TT: Taking Advantage of the Natives

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  Page back one for more about how conflict can drive – or fail to drive – a story.  Then join me and Alan as we look at a very complex form of conflict – the interactions of cultures known as colonization.

ALAN: Last week, we were talking about the arrival of the Spanish in New Mexico and how they took advantage of what they found there. So don’t leave me hanging in suspense. What happened next?

Acoma Pueblo Today

Acoma Pueblo Today

JANE: Well, by this stage of Spanish exploration, most of the would-be colonizers were not interested in founding colonies. They were interested in finding heaps of treasure, stealing it from its owners, shipping it back to Europe (to contribute to the crash of the European economies that was already on-going because of too much New World gold), and settling down to a life of dissipation.

One example is the area where the associated villages the Spanish would called San Gabriel and San Juan were located.  The Spanish, under command of Juan de Oñate, came up and took over San Gabriel.  The locals, with great good sense, moved to San Juan.  According to their mandate from the Spanish crown, the colonists were supposed to build a church, start farming, and otherwise behave in a responsible fashion.

What they actually did was subside into near banditry, because it was more fun to scatter all over the landscape searching for gold and robbing the locals when food was short.  Later, some of the locals were legally enslaved by Oñate and his men – the Spanish often used “rebellion” or suchlike as an excuse to “arrest” and enslave locals – and transported to Mexico to mine silver.

ALAN: That seems a highly dubious practice to me. It sounds as if Oñate was taking the law into his own hands and thoroughly abusing it. Did the Spanish crown do anything about it?

JANE: To the credit of the Spanish government, yes, they did.  A major investigation was undertaken.  Oñate was tried and convicted.  Part of his sentence was having his governorship stripped from him and his being forbidden to ever return to New Mexico.  This was a huge slam to his ego.

To this day, Oñate is not popular with many New Mexicans.  His undoubted place in history as the leader of what is termed the second “entrada” is tarnished by the actions of himself and his men.

Would you like to hear one of the uglier tales associated with Oñate?

ALAN: Yes, please – this stuff is fascinating.

JANE: There are various versions as to how the conflict began, but suffice to say that some Spaniards came to the pueblo of Acoma (see my WW for 10-27-10, for a bit more about Acoma), behaved in a manner that caused the locals to take affront, and a fight broke out.  Several of the Spanish were killed.

Oñate decided that this constituted rebellion, brought in a force, and attacked.  Acoma is a natural fortress, but the Spanish were very determined.  They also had guns.  In the end, the Spanish won and took these “rebels” as slaves.

Please remember, the residents of Acoma had never agreed to Spanish governance nor had they been conquered.  One historical account reports that when the Spanish first came to Acoma, they brought with them a local “translator” who did not speak the language spoken in Acoma.  (There were at least five distinct languages spoken in the region.)  Through this “translator,” the Spanish asserted their authority according to Spanish law and so they felt the village belonged to them.

The locals felt otherwise.

ALAN: It’s interesting that the region had so many different languages. The Maori language was (largely) the same throughout New Zealand which made contact between the newcomers and the indigenes reasonably straightforward. In Australia, by contrast, every tribe spoke a different language and even closely neighbouring tribes were unable to understand each other. That fragmentation proved to be their undoing when the conquerors arrived.

JANE: Different languages didn’t make things easier, certainly.  Neither did the fact that many of the pueblos (as the groups came to be called) didn’t get along with each other, much less with the nomadic raiders.  But moving back to Oñate…

 Not content with enslaving these “rebels,” Oñate ordered that each man have one foot cut off.  The men were then shipped to Mexico to mine silver.

There are those who protest that this could not have happened – otherwise the historical record would have been full of accounts of Indians with one foot.  Others protest that Oñate would not have reduced the value of his new slaves by mutilation.  The truth hardly matters any longer, because the tale has entered local legend lore.  A few years ago, it had an interesting sequel.

Remember, whatever you may think of Oñate, he was an important historical figure.  A statue of him was commissioned and put up – I forget in what town.  In the dead of night, some people, indignant that a man who his own government had censured for his cruelty should be honored in this fashion, snuck in and…

You guessed it.  They chopped off the statue’s foot.  I’m not certain if it was ever repaired.

ALAN: What a lovely end to a nasty story!

JANE: I’ve always liked it…

But, before I went off on a tangent, we began by talking about the colonization of New Zealand. As I recall, we had just left the dissipated, hell-hole whaling village of Kororāreka. It sounds as if the Maori and the whalers were getting along quite well. What happened next? Did the good relationship continue?

ALAN: Well, it did and it didn’t. The Maori had always been a warlike people and inter-tribal fights were common. They also had a lot of squabbles with the intruding settlers who were taking away their land.

Once they began trading, and got their hands on modern weapons, these conflicts escalated.  Many thousands of Maori were killed in the so-called Musket Wars of the early years of the nineteenth century. One important side-effect of this was that the Maori quickly developed offensive and defensive strategies that stood them in very good stead when they fought against the well-trained and well-armed British army in later years.

JANE: So, how did matters get resolved?

ALAN: Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Australia got in on the act when the Governor of New South Wales claimed New Zealand. He appointed a British Resident in 1832 to try and mediate between the Maori and the increasingly unruly settlers. The Resident attempted to build a formal confederation with the Northern Maori tribes. However the French (always Britain’s traditional enemy) also began making treaty noises. To forestall any French claim, the tribes were persuaded to send a declaration of independence to the then British King, William IV. This was only dubiously legal at best and ongoing unrest prompted the Colonial Office to send Sir James Hobson to claim full sovereignty for the British crown – which by then had passed from William to Queen Victoria, or Wikitoria, as the Maori referred to her.

When wikis in general (and wikipedia in particular) appeared on the internet I started claiming that the Maori had invented the whole thing 150 years ago…

JANE: Ouch!  Alan, you really should be careful.  One day someone is going to take you seriously and you’ll get into a lot of trouble!

ALAN: But to be serious for a moment, the Maori did adopt many English names for themselves and sometimes they adapted the pronunciation to slide more easily over their tongues. We’ve already seen Wikitoria, but another favourite is Wiremu, which is the Maori pronunciation of the English name “William.” It’s a very common Maori name these days – Robin has a Maori nephew called Wiremu.

JANE:  I like it.  Names do become adapted to different languages.  If I were Spanish, I would be Juana (“Wah-na”).  It’s nice that the Maori contributed to the variations on William – which, in Spanish, is “Guillermo.”  The double “l” is pronounced more like a “y” so a rough pronunciation is “Gee-er-mo.”  “Wiremu” is at least as recognizable.

But back to history.

ALAN: Anyway, Sir James Hobson negotiated a binding and comprehensive treaty with the various Maori tribes. It is known as the Treaty of Waitangi after the place where the tribes gathered to sign it, just outside Kororāreka, on 6th February 1840. With this, New Zealand became the latest and the last British Colony. The old hell-hole of Kororāreka (now renamed Russell) became the capital of the new nation, and Great Britain had one more country with whom to play cricket.

JANE: I remember you telling me about the Treaty of Waitangi back when we were discussing holidays.  The signing was a really important event, wasn’t it?

ALAN: Very important. We regard the Treaty of Waitangi in the same way that you regard the Declaration of Independence, and for much the same reason. It marks the formal beginning of the country of New Zealand.

JANE: So we’ve traveled across time from an isolated land discovered by a Dutchman who thought he’d found South America to the foundation of the last British Colony.  However, if the Maori were anything like the American Indians (or Native Americans) the story is far from over.  I’d like to pick up with it next time.

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14 Responses to “TT: Taking Advantage of the Natives”

  1. Heteromeles Says:

    Fun looking up Juan de Oñate. Thanks Jane! It turns out he was the son of one of Cortes’ crew, and married Cortes’ grand-daughter, so he was well integrated into the whole Conquistador lineage. David Graeber made a good case that Cortes, at least, was driven to conquer by gambling debts, that he in turn shorted the other conquistadors of the loot they thought they’d gained by conquering the Aztec, and that this burden of debt, in part, drove the viciousness of the Mexican (and later New Mexican) conquest.

    The other thing was that, while many in Spain objected to the violence, it wasn’t just precious metal flooding back to Europe that helped Spain to stomach what was going on in the New World, it was that, with Mexican silver mined by Indian and Mexican slaves, they finally had a commodity that they could trade for goods from China. The Chinese needed silver for their economy, in part because they’d invented paper money about 400 years before (I’m now getting this from both Graeber and Charles Mann’s 1493). China had this weird-but-understandable dual money system of paper money and silver. They’d invented paper money a few centuries before, and quickly realized that they could always pay off their debts by printing more money, thus inventing hyperinflation shortly after they invented printing money. As a result, an alternative monetary based on silver popped up alongside the official paper money system. Problem was, China didn’t have a lot of silver. However, once Spain started running the galleons out of Acapulco to Manila, they did have access to Mexican silver, which they paid for with silks, tea, and other manufactured products. These went to Europe, where there was a huge demand for them among the upper classes (like drinking that tea, Alan?). However, Pre-Renaissance Europe, that hotbed of fantasy tropes that it now is, was too poor to have much that China wanted, so they’d always had trouble trading with the Chinese, even when they did travel the Silk Road. With Mexican silver, the Spaniards finally found a way to trade with China, and hence Juan de Oñate was up conquering the Pueblos and sending enslaved, mutilated Indians back to work in his father’s silver mines in Mexico. Oh yes, and the Spaniards also got into starting wars and paying off their war debts with Mexican silver, at least until they went bankrupt.

    Graeber sees the origin of modern international capitalism in this whole setup. If he’s right (and I suspect he largely is), globalism’s rapaciousness is something that has been there all along, rather than a problem of recent origin.

    • Chad Merkley Says:

      A couple of really good books are 1491 and1493 both by Charles C. Mann. They discuss the sociology, economy, ecology and so on of the Americas before and after Columbus. The second one talks about Spanish silver reaching China in quite a bit of detail. Both books are very much worth reading.

    • Louis Robinson Says:

      I don’t think it’s accurate to say that Europe was too poor – the fact is that the Chinese simply had no use for foreign goods. And, with occasional exceptions like the Tang- and Communist-dynasty eras, never did. 2nd [IIRC] century Roman writers were already bewailing the quantity of silver sent east to pay for the see-through silk robes adorning their generation’s noblewomen [I think they objected to the loss of silver more than the use the silk was put to, but it’s a pretty near-run thing]

      It wasn’t really until the 19th century that the Europeans managed to come up with something the Han-in-the-street wanted enough to defy the bureaucrats over. Leading to yet another glorious episode in Europe’s relationship with the world: the Opium Wars.

  2. Peter Says:

    Juan de Oñate has a somewhat better rep in (unoccupied) Mexico (I suspect this may have something to do with his depredations happening to other people’s ancestors) – most Mexican cities have at least one street named after him. I used to live on one, in fact.

    • janelindskold Says:

      This may be because his father, Cristobal, was (I think) a provincial governor. Was your street named for Juan or his dad? Just curious.

      • Peter Says:

        Named for Juan himself – Avenida Juan de On~ate (*muttergrumblephonekeyboardwon’tdothecharactergrumblemutter.) – the whole comuna (“neighbourhood”, roughly, or “ward”) was named for Juan, in fact.

        Streets in Mexico (and in much of Latin America) tend to use full names, and usually titles too, so instead of “Kennedy Street” you’d see “President John Fitzgerald Kennedy Avenue”, or “Captain-General Bernardo O’Higgins Boulevard” instead of “Washington” (in practice most people will drop the title in speech, but usually keep the first name).

  3. Chris Says:

    The Oñate Monument Visitor Center is in Alcalde, New Mexico, on the highway between Española and Taos. The statue lost its right foot in the winter of 1997-98, and it was reattached shortly thereafter. I heard rumors that it had been similarly vandalized a second time but have been unable to substantiate them.

  4. Jim Says:

    As a coin collector, I find the interplay between the different currencies in China fascinating. In addition to Europe, Chinese goods also moved throughout the New World colonies. Fragments of Chinese porcelain are fairly common at Spanish Colonial sites in New Mexico, and some Chinese design motifs were copied by the Pueblos and incorporated onto pottery they traded to the Spanish.

  5. Paul Dellinger Says:

    Fascinating history lessons here.

  6. Paul Genesse Says:

    Thank you Jane and Alan for the history lesson. Loved it.

  7. janelindskold Says:

    Peter — thanks for the clarification… Here in New Mexico there’s a lot of using full names, too. I lived on Avenida Cristobal Columbo at one point. That really messed up forms…

    • Peter Says:

      Cristobal Colombo? Eeeeeentellestink. Christopher Columbus’ original Italian name was Cristoforo Colombo, but in Spanish his name’s usually given as Cristobal Colon (insert accent marks on the ‘o’ in Cristobal and the second ‘o’ in Colon, to distinguish it from “colon”, which means the same thing in both languages). I’ve never run across it given as “Cristobal Colombo” before – I wonder if it got changed to avoid the unfortunate English cognate. (I’m a recovering linguistics major, this stuff fascinates me).

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