope for entrance there, the Cacique without any further deliberation told him he had no mind to go to heaven, for fear of meeting with such cruel and wicked company as they were; but would much rather choose to go to hell, where he might be delivered from the troublesome sight of such kind of people: to so great a degree have the wicked actions and cruelties of the Spaniards dishonored God and his religion in the minds of the Americans.  2
  One day there came to us a great number of the inhabitants of a famous city, situate about ten leagues from the place where we lodged, to compliment us and bring us all sort of provisions and refreshments, which they presented us with great marks of joy, caressing us after the most obliging manner they could. But that evil spirit that possessed the Spaniards put ’em into such a sudden fury against ’em, that they fell upon ’em and massacred above three thousand of ’em, both men and women, upon the spot, without having received the least offense and provocation from ’em. I was an eye-witness of this barbarity: and whatever endeavors were used to appease these inhuman creatures, ’twas impossible to reduce ’em to reason; so resolutely were they bent to satiate their brutal rage by this barbarous action.  3
  Soon after this I sent messengers to the most noted Indians of the Province of Havane, to encourage and engage ’em to continue in their country, and not to trouble themselves to seek remote places to hide in; and advised ’em to come to us with assurance of our protection. They knew well enough what authority I had over the Spaniards, and I gave ’em my word no injury should be offered ’em: for the past cruelties and massacres their countrymen had suffered, had spread fear and terror through all the country; and this assurance I gave ’em was with the consent and advice of the captains and the officers. When we entered into this province, two-and-twenty of their chiefs came to us, and the very next morning the commander of our troops, without any regard to the promise that had been made ’em, would needs sentence ’em to be burnt, pretending ’twas best to put these people to death, because they might one time or other use some stratagem to surprise and destroy us: and I had all the difficulty in the world to prevent ’em from throwing ’em into the fire.  4
  The Indians of Havane, seeing themselves reduced to a state of severe slavery, and that there was no remedy left, but they were irrecoverably undone, began to take refuge in the deserts and mountains to secure themselves if possible from death; some strangled themselves in despair. Parents hanged themselves together with their children, to put the speedier end to their misery by death. Above two hundred Indians perished here after this manner to avoid the cruelty of the Spaniards, and abundance of them afterwards voluntarily condemned themselves to this kind of death, hoping thus in a moment to put a period to the miseries their persecutors inflicted on ’em.  5
  A certain Spaniard, who had the title of Sovereign in this island and had three hundred Indians in his service, destroyed a hundred and sixty of them in less than three months by the excessive labor he continually exacted of them. The recruits he took to fill up their places were destroyed after the same manner; and he would in a short time have unpeopled the whole island if death, which took him out of the way, very happily for those poor wretches, had not sheltered ’em from his cruelties. I saw with my own eyes above six thousand children die in the space of three or four months, their parents being forced to abandon ’em, being condemned to the mines. After this the Spaniards took up a resolution to pursue those Indians that were retired into the mountains, and massacred multitudes of ’em; so that this island was depopulated and laid waste in a very little time. And it is a most lamentable spectacle to see so fine a country thus miserably ruined and unpeopled.  6

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